Without a doubt, lure makers have recognized anglers’ growing obsession with catching the tenacious smallmouth bass. “What we’re seeing is that a lot of fishermen who traditionally target largemouths are focusing on smallies when they go on vacation,” says Andy Carroll, Sales and Marketing Director at PRADCO, the parent company of Smithwick, Yum, Bomber and a number of other brands. “They can fish largemouths maybe 10 months of the year, but when they take a week-long fishing trip, they go after smallies.
“They’re fun to catch, and you get a lot of multiple-fish days—with 50, 60, sometimes 100 per boat.
“Plus, there are a lot of fishermen who live in the smallmouth regions—the upper Mississippi, Great Lakes and the Northeast—who were traditional walleye and perch anglers. They might have looked as smallmouths as filler between walleye bites, but found out how much fun it is to target them.”
Lake Erie’s smallmouth boom is a prime example of an opportunity that hooked fishermen, then lure makers as well. Baits like Storm’s WildEye Goby, Culprit’s Ultimate Series Goby, Berkley’s Gulp! Goby and Bass Pro Shops’ Goby, to name a few, were all developed to help fishermen take advantage of a food chain in flux on those particular bodies of water.
“The Gulp!Goby has done very well in the Great Lakes states,” says Berkley Sr. Marketing Manager Eric Naig. “The 4-inch is the perfect size for those fish. With smallmouths, the challenge is finding them, but when you do, they’re pretty willing biters. They’re curious, and will come to investigate a lure faster than a largemouth will, and that’s why I think Gulp! works so well on them. I’ve seen it everywhere I’ve fished.”
The development of unique lures for a specific situation is only part of the story, though.
Lure builders have also designed hardbaits in sizes, with actions and patterns, which make them more appealing to smallies. “We’ve worked hard to better understand the dynamics of how smallmouths attack lures,” says Salmo Marketing Manager Tom Zenanko. “Take topwaters; they’re exciting to fish, but missed strikes are an unfortunate part of that game. We’ve found ways, however, to increase the success rate. You get more hook-ups, for example, when the lure sits lower in the water, so the Salmo Pop and Rover topwaters are specifically designed to be low-riders—to help boost your hook-up success."
Color is another factor. While smallmouths will no doubt respond to lures in various shades of black, green, brown, and other colors typically used to attract largemouth bass—they also react to lighter, brighter lures more often than do largemouths. “We have certainly brought lures in colors specifically meant for smallmouth bass,” says Rapala’s Mark Fisher, speaking of the company’s famous X-Rap slashbait. “I’d say the Glass Ghost, Hot Pink, Clown and Olive patterns are undoubtedly smallmouth colors.”
And if sales records can be considered any indication, it seems anglers tend to agree with him. “Sales in just those four colors handsomely exceeds 100,000 lures,” he says.