With all the attention being given to the crisis facing the smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River, it is not uncommon for bass anglers to think mainly of rivers and streams in their search for this species of fish.
Rivers such as the Allegheny, Delaware, French, Juniata and Ohio, just to name a few, are all well known for their smallmouth populations. Add to that many, many smaller streams across the state that are good destinations for this popular fish, and it becomes easy to understand the connection many Pennsylvania fishermen make between flow and fish.
There is, however, great smallmouth fishing to be had in many of the lakes that fall within the Keystone State’s borders. The key is knowing where to look and how to fish for these type of bass within a lake environment.
Although both largemouth and smallmouth bass share the same water in a lake, the two seek different terrain and water temperatures. Largemouth are a warm water species, while smallmouth are a cool water transition fish, and will seek the lower temperatures found in the deeper portions of a lake.
And while largemouth will stay under heavy vegetation such as lily pads and lake grasses, smallmouth will more likely be near spots with sandy and rocky bottoms.
When fishing a lake for smallmouth, search for sand, gravel and rock bottoms, and also look for rock piles that can be natural or manmade. Rip-rap banks along shorelines, especially those that extend below the water’s surface, such as dam structure and marina entrances, are good spots to fish for smallmouths.
Baitfish in the 15–25-feet range are the usual zone for feeding smallmouths, especially in warmer months during daylight hours. Diving plugs and spinnerbaits that reach these depths will work well, as will live minnows. Jigs and plastic worm baits can be used, too.
Smallmouths will also hit at night, because this is when their favorite food source – crayfish – become active. Crayfish imitations, and also shallow–swimming minnow imitations that produce some noise, are the best choices for lures.
Fishing experts mention that smallmouth bass will move to the shallows at night, mainly over the rocky and sandy structures, hunting crayfish that live within the rocks, or even herding baitfish that move to into the shallows under darkness.
They do, however, make note that smallmouths are more easily spooked by angler movement at night than largemouth bass, particularly if fishing on moonlit waters. Under these conditions, fishermen are better served by fishing shady bank areas under clear, bright-moon skies, or casting from a farther distance to where the fish are holding
Conversely, a cloudy night can produce good fishing anywhere appropriate structure is found.
Smallmouth fishing is exciting, and if you’re lucky enough to know a couple of lakes with the right structure and depth, most likely you’ll find this fish living there.
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