Wading for Smallies | Outdoor Life

Wading for Smallies

There are hundreds of smallmouth rivers suitable for wading that are ideal for anglers interested in some easy fishing at a moment's notice. You don't need a boat, a canoe, a float tube or even hip boots. In some waters, you couldn't use a boat even if you wanted to, either because boats aren't allowed or simply because there's no launch. Likewise, you don't need a hundred lures or a bevy of rods and reels to wade for smallmouths. A light spinning outfit and a small box stuffed with assorted lures will do fine.

WHERE TO FISH

• The right water might be big or small, but don't venture out past waist deep.

• In early morning and late evening, smallmouths cruise the shallows to run minnows. Concentrate on weedy shorelines and island banks. Try topwater lures or safety pin--style spinnerbaits.

• During the day fish long runs, short riffles, pools, undercut banks near bridge pilings, riprapped banks, rocky cliffs along the shore and gravel banks. Fan-cast diving lures, in-line spinners, weighted soft-plastics and hair jigs to deeper holes.

HOW TO FISH

• If river conditions allow, wade cross-stream, casting ahead to pools, rocks and riffles. This keeps you out of the line of sight of bass and allows a clean presentation to each new spot.

• Quartering casts downstream and upstream are best. Avoid straight downstream casts, since wading will often stir up debris that might spook fish. Straight upstream casts require rapid and controlled retrieves to work the lure while maintaining a tight enough line to strike when a fish hits.

• Once an area is covered, move a cast length upstream or downstream and repeat the wade-across approach until you reach the shore.

• Current breaks such as large rocks are bass magnets. Fish such spots carefully, casting in front and in back of the rock, then move to an upstream or downstream position and pepper the sides with the lure. Riprap and islands also attract river smallmouths. Fish them thoroughly.

For more on fishing, go to outdoorlife.com/fishing

GEAR YOU'LL NEED

PFD The new type of personal flotation device (PFD) inflated by a gas cartridge is so inconspicuous you might forget you're wearing it. In some states or fishing waters, wearing a PFD is mandatory (check local regulations). The one shown is from (1) Mustang (about $140; 800-227-7776; basspro.com).

Wading Outfit (2) Wrangler Pro Gear Mojo shirt and shorts (about $30 for the shirt, $24 for the shorts; 888-784-8571; wrangler.com) have plenty of deep pockets. (3) Wading shoes from Cabela's (about $30; 800-237-4444; cabelas.com) or (4) Hood River sandals from Keen (about $85; keen.com) beat old sneakers. (5) A Tilley T4 hemp hat (about $70; tilley.com) has a wide brim to ward off the sun. Team it with top-of-the-line polarized glasses to keep ultraviolet sunrays at bay. The ones shown are (6) Julbo Typhoons (about $130; julbo.fr).

Rod and Reel A spinning outfit loaded with 6- or 8-pound-test line is the most versatile rig. Shown here is a (7) 6½-foot Fenwick Techna AV rod and Abu Garcia Cardinal reel filled with 6-pound-test Berkley Trilene Sensation monofilament (about $240 for the combo; 800-491-4253; purefishing.com). Remember to take a spare spool along.

Lure Hauler Anything you would use to catch smallmouths where you normally fish will work when you wade streams, except maybe deep-diving crankbaits (see sidebar, opposite). Carry your tackle in a short vest or belt pack like the (8) Plano 3355 SoftSider Waistpack (about $15 with plastic boxes; 800-226-9868; planomolding.com).

Nice to Have Unless you plan to release what you catch, carry a cord stringer in your back pocket. Also, make room for a small container of bug repellent, bottled water and a few snacks. The (9) Rapala ProGuide Combo includes fishing pliers and line scissors that are carried in a clip-on belt sheath (about $22; rapala.com).

Smallmouth Tackle Pack

Most fishing for stream smallmouths takes place in shallow runs and riffles and a few deep holes. Following is a list of productive lures designed to cover such applications. A few of each type appropriate to water conditions in your area will do. In the case of lures available in several sizes, it's usually wise to choose the smaller models.

TOPWATERS: Small stickbaits, propbaits, chuggers and poppers: Heddon Tiny Torpedo, Smithwick Devil's Horse, Heddon Baby Lucky 13, Rebel Pop-R, Arbogast Jitterbug, Storm Rattlin' Chug Bug, Rapala Skitter Pop, Heddon Crazy Crawler, Heddon Super Spook Jr., Lucky Craft Sammy, Yo-Zuri 3-D Popper, Heddon Zara Puppy, Poe's Blurpee, Cordell Crazy Shad, Strike King Spit-N-King.

SHALLOW RUNNERS: Short-lipped lures that dive only to a foot or so: Mann's Minus One, Bomber Long A, Bagley Small Fry Bream, Cordell Redfin, Timber Tiger DC-1, Rapala Minnow, Yo-Zuri Pin's Minnow, Strike King Bitsy Pond Minnow.

MEDIUM RUNNERS: For deeper holes: Storm Wee Wart, Bagley Honey B, Rebel Crawfish, Bomber Fat A, Luhr Jensen Speed Trap, Bill Norman Tiny N.

LIPLESS RUNNERS: For times when smallmouths are actively chasing baitfish: Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, Rapala Rattlin' Rapala, Berkley Frenzy Rattl'R, Owner Cultiva Mira Vibe, Yo-Zuri Rattl 'N Vibe, Mann's Mannniac, Cordell Spot.

IN-LINE SPINNERS: Gold, silver/nickel and black blades are best all-around. Black works well in stained water, shiny is best for clear water. Among the most popular brand names are Hildebrandt, Mepps, Blue Fox, Strike King, Panther Martin, Worden's (Rooster Tail) and Terminator.

SOFT-PLASTICS: Any of a number of plastic worms, soft jerkbaits, tubes, leeches, frogs and lizards in black, brown, chartreuse, pumpkinseed and watermelon: YUM, Berkley (Power Baits and Gulp!), Creme, Lunker City, Mann's, Zoom, Strike King, Mister Twister and yamamoto.

METAL LURES: When minnows are the main forage. To avoid line-snarling twists in current, be sure to carry a few ball-bearing snap swivels to tie on before using spinners and spoons: johnson Silver Minnow, Acme Little Cleo, Dardevle, Acme Dixie Flash, Bagley Sculpted Weedles Minnow, Acme Phoebe, Cicada, Heddon Sonar.

JIGS: Hair jigs and rubber- or plastic-skirted jigs in green, brown, red or black: Berkley, Blue Fox, Stanley, Hildebrandt (Jigzilla), Strike King, Mister Twister, Lindy Little Joe, Blakemore, Hammer Head.

SPINNERBAITS AND BUZZBAITS: Yellow and black skirts are hard to beat: Booyah, Terminator, Hildebrandt, Strike King, Bagley Switch Blade and Mann's.