Bedfishing obese smallmouths is a blast, but there’s nothing like the rush of a trophy bronzeback busting a topwater popper. Thankfully, this big-fish, post-spawn pattern lasts most of the summer on waters within a short cast of many NAFC members.
The trick to tapping it is fishing high-percentage spots with the right baits and presentations. Start by finding rock and gravel humps, points and islands. My favorites lie in 10 to 15 feet of water, and are typically within a quarter mile from the spawning grounds.
Rocks from the size of footballs to Volkswagens attract fish, but the best are large rocks surrounded by smaller ones, because they attract roaming bass, and offer them ambush points.
Quality electronics are essential in locating the right structure. I like Humminbird’s Side Imaging sonar, which shows incredible rock formation detail, lets me plot tracks that follow the outline the structure, and create waypoints for boulders that stand out from the rocks around them.
Using these GPS breadcrumbs, I can fish key structure without ever driving over it and possibly spooking the fish.
Because the bass can be skittish, long casts are critical. I use a 7-foot, medium-power Lew’s Tournament Speed Stick to fire the bait out there. It’s paired with a matching Speed Spool low-profile casting reel that picks up slack-line in a hurry.
Mono is perfect for popping, because fluorocarbon sinks, dragging the bait down and killing the action. Twelve-pound Sufix ProMix is my personal favorite, but Siege and Elite are good, too. Just remember to use a loop knot, which lets the popper work its magic far better than a tight cinch knot.
Choose a popper that produces lots of gurgle and spray, like the 2¾-inch Rapala X-Rap Pop or 3½-inch Skitter Pop. Shades of silver, gold and chrome are hot finishes, but don’t overlook clown when bass want something different.
Short, crisp pops that produce gurgles and spray are hot on top.
Make a long cast. Let the bait sit until the ripples fade, then give it a couple quick 6-inch pops by twitching the rodtip sideways. Pause for five to 10 seconds, add another pop or two, and repeat. Ultimately, the right cadence hinges on the mood of the fish, so experiment until you get it right.
When a bass strikes, keep your cool. Lower your rodtip toward the fish, reel up the slack, and set the hook when you feel the weight of the fish. If bass are missing the bait, tweak lure size and color until they connect.
Finally, if you just can’t seal the deal, try throwing something different—like an X-Rap XR10 jerkbait. Often, this turns the tide with smallies that aren’t quite ready for dinner on the ceiling.
Editor’s Note: For more tips and tournament news from NAFC Member Scott Bonnema, including details on how you can win a brand-new Ranger RT 188 and Mercury 115 OptiMax Pro XS bass boat, visit classicbass.com.