Smallmouth Bass in Sunset Country

It's great to be a smallmouth angler in Sunset Country because of the numbers and size of bass.

It's no secret that smallmouth bass is my favourite fish. I've fished for them in every state they swim, including much of Canada. It's great to be a smallmouth angler because the numbers and size of bass are rising throughout their range — particularly in Sunset Country.

For many, a trip to Canada is a walleye trip with some big pike fishing. Smallmouths have long been overlooked or just considered a bonus catch. But I'm tellin' you, the smallmouth bass fishing north of the border has always been good. It continues improving, and Sunset Country is one of the best destinations to target Smallmouth, period.

smallmouth-bass-sunset

There are countless bass fisheries up here. However, most of them are close to the border. Two more famous smallmouth spots, Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake, are border waters. Atikokan, which may be my favourite area for Smallmouth, is less than two hours from Fort Frances. What I'm getting at is you don't need to travel long hours after crossing the border for world-class smallmouth bass fishing.

When is a good time to plan a trip to Sunset Country? Well, there's no closed season for Smallmouth in this part of the world, and the bite's good anytime you plan a trip up here. You have to understand the seasonal movements of Smallmouth. Where the fish are and how you target them changes based on timing. From my experience, June is a really popular time to see anglers targeting Smallmouth. The fish are shallow; usually, in June, the fish are spawning or post-spawn. I'm not a big fan of targeting spawning fish, so I often plan my trip before or after the spawn.

Going before the spawn is hands down one of my favourite bites of the year. The fish are on, and nothing beats a jerkbait. This time of year, you're looking for gravel and rock flats in about 3 to 10 feet of water. If the water is still cold, they are often schooled up on the first break adjacent to these flats; they will eventually spawn on. The fish will let you know when you're around them. That's what makes Smallmouth so great. They are curious by nature and like to bite.

As summer progresses, there will still be good numbers of fish in the shallows. Look for big boulder piles, boulders with weeds and even strictly weeds. Fishing smallmouth in the weeds isn't something a lot of anglers consider. But, in summer, weed beds are loaded with tons of bait, and the Smallmouth are there to take advantage.

sunset-smallmouth-bass

This is an excellent time of year to get on a hot topwater bite. I pack poppers, walk the dog style baits and some prop baits. If conditions aren't right for toppin', bust out the classics like three to four-inch swimbaits, grubs, hair jigs, jerkbaits and even spinnerbaits if you get some wind. One thing about Smallmouth is they can get really tuned into one specific presentation. At these times, one lure can out-fish everything else in your tackle box. My point is, pack it all and let the fish tell ya what they want.

Late summer into early fall, the fish often begin to move deeper. Main lake humps and prominent points can hold big schools of bass. I've seen it at this time where you may fish two or three good-looking spots and catch nothing, and then at the next spot, you spend an hour catching a fish on almost every cast.

bait-smallies

One of my favourite techniques this time of year is fishing a ¼ oz jig with a four-inch plastic minnow. Cast it out, count down it to depth and reel it in slowly a few feet off the bottom. This same bait works incredibly well vertically. We call the technique "moping"; the professional bass crew calls it Damiki Rigging.

This technique won my nephews James and Bill Lindner the Rainy Lake tournament several times! Moping will continue to work right up until the ice is up. The secret is to do nothing. Don't jig it; just hold it steady. If you see fish on the graph, hold it several feet above them. You want the fish to move up to the bait. You'll catch a lot more this way than putting it at their depth.

smallmouth-bass-bait

We've glossed over the generalities of Smallmouth in Sunset Country throughout the season. Naturally, fish do what they do and there are no strict rules. Just be prepared regardless of when you head up here. Here's a list of what I'll always have in the boat, which you should consider bringing.

Recommended Gear

  • Spinning Combos — My go-to jerk bait setup is a 6'8" Medium Power, Extra-Fast Action with a size 2500 or 3000 reel. Spooled with high viz 10-pound braid to a ten or 12-pound fluorocarbon leader. I love fishing X-Raps on this rod, and it's also versatile for other presentations.
  • My "do it all" rod is a 7'0" Medium Power, Fast Action with a size 2500 spinning reel spooled with a 10-pound braid to an 8- 10 pound fluorocarbon leader. I'll fish swimbaits, grubs, tubes, Ned Rigs and mope with this set-up.
  • My finesse rig is a 7'6" Medium-Light Power, Extra-Fast Action with a size 2500 spinning reel. Spooled with a 6-pound braid to a 6-8-pound fluorocarbon leader. I'll use it for throwing light marabou hair jigs, and drop-shots or use it for other finesse techniques.
  • Baitcasting Combos — My bait cast setup for jerkbaits is a 6'8" Medium Power, Extra-Fast Action with a 100-size reel in an 8.1:1 gear ratio spooled with 10-pound fluorocarbon. Sometimes smallmouth prefers jerkbaits presented on fluoro, as opposed to braid. It's also fun to get 'em on a bait caster.
  • A 7' Medium Power, Moderate-Fast Action with size 100 reel in a 7.1:1 gear ratio spooled with 14-pound monofilament is my go-to topwater setup, and I can also throw light crankbaits with it.
  • If you like throwing spinnerbaits and Chatterbaits, use a 7'2" Heavy Power, Moderate-Fast Action with a size 100 reel in a 6.3:1 gear ratio spooled with 17-pound fluorocarbon.

Tackle to Bring

  • Hair Jigs — 1/16oz VMC Marabou Jig. Black is the only colour you need. 1/8 and 1/4oz VMC Moontail Jigs
  • Jigs — Selection of 1/8-3/8oz VMC Mooneye Jigs, 1/16-1/4oz Ned Rig Jigs, 3/32-1/4oz Finesse Half Moon Jigs, 1/8-3/8oz Darter Head Jigs (works well for internal tube rigging), 3/16-3/8oz Hybrid Swimbait Jigs.
  • Jerkbaits — X-Raps in sizes 8 and 10. Size 10 is the "go-to", and bring some bright colours. I also bring the Shadow Rap Deep and PXR Mavrik.
  • Topwater: Rapala X-Pop, X-Prop, Skitter Prop, Skitter V and BX Waking Minnow
  • Crankbaits — Shad Raps (5 & 7), Rippin' Raps (5 & 6), DT's (6,8 &10), OG Deep Tiny 7.
  • Plastics — 3.5" Suicide Shad, 2.5" & 3.5" Salt Tubes, 4 & 5" trick sticks, 3 & 4" Grubs, Scentsation Slim Minnow, 2.8"-3.8" Pro Swimmers, 3” & 3.75" Kamikaze Craw.
  • Spinnerbaits and Bladed Jigs — 3/8-1/2oz Spinnerbaits, willow blades are what you want for Smallmouth. Bladed jigs can also be phenomenal, so pack some from 3/8-3/4oz.

This list of gear will have you prepared for smallmouth regardless of when you head north. There's a reason smallmouth are my favourite fish: they can be caught in such a wide variety of presentations, and they love to bite and pull hard. Smallmouths in NW Ontario are even more special because they live in such a beautiful place and are nearly unpressured. Here, you can expect to have exceptional days on the water as the norm, not the exception.

About Al Lindner

Al Lindner is an icon in the North American Sports Fishing industry. Founder along with his brother Ron of In-Fisherman Magazine, tournament angler and now co-host of Lindner's Angling Edge, there really isn't an accomplishment Al hasn't attained in his over 50 plus years of fishing.

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