Going Deep for County Smallies
After stopping and investigating my client and I were pleasantly surprised to find out those suspended fish were smallies.
Chris explains how to go Deep for county Smallies.
During a late in November 2006 smallie hunt with a client form Iowa we found ourselves searching for a school of big smallies after catching a bunch of fish below five pounds. On one of the runs to another location I graphed a large school of fish on my Lowrance LCX 27C that were suspended 28′ down over 103′ of water. Just like I normally do when something comes across the color screen that looks interesting I spun the boat around to check it out and am I glad I did. That decision to stop and investigate has lead to a discovery that at least in my little world make me feel as though I may have a tiny part in moving the general knowledge of smallmouth bass angling forward. So here is what transpired since that day.
After stopping and investigating my client and I were pleasantly surprised to find out those suspended fish were smallies and we managed to catch about 30 of them with a drop shot. I did not get out after that trip in 2006 and I just kind of figured those fish would settle into a 40′-60′ wintering area. Water temps were around the 46 – 48 deg area. On a late November day in 2007 I returned to the area to explore some more and try to figure out what they do and how they relate. However before I went to the area found the year before I was surprised to find water temps between 50 – 54 deg so I figured there would be a number of fish still shallow and/or holding on humps or points in various depth and I would give them a try. I pulled up to one of my late fall spots and started catching fish right away. After 40 fish or so and nothing over 4 pounds I asked my client if he would mind doing something completely different and trying to find some 5 or 6 pound fish. Since he had his fill of three to four pounders he was game and off we went to search for big fish.
As we idled around I noticed fish on a 38′ edge with a tapering slope down to around 90′ where there was another little shelf. After that it dropped again and flattened out at about 120 feet. We positioned the boat I about 70 feet and casted a drop shot to 26’ shelf and then the 38′ shelf and caught a bunch of smallies. After we were able to catch fish almost at will but nothing over 4 pounds we started looking for the big girls. Again idling around watching my Lowrance 112C I noticed fish in groups spread out over a wide range of depths down to 105′ so I picked a school of what I thought might be smallies in 77′ and dropped vertically to them. The first fish was a rock bass. The next one was a goby than another and finally a smallmouth, it was wild. Because I fish a lot of deep fish there is always the need to take the best care of the fish so we fizzed all the bass caught and put the two caught from 77′ in the live well to make sure they would not die. After making sure these fish were not doomed to die we continued our quest for some big ones. We were catching fish ranging from 8″ to 3.5 lbs. but nothing big. So after fizzing the fish and verifying that they would survive we spend the remainder of the day moving from school to school catching one and looking for the big ones. We never got deeper than 80′ as the day ended without a five ponder.
I was really intrigued to see that smallies were that deep as I had not caught them below 55′ before that. As we drove to the ramp my client an Iowa resident and Mississippi river angler and I reviewed what had transpired and he asked if we could get out again to explore some more if the weather cooperated. I was game and wanted to push what I thought was an extreme and learn more. The following Tuesday we got out because it looked like it was going to be the best day of the week despite the small craft warnings and 3 -5′ waves it had to be done. We spent the entire day looking for a school of big fish and pushing deeper and deeper. With the waves between 4 and 5′ it was difficult to stay over the fish and to keep the drop shot on the bottom. With a 3/4 oz weight it took around 45 seconds for our offering to reach bottom in about 100 feet. The maximum depth we were able to catch a fish in was 102′ and we never found a big one. The day ended with a vow to return next year to push the limits and explore the abyss some more.
Equipment used: Quantum Super Light 7’-4” spinning rod matched with the new Tour 20 size reel spooled with Sufix 10 pound braid and a Seguar Invizx 8 fluorocarbon leader. I utilized a #1 Gamakatsu drop shot hook with a 4” Strike King green pumpkin finesse worm rigged whacky and tied between 8 and 22 inches above the ¾ once hand poured bell sinker. For someone who lives offshore, quality electronics are my lifeline for without I would be blind. Up front I utilize a 27C to stay over the fish and drop to them back at the console I rely on my 102C to find structure and fish to target.
-Captain Chris Johnson