The smallmouth’s “ferociousness and aggression are unmatched” even up on top!
Smallmouth bass are one of the most sought after gamefish in North America. Though they do not grow to be as large as their largemouth cousins, they make up for it with their fight. Pound for pound their ferociousness and aggression are unmatched.
Unfortunately, fishing topwater for them isn’t as easy as topwater largies. Similar but different fish call for varying approaches. Where, when and what baits are questions that you’ll need answers to in order to find success on the surface.
When targeting smallmouth I will generally fish an area as a whole rather than a specific piece of structure or cover like I would for largemouth. Largies are a lot easier to target in my opinion. Throw a popper or a frog near a dock or thick vegetation like lily pads and you’re likely to draw a strike. Smallmouths can also be found around structures like docks. However, there are other more favorable areas of interest. I like to cover water around sandbars, gravel flats, humps and the drop-off along rocky points. Keep in mind that once the sun goes down these fish will venture in the shallows to forage. Once the water temperature gets up over 60 degrees it’s go time. The topwater bite truly begins when these fish are post spawn.
Time of day can obviously be a factor, especially during summer when it can be just too darn hot. Fishing from dusk until dawn will yield the best results for topwater small jaws, though you should not overlook overcast days as well. Paying attention to moon phases can increase your productivity as well. I like to fish leading up to a full moon. I always say “big moon, big fish.”
When fishing at night, going with darker colored baits will be your best bet. Some people will look at you funny when you tell them to use a black bait at night. “How do the fish see it?” Using darker colored baits in lowlight periods will help to cast a better silhouette against the night sky. Early morning and also on those overcast days using lighter colors like white and yellow is the way to go.
Growing up my favorite topwater baits were poppers and jitterbugs; absolute classic presentations for big bass! While the jitterbug has a nice slow wobble on a steady retrieve, poppers are a bit noisier. With a concave mouth, each snap of your rod tip makes this bait chug and spit water while making a popping/smacking noise on the surface. When a slow and subtle wobble doesn’t get their attention, a popper usually does. Mixing up your retrieve helps too. Sometimes I’ve caught them bringing it back slowly and other times I feel like I’m fishing them at bluefish speed and they get smashed.
I eventually became very fond of spooks and spook Jr’s. That slow swinging and sweeping, walk the dog motion can be irresistible. Nothing looks more natural like a fleeing baitfish on the surface than a spook, in my opinion. They’re hands down my favorite topwater bait. Last but not least, the Whopper Plopper. These baits have become increasingly popular in recent years. It’s more of a prop style bait where the tail rotates on a harness. This creates a sputtering sound on the retrieve which can go slow and steady or short quick bursts. Again, it is good to mix it up.
One thing to know about fishing for topwater smallies is that you shouldn’t be afraid to use big baits. You’d be surprised to see a smallmouth blast a 7-inch spook clear out of the water. If not out of hunger than just out of pure aggression. They will actually come up and cheek your presentation. Their mouths are closed and they will just hit it as hard as they can. When you do hook one, hold on tight because their aerial acrobats can be something special to experience. Which is yet another reason why I love these fish so very much.