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5 Smallmouth Setups for a Tough Bite

These five finesse options will produce big smallies when the bite gets tough.

5 Smallmouth Setups for a Tough Bite

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Fishing has changed a lot over the past few years, and a lot of that is because the fish adapt to fishing pressure much more quickly than anglers may realizes. A good example of this is how smallmouth bass seem to be leery of forward-facing sonar, certainly much more than when the technology was first introduced. Much like baseball, a great pitcher can’t just be good with one pitch. Instead, you must have the ability to effectively present a handful of presentations from day to day to stay on top of the bite— sometimes hour by hour—to stay effective consistently.

Here are six rods that need to be rigged on your deck this smallmouth season when the bite gets tough.

Drop Shot

Drop shotting and smallmouth go together like peanut butter and jelly. One of the keys during tough conditions when a finessy drop shot is required is to move the bait … without moving the bait. Essentially, keep the bait in place and barely make it wiggle. A bait like a Z-Man Trick ShotZ was specifically designed for drop shotting and features a small flat tail that kicks with little to no movement. Another huge advantage to the Trick Shotz is that it floats and allows the bait to stay right in a smallie’s face. This is especially advantageous when fishing close to bottom.

neko and drop shot hooks
The right finesse hook is everything when fishing for big smallmouths.

An overlooked part of the drop-shot setup is the hook itself. On a trip last fall, I was getting out-fished and my buddy suggested that I change to a smaller hook . I was using the new super sharp VMC Redline Drop shot hook in a large size 1/0. The rod was rigged from an earlier trip where we were using much larger baits and the bigger hook gap was needed. Literally after rerigging to a smaller size 2 hook it was game on. Many of the pros are also switching to a hook such as the VMC Finesse Neko hook for drop shotting larger minnow style baits because it allows you to get a hook farther back and keep it rigged straight and upright. The result is often a better hookup and landing ratio.

Preferred Setup

G.Loomis NRX + 822S Drop Shot Rod, Shimano Vanford 2500 and hi-vis 10-pound braid with 8-pound flouro leader

Minnow

The “hanging a minnow” rig might have been “hush hush” for a few years, but that was completely out the window when after several tournaments and the Bassmaster Classic where th. Essentially you rig a minnow lure such as the Z-man Jerk ShadZ on a small jighead. A jig with a big eye on it and a quality hook seems to really make a big difference as well. Jacob Wheeler has won a boatload of money in the last year using the VMC Sleek Jig for this setup.

02a-smallmouth-rigged-right-jerk-shadz
The Z-Man Jerk ShadZ on a jighead is a great smallmouth search bait.

One of the biggest tricks to this rig is to take your time and make sure the Jerk ShadZ is rigged perfectly straight on the jighead. This is so important that many of the pro’s will pre rig the jigs so that time is not wasted getting it just right. A dab of gel super glue behind the head of the jig and on the front of the plastic helps keep the minnow secure and straight.

Once you cast it out you actually do very little with it, hence its name of “hanging a minnow.” While this tactic has been used for years, when used in conjunction with forward facing sonar the ability to target individual fish makes it even more deadly.

Preferred Setup

Recommended


G Loomis NRX+ 872S JWR, Shimano Vanford 2500 and 10-pound hi-vis braid with a 10-pound flouro leader.

Umbrella Rig

How many lures have been so good that they have been banned on multiple tournament trails? Like it or not, the umbrella rig has the ability to catch fish when nothing else seems to work. It’s tough for me to wrap my head around how you can fish a flat with finesse tactics to no avail and then bomb this giant gaudy rig in the same water and catch more than one fish at a time over and over again. The rig represents a school of baitfish that seems to drive smallmouth insane at times. Hardcore smallmouth friends on my home lake often use it to fire the fish up or at least to cause the fish to show themselves.

smallmouth umbrella rig
The umbrella rig is a fantastic smallmouth presentation if for nothing else helps move fish so you know they are there.

Just one or two casts with an Umbrella rig can allow you to see fish come off bottom that you never knew were there for sure. It is wise to have another finesse tactic ready to cast in for following fish to actually close the deal.

