by Rick Lawrence, September 06, 2018
The Smallmouth Bass is one of the most exciting fish to catch that swims. Whether it be on a Crankbait , topwater. Soft plastic or a jerkbait Smallies can really put up a battle. Here are the ten best Smallies lures ever made
The Rebel Pop R
Nothing in fishing is more thrilling then having a big Smallmouth Bass blowing up on a topwater lure. This is one lure that I love to fish for Smallies, watching it pop and chug on the surface. It is probably a lure you remember from your father or grandfathers tackle box. Referred to as a plug, these classic lures have been catching bass for more than four decades. The secret to correctly getting the Rebel Pop-R to create the pop and chug sound and the spitting water effect is all in the action of the wrist as you move the rod tip. Experiment with time that you pause between pops and pauses until you find what's right. The fish will soon let you know what they like. In warm water shorten the time between the pops, and as the water cools down near fall longer pauses between pops produces better results. The Pop-R is a very versatile bait. It can be fished shallow, around weed lines, and over submerged cover like rocks or logs. The lure performs well in many situations, but will hang up in weeds or cover on the surface. Don’t pass up a lure just because it is old school, give these classics a try and you will see why they have been around so long.
The original Wiggle Wart is another old school bait has been through a couple of iterations since it was introduced. Storm came out with the original in 1964 and after Rapala purchased Storm they made a few modifications. Diehards say the original was better, but most anglers know they both work very well. What makes them different? They have a very unique wobble and they track crazy. They run left for a while and shift gears and track right. They skip side to side under water and look like a drunken crawfish with a buzz on. The line ties to a snap instead of a split ring and that gives the bait even more latitude to swim. Collectors look for them too, so if you have any originals in good shape they might be worth a few bucks.
Super Fluke Jr.
One of the most exciting lures to fish for river Smallmouth Bass is the Zoom Super fluke style soft plastic jerkbait. They cast a mile, land softly, and Smallmouth hammer them. I'll admit, the fluke is an off and on bait. The best times are usually spring and late fall. Best used when bass want something crippled. I often check in the summer to see if the bite is on too.
I like to fish this bait perpendicular to the current and let it drift, flutter, and die. When the current is just right the bait will glide along sideways like a flustered dying minnow. Just toss it into the fast current near a current seam and fish will dart up and nail it. I also like to drift flukes under rocks or logs as you often don't need to do too much more than reel in slack and set the hook. I like to rig them 2 ways. On either a keel weighted or un-weighted EWG screw lock hook Texas rigged or on a gammy finesse hook nose rigged. When nose hooked twitching the rod tip can really make the bait dance from side to side and trigger strikes.
One of my favorite somewhat new baits that I have been crushing the Smallies with in the last few years is the Chatterbait. There are quite a few companies that make a good chatter bait. The one pictured is a Z-Man who made them first and makes great baits. This versatile lure can be used in many different fishing situations because of its action and its variety in sizes and colors. The bladed swim jig can be fished as a spinnerbait, crankbait, or jig to match even the toughest smallmouth bass fishing conditions. I fish them mainly in the spring, but they will catch Bronzebacks all season long. You will catch some fish on a chatterbait with the standard chuck-and-wind retrieve. But I guarantee you’ll catch more fish if you incorporate some action into the retrieve with your rod tip, by using small twitches and varying the speed.
The Heddon Zara Spook was first made in 1939 and it doesn’t get much more old school than that. It created not only a topwater craze and savage jaw dropping strikes, but it created its own swagger on the water as well. The "Walk the dog" technique was born with the creation and perfection of this lure and it was an overnight success. The walk the dog technique became not only an effective way to catch bass, but also a way to search for bass during the warm months in tournament situations. It seemed to call bass from great distances and a lot of tournament anglers learned you could get bass to show themselves without ever having to hook them by taking the hooks off the bait. Even though it's a niche bait, the fact that it spawned its own technique, gave anglers more options and opened up topwater fishing to another dimension. Its influence is why some 80 years later it made it in our top 10.
Kalin’s curly tail grub
Kalin's Salty Lunker Grubs are unique from all other curly tails in that they have the thinnest tails on any grubs. As far as I know, no other grub on the market even comes close to having as thin a tail as Kalin's Salty Lunker Grub. This is true for both the 3" and the 5" models. These tails wiggle seductively with the slightest movement by the angler, or even from water or current movement as the grub lays idle on the bottom. Just rig them on a ballhead jig and drag them on the bottom or swim over cover. It really doesn’t matter if you rig them tail down or tail up I use both methods and both catch fish equally well.
