By Ron Anlauf
Hooking up with super-sized early season smallmouth bass is huge fun and there is nothing like it. Smallies are built for fun; they bulldog, pull and test your equipment to the max, and jump for all their worth which can be extremely exciting. Professional angler John Janousek of Nisswa, Minnesota has a special place in his heart for smallmouth bass and has fished for them across the county and into Canada and shares some of what he has learned in pursuit.
Getting started: “Where I’m at in Minnesota the season doesn’t open until Memorial weekend which is typically around the end of May or the first part of June. The timing of the opener invariably includes the spawn and fish can be found from a pre-spawn to post-spawn attitude, all at the same time. Fortunately for us the locations and techniques don’t vary all that much no matter how they’re feeling and it isn’t that difficult to pin down.”
Of course you can’t catch them where they’re not and there are some keys to finding fish. John on location: “Shallow flats are where it’s at but not just any flat will do. Rocks are a big key as well as plenty of sand. A nice shallow sandy flat interspersed with patches of rocks can be a real magnet and is definitely something to look for. How shallow depends on a number of things with the most important factor being water clarity. In super clear water; flats in the eight to ten foot range might be the ticket. In fact on Lake Erie I’ve caught bedded fish in eighteen feet of water but Erie is more of an anomaly and not what you would usually expect to find. Compare all of that that to darker bodies where I’ve run into fish in less than two feet of water. The thing is you don’t always know but the “clear means deep and dark means shallow” is a good rule of thumb. When I’m looking fish I’ll cruise adjacent to a good flat and use the Side Imaging (SI) on my Humminbird 998 to scan and find subtle changes in bottom content and SI will actually show the patches of rock in an otherwise sandy bottom. With SI I’ve been able to go back over areas on my home water that I thought I knew like the back of my hand only to uncover more potential hotspots that I didn’t even know where there. It’s definitely high tech but is easy to use and is proving to be invaluable to me.”
Once you’ve found an area to have a go at there’s some basic presentations (including one that has been under wraps) that should help you put a few in the boat. Janousek on presentation: “When I’m looking for fish I like to use a plastic swim bait like Northland Tackle’s Rock-R-Minnow. You can cast it and slowly swim it in or let it drag behind the boat as you slowly cruise along with the electric trolling motor. Top water lures are another great option and no matter what you’ve heard; there is no wrong time to use them. I’ve always got a topwater lure ready to go and one of my favorites is the Zara Super Spook Jr. It’s a smaller bait that smallmouth will hammer and requires a steady back and forth “walking the dog” retrieve to be effective. When a smallie does hit the bait keep reeling until you feel the weight of the fish and then set the hook. If you set too soon you’ll probably miss it and that’s not nearly as fun as getting hooks. One of the hottest techniques for finding and catching fish is casting or dragging a hair jig like Northland Tackle’s Bug-A-Boo in a size 1/16oz or smaller. It’s been kept quiet for a long time but the hair jig has proven to be absolutely deadly on smallmouth bass wherever they swim and the word is finally getting out. It’s a super finesse technique that always works, period. When a smallie does take the bait they’re usually not shy and can definitely feel the thump when they snap it up. When they do; set hook because they’re got it, no question. “
Good equipment like electronic graphs and super quiet electric trolling motors can all help you be more effective and catch more fish but there’s more. John on the latest and greatest: “When I do find fish with a search bait I’ll go back and really work an area over and will sometimes drop an anchor, or at least I used to. Now I’ll simply push a button and drop the Minn Kota Talon, which is basically a pole that drops straight down off the transom and holds me in place. It’s the quickest and surest method for shallow water anchoring I’ve ever used. If it’s time to go I’ll hit the button to pick it up and move to the next spot. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s un-intrusive.” See you on the water.