One of the first rigging tips is to check local laws to see how many hooks you can have on your rig and be legal. Many of the most popular rigs have four arms where a jig head can be attached with a small swimbait such as a 3-inch Z-Man MinnowZ A swimbait jighead with a strong hook is necessary since so many double hookups can occur that the fish actually fight against each other, which would bend traditional light-wire jighead hooks. A VMC Boxer or Flat Shad Jig is a personal favorite. Once rigged, simply cut the hook off near the plastic to remain legal with the number of hook points. The remaining center and slightly longer wire is where a majority of the bites occur and where you should place a slightly different color and size bait. With smallmouth, a simple trick is adding a chartreuse jighead and a slightly larger 4-inch Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ.

As time has passed, anglers are now using umbrella rigs with a variety of spinner blades and arm lengths to get a little bit different look. Like anything else, experiment on your body of water and the conditions to see what works best.

Preferred Setup

G. Loomis IMX-Pro Umbrella Rig rod, Shimano Curado 300HG K and 50-pound hi-vis braid.

Ned Rig

If there was ever a simpler, do nothing and basic rig than a Ned Rig I haven’t seen it. This no-frills setup just seems to catch fish when all else fails. The Z-Man Finesse TRD started it all. It has a little wiggle and floats unlike others thanks to the built-in Elaztech material. Due to the finesse nature of the rig, the jighead tends to be lightweight and features a small light wire hook. The VMC Ned Rig Jig has all of these features and a unique collar to hold, but not tear up the plastic. Much like with the Jerk Shad minnow a dab of gel super glue does wonders for keeping it in place after countless fish.

04-smallmouth-rigged-right-ned-heads
Ned head dressed with Z-Man Finesse TRDs are smallmouth killers everywhere, especially in the Great Lakes region.

The trigger on this setup calls for basically dragging it painfully slow on the bottom for neutral fish. Because of this, a new jighead setup was recently developed by VMC that helps keep the lure off bottom a little bit more. When the VMC Swingin Ned Jig is paired with the floating properties of the Zman TRD Ned bait it really changes the way this bait can be presented.

Preferred Setup

G Loomis. NRX+ 821S NRR, Shimano Vanford 2500 loaded with 10-pound hi-vis braid and an 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.

Jerkbaits

A jerkbait seems to trigger smallmouth much like an umbrella rig—it just seems to catch fish when they won’t hit anything else. The reaction strike that they create and ability to both cover water and fish near, but not on bottom are likely why they work so well. But before you just go and grab any jerkbait, know that not all are created equal. Sure, the most productive jerkbaits have great finishes, but even more important is the side-to-side erratic action and suspending qualities. The Rapala Mavrik fits this and features three insanely sharp VMC Redline treble hooks. This is very important because smallmouth often just slap at the bait and a premium hook means more fish landed.

05-smallmouth-rigged-right-jerkbait
Jerkbaits are classic smallmouth results makers, the Rapala Rapala Mavrik is a great option to use.

The key to fishing the Maverik and most jerkbaits for smallmouth is not fishing it on a tight line. Using slack line to your favor allows the lure to have a hunting and erratic action that cannot be achieved with a taught line. Unlike most techniques in fishing when it comes to jerkbait fishing, slack is your friend. Another major key is to change the cadence of the jerks and pauses. In colder water pauses often can exceed 10 seconds.

While jerkbaits have been around forever, they have had a resurgence with the advancements in forward-facing sonar. The ability to fish individual fish in open water with a lure that can trigger even the most stubborn fish is a match made in heaven.

Preferred Setup

G Loomis GLX 822C JBR, Shimano Chronarch MGL 150HG loaded with 12-pound fluoro.

I’ll be the first to tell you that you’ll likely need more than five techniques to fish smallmouth year around, but if you become comfortable with these and arm yourself with the right gear to fish in a variety of conditions you will catch more than your loud-mouth buddy down the street.

Capt. Ross Robertson

Bigwater Fishing




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