There are literally hundreds of jerkbaits on the market. Luckycraft, Megabass, Smithwick, Ima Flit, and Rebel all make some good jerkbaits. Some of the best ones are made by Rapala. The Original Floater Diver Minnow, Husky Jerk, Shadow Rap and X Rap are all great jerkbaits at a reasonable price. One of my favorites is the X Rap pictured here. Smallmouths love reaction baits and these are some of the best. I like to fish a jerkbait with a steady fast twitching retrieve rather than a twitch, twitch pause. I feel the less time a Smallie has to look at the bait the more likely it will swipe at it as it goes by. You get a lot of fish hooked outside the mouth on this type of bait and retrieve, but it puts a ton of fish in the boat. When the jerkbait bite is on it is laterally a cast, twitch, twitch, BANG every cast. The X Rap 08 in Perch, Rainbow, Silver blue, Hot Pink and Clown are some of my go to baits for Small jaws.
A White spinner bait
For Smallies you can fish any color of spinnerbait you want, as long as it is white. I use a lot of different brands of spinnerbaits I have used Terminator, Strike King, Bass Pro Shops, Booyah , War Eagle, and even make my own. But the ones I use for Smallies all have 2 things in common. They are all white or mostly white and have double willow blades. I don’t really know why smallies love white spinnerbaits with willow blades, but they do. I always run a trailer hook on every spinnerbait and most of the time I run a soft plastic trailer as well. The one pictured is the Bass pro Shops Lazar Eye. This is really a chuck and wind bait. Yes I make small pops once in a while to make the skirt flair, but for the most part you just swim the bait along. This is my main early spring bait for pre-spawn to post spawn fish and sometimes late fall fish will hit them as well.
The Fish-N-Fool lures “Sink-N-Fool” bait is a bait that if you don’t know about yet you need to use it. It is one of the most versatile soft plastic baits you will ever fish. I have fished this bait 100 ft deep to catch winter Smallies on a dropshot and as a top water bait to catch L.M. bass from shallow weedy lakes. This bait shines as a drop shot bait for river smallies using the “Drag the dropshot” method I told you about in one of my earlier articles. You can also fish with bait very effectively on a weightless or keel weighted EWG hook. I use the weightless rig for fishing lakes or slack water in the river and a keel weighted one when fishing the main river channel. The key to the bait when fishing it on a weightless EWG hook is how it falls in the water. Because they are loaded with salt and are somewhat flat in shape they build up water resistance as they fall. This makes the bait wobble and arc from side to side producing an action no other soft bait has. Picture it the same as when a dry leaf falls in the air. This unique action triggers strikes on the fall from not only bass of all kinds, but many other types of fish. Everything from Mahi Mahi to Muskie’s and Trout to Tarpon has been caught on a Sink-N-Fool bait. Another versatile thing about this bait as it works great as a soft jerkbait as well and can be fished just like a fluke when nose rigged. They come in 2 sizes, a 5” that I like for Smallies and a 6” for L.M. Bass, they come in about 20 colors as well. White, Rainbow Trout, Pumpkin Blue Pearl, Chartreuse Pepper, Earthworm, and Bubble Gum, are some of my favorite Smallies colors.
21” Smallie from the Pend Oreille River caught on a 5” white Sink-N-Fool on the “Drag the drop-shot” rig
The Rebel Craw
A host of Rebel Lures have become fishing legends; lures like the Broken Back (jointed) Minnow, the Pop-R, Wee-R, and the best I think is the Rebel Crawfish crankbaits. This is another one of those old school baits that have been around since the early 80’s. This is the Deep Wee Craw and it is one of my go to baits for Smallies from March till November. The other craw baits made by Rebel catch fish, but not like the Deep Wee does. It is simply the best crankbait ever made to catch Smallmouth with. There’s really no wrong way to fish this bait. If it’s in the water you will catch fish on it, but if you can bounce it off rocks or other cover on the retrieve it can be deadly. A word of warning though, bouncing it off rocks or docks on the cast can break the bill off. These can dive up to 10 feet on light lines and are ideal to fish heavy cover with as they tend to bump over the cover most of the time and trigger strikes when they do.
The best Smallie colors are the Moss Green pictured here, Ditch Brown, Nest Robber and Cajun craw.