June 19, 2012
By Matt Straw
Between raging thunderstorms, we're getting out and battling behemoth smalljaws every other day or so. I'm going to Erie next week, but I keep wondering why? Maybe it will up my odds slightly for boating one over 7, but Minnesotans certainly don't need to travel anywhere to find world-class smallmouth fishing on a daily basis.
Just because you're here or on Erie, however, doesn't mean you're automatically entitled to catch numbers of trophies. As the season progresses, they get tougher everywhere. "Tougher" meaning harder to fool, more sensitive to anything unnatural, and increasingly demanding.
One thing bass get demanding about is something few bass fishermen seem to consider unless we're talking extremes: Speed. Immediately many anglers think I'm talking about "burning" or "deadsticking" — the two extremes. While extreme speed changes definitely make a difference at times, right now I'm talking about incremental speed changes. Day-by-day, hour-by-hour, tiny, little, itsy-bitsy speed changes. The kind you really don't want to think about. It's probably giving you a headache already, and I can sympathize. This subject gave me plenty of headaches before something wonderful happened: The modern proliferation of quality jigs from a wide variety of sources ranging from 1/32- to 1/8-ounce in size.
That dynamic alone — having a range of choices — made all considerations revolving around speed for smallmouths a little easier to handle. Begin with this premise: They're biting 5-inch Kalin's Grubs like nobody's business. The method they're responding to best is swimming. You've identified the hot color and, try as you might, you can't find a better color at home, at the local tackle shop, or anywhere in your boat. Great. But what can you do to tweak the bite even more? Say you're catching 8 bass per hour and, for you, that's really good. Why fix what ain't broke?
Well, that bite may not need fixing, but tweaking is free. I tweak endlessly because I have a very good fishing partner named Mary Savage. Once she starts catching them, she's not changing anything. So I get in the back of the boat and try to devise something better — something that will catch them faster. Sometimes I'm successful at it, and when I am, it's often because of speed.
The jigs at left all have the same heads, all made by the same manufacturer. These are all 3/32-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Heads. But each one has a different hook. At top is a size #1 Gamakatsu, followed by #1/0, #2/0, and #3/0 Gamakatsus. At the bottom is yet another 3/32-ounce Mushroom Head, this one adorned with a #3/0 VMC Barbarian hook. Each jig in the photo scales differently through the bass weight systems. The difference is very slight.
Back to our premise: They're biting those 5-inch Kalin's Grubs on a swimming retrieve and, for me, that means pointing the rod tip down and slowly reeling the lure on a horizontal plane. My dogma for swimming in water less than 8 feet deep sounds like this: If it never touches bottom, slow down. If it's dragging on bottom, speed up. As you might imagine, starting at the top of the above photo and working your way down, you're going to have to speed up incrementally with every jig change in order to fulfill the demands of the "dogma of swimming plastics according to Strawman." Every change increases both drop speed and forward speed. Not that you'll notice much.
But the fish will.
Now what if you're using fluorocarbon instead of mono? It sinks faster. What if you're using braid instead of fluorocarbon? Braid cuts the water like a razor blade.
You want headaches? I'll show you headaches that will make you dream of migraines. Just keep reading this post for the next few weeks.