Fall smallmouths keep Lake Mendota anglers busy

Smallmouth bass are considered by many, pound for pound, to be
the scrappiest fish that swims in fresh water. Their acrobatic
flips and bulldog runs attest to it. So when Steve Hauge and
Charlie Grimm, of Madison, reported smallies on the bite, it took
no time at all to load the truck and head to Madison.

Lake Mendota is widely known as a perch factory, with people
from all over the Midwest traveling to test her waters. But the
smallmouth fishing lacks that sort of acclaim.

“There was an 18-inch size limit put on the lake a few years
ago,” Hauge said. “You can only keep one fish. That has really
improved not just the overall fishery, but the number of big fish,
as well.”

Another thing that has improved the angling is almost 100
spawning structures that the Madison Fishing Expo (a sport show put
on by a coalition of local fishing clubs) has contributed to the
lake.

“All of the money we make at the expo goes right back into
Madison-area lakes,” said Grimm, who, along with being a postal
worker, also is a director for the nonprofit group. “If you give
the fish more places to spawn, you’re going to have more fish.”

We motored offshore not more than one-quarter mile, and looked
for Grimm’s “spot.”

“The key to this area is that there are rocks, but there are
also some weed edges nearby,” he said. “This type structure can be
found all over Mendota. A good lake map will put you where you have
to be.”

We used standard slip bobber rigs, along with a slightly strange
technique. Grimm uses extreme ultra-light rigs, the same that are
used for ice fishing, spooled with 4-pound test. Attached to the
line is a small barrel weight, followed by a swivel, and tipped off
with with either a small bait hook or jig.

“It’s just a lot more fun when you’re using ultra-light tackle,”
he said. “You might not get every fish in on these rigs, but the
ones you do will give you a great fight.”

He wasn’t kidding. Within 20 seconds after the first bait hit
the lake’s floor, Grimm set the hook. His ultra light doubled over,
and at the end was a 10-inch smallmouth. Not big by any means, but
a little smallie with a bad attitude on the end of an ultra light
will more than keep you awake.

“These ultra lights I call Grimm Reaper Rigs’.” Grimm said.
“That’s all I do with them. I just drop the lure to the bottom and
let the rod sit. The light tip of the rod signals even the lightest
of strikes.”

The set-up couldn’t have been more simple. Each wave that rocked
the boat also gave a little jigging action to the baits. When a
fish bit, a quick snap with the wrist put the hook where it needed
to be.

Although it was nice to catch the little guys on the light rigs,
we also had our share of 16- to 18-inch fish give us a try. When
they bit, there was no horsing them. The rods, which had the
backbone of a limp noodle, couldn’t budge the fish. All we could do
was pull up the other rods in the boat and back-reel the fish
around the boat to tire them out. It allowed for several tense
minutes.

“This is just a fun way to catch fish out here,” Grimm said.
“It’s easy to do, and it’s relaxing. Just kick back, enjoy the
scenery and catch some fish. It’s also a great way to introduce
kids to fishing, because they can handle this technique on their
own.”

In view of the Capitol, and a great Madison downtown, I quit
counting fish after 38. That many bass in just under four hours is
enough to get me back again.

“From now until as late as October the fish can be caught on
this technique in the 10- to 15-foot range,” Grimm said. “Along
with smallies, anglers can expect occasional largemouth, walleye
and perch in the same area.”

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