Smallmouth bass are known to be the hardest fighting fish, pound for pound, swimming in fresh water. Throughout the Midwest, they are found from the Great Lakes to tiny Ozark streams.
They live in some of the prettiest waters to explore, which makes fishing for them even more enjoyable. I’ve often said that if I had one day left to live, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it than wade fishing a crystal clear stream with a fly rod for smallmouth.
Largemouth bass certainly have more notoriety than smallies. An entire bass fishing industry has been built around chasing them. But for me, it’s smallmouth that entice me to load up the truck and hit the road in search of another great fishery these beautiful, tough creatures call home.
Here is a list of five smallmouth bass fishing destinations to consider for your next adventure:
Kentucky — Laurel River Lake
If you like to fish beautiful waters, then Laurel River Lake is known as one of the most pristine in the Bluegrass State. It’s deep, clear and surrounded by the hardwood hills of the Daniel Boone National Forest. The scenery alone may be worth the trip, but the bass fishing will keep you coming back again and again. Laurel River Lake is home to three black bass species: spotted, smallmouth and largemouth.
A 2018 bass assessment conducted on the lake by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife showed at Laurel River Lake, the length of a 3-year-old largemouth bass averaged 13.5 inches. When compared to other lakes of similar size, this is considered to be excellent growth for largemouth bass — meaning this is where you find big bass.
Michigan — St. Joseph River
Flowing 200 miles along the Michigan and Indiana border before its confluence with Lake Michigan, the St. Joseph River offers top-notch angling for smallmouth bass in an area of the Midwest easily accessible by many urban dwellers. Chicago, Grand Rapids, Detroit and Toledo are all within an easy drive. Big enough for power boats but still safe to canoe, the St. Joe is really one of those rivers that offers it all. Whether you are a fly angler or a spin fisher, August is a great time to get out on this river to chase smallmouth early in the morning and late in the evening.
Ohio — Lake Erie
Lake Erie maybe most famous for walleye fishing, but anglers in the know put this Great Lake at the top of their destination list for big smallmouth bass, and May is the time to get after them. Captain Bob Witt of Sea Breeze Charters said, “Smallmouth fishing heats up in early May. We throw tube jigs on rock piles close to shore. We’ll also use live bait. Soft craws and big shiners put fish in the boat.” If you’re looking to stack up smallmouth numbers, Lake Erie shouldn’t disappoint.
Kansas — Wilson Reservoir
At 9,040 acres with depths up to 65 feet, Wilson Reservoir gives smallmouth bass plenty of places to hide. Smallmouth can be caught during the daylight hours during the summer months, but the most exciting way to fish smallies this time of year is after dark with topwater baits.
Throwing topwater baits to the bank and working them back to the boat before dawn and after dusk is one way to increase your heart rate. When a smallmouth explodes on a topwater, you can’t help feeling the rush. Look for topwater action back in coves where the bass will come up to feed in the shallows at night.
Indiana — Driftwood River
The Driftwood River may just be the best smallmouth water in Indiana you’ve never heard of. It’s located near Columbus, and is formed by the confluence of the Big Blue River and Sugar Creek. The Driftwood River flows only 16 miles before it dumps into the Flatrock River. The Driftwood essentially operates as the neck of an hourglass connecting two larger courses of water. It is home to a number of fish species, including bass, sunfish, catfish, and carp, but smallmouth bass are the most common quarry of anglers. Indiana’s Driftwood River is a classic example of the old adage that dynamite comes in small packages.
See you down the trail …
Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on www.driftwoodoutdoors.com or anywhere podcasts are streamed. Send comments to [email protected]