Brett Richardson, an avid multispecies angler from Bergenfield, New Jersey, reports: “Of all the memorable smallmouth excursions through the eastern Great Lakes region, the last 10 years of Lake Erie-Niagara River trips rate at the top. Yet, often the biggest smallies had backed off prime structure to instead hold along subtle breaks. The key to great catches in nearly all cases has been downsizing.
“During prime conditions, the aggressive nature of the smallmouth will void the need for finesse tactics. But when the bite shuts down due to adverse conditions, downsizing baits can save the day. Lately I’ve seen more anglers embracing this trend, sometimes requiring me to one-up them with even more minuscule lures and lighter line.
“On big waters with frequent high winds, drift socks are standard gear to enable slow presentations for tight-lipped smallies. Even micro baits generally demand the standard weight of sinker or jig, due to wind conditions associated with post-front scenarios.
“Successful presentations include split-shotting small plastics; 3-way rigs anchored by slinky weights or snagless sinkers; tandem jig rigs tipped with plastics or livebaits; Carolina rigs with plastics or a small jerkbait; and a modified ‘Float ‘n’ Fly’ rig. On Lake Erie, I’ve yet to see another angler use float rigs, and rarely the other deadly systems.
“On some Lake Erie trips, we sometimes switched back to the reliable tube jig after the weather stabilized, and we caught plenty of big smallmouths. If bass will bite a simpler rig, that’s what I use. But when they demand the more exotic, I’m ready with options. Switching to light line (6- to 8-pound mono) gives the baits better action and produces far more bass when conditions are tough.”
RIGGING FOR SMALLMOUTHS
Split Shottin’: “The standard has been a BB-shot or two,” Richardson notes, “depending on wind. The Mojo Rig is a great innovation, along with the more recent adaptations from Bullet Weights (Torpedo Weights with rubber T-stops), Top Brass (Pro-Jo Weights and rubber Peg-Its), and Bass Pro Shops (XPS Finesse Weights and T-Stops). These slimmer weights slide through rocks and vegetation more smoothly. Plain shot offers an advantage on sand or gravel, however, by slightly catching on the bottom and giving the lures a jerky, natural look.
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