Studio Notes: Smith Lake - Major League Fishing

Studio Notes: Smith Lake

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Rob Newell headshot Angler: Rob Newell.
On bass spawns, shad spawns, color selection, dock skipping and swimbaits as search baits
May 2, 2018 • Rob Newell • Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit

The fun of Studio Notes is going back in hindsight and looking at an FLW Tour event with 20/20 vision to see what happened and what could be learned. After all, when a bunch of the nation’s best bass anglers fish a lake for a week, there are a lot of observations to be made that make for some interesting theories.

I say theories because none of this is exactly fact. But when common observations come from the best anglers about bass on a particular lake, it’s fun to at least entertain the possibilities.

 

Spawn already over?

Going into the Smith Lake event, many people – myself included – figured it would be a spawn-dominated event based on the calendar dates. As it turned out, not so much.

Obviously, an additional 4 feet of water pouring into the lake during the event put the whole sight-fishing pattern out of sight, so to speak. But from the time practice started, many pros began to quietly discuss the number of postspawn bass they were catching.

By the time the day-one weigh-in began, it became very apparent that many of the fish brought to scale – both largemouth and spotted bass – were very lean and beat up from spawning activity.

During a spring when so many lakes across the country seem to be a couple of weeks behind, how did Smith Lake get ahead of the schedule?

This was the primary question that left many pros scratching their heads. Some who live in the area said there had actually been a rather warm spell several weeks before the tournament that brought many fish to the bank.

The other theory, which I think has a lot of merit, is the spawn on highland impoundments is much shorter than bass spawns on lakes in Florida or Texas where fish seem to spawn in waves over a period of four to eight weeks. Instead, the spawn on Smith might last only for a week or two.

The reasons for this may be twofold. One theory comes from Cody Meyer, who believes spotted bass spawn faster than largemouths.

“It’s almost like spawning is an annoyance to a spot,” Meyer says. “They would rather eat. So they get up there, get it done in one day – or night – and then it’s over and they go right back to eating. It’s not like largemouths that hang around beds for four or five days. For spots it’s like one and done.”

So what about the largemouths on Smith? Most of them looked to be postspawn, too.

Andy Morgan provides a theory to explain that.

“I think spawns on highland lakes like Smith happen so fast because they can literally spawn anywhere they want,” Morgan says. “You start talking about Texas or Florida lakes or other lowland lakes with a lot of vegetation, and the areas of hard bottom where they can spawn are more limited, so fish have to sort of wait their turn.

“That’s why there is so much more ‘staging’ and ‘waves’ in those kinds of lakes. Fish truly have to migrate in from the main lake, stage up and wait to get into the spawning grounds on different moons.

“Here at Smith, they can literally spawn anywhere. There is hardly any migration or staging. When the time gets right, a lot more fish spawn all at one time on Smith.”

 

Shad spawn 20/20

Is it just me, or does the shad spawn seem to be happening earlier and heavier this year? When covering the Costa FLW Series event at Santee Cooper the first week of April, I was surprised to learn how many of the top 10 were on heavy shad spawns. Last week at Smith I was caught off guard when David Williams told me he was targeting a prolific shad spawn.

Some years, it seems, there is a very slight shad spawn, and some years they seem to spawn more heavily.

And speaking of shad spawns, during FLW Live I ventured a guess that the reason Williams’ area in the Rock Creek arm of the lake was so strong was because water temps were higher in that branch, and therefore it was ahead of the rest of the lake.

FLW Tour pro Alex Davis, who fishes Smith when he is not guiding on Guntersville, believes the reason why had more to do with the fact that the Rock arm was “steeper, deeper and more stable” when the flood came. Davis says the shad spawn in the Ryan Creek arm was pretty strong along seawalls and bushes the first day of practice. Once all that hard cover was buried with 4 feet of muddy water, the shad were pushed out onto deeper, flat points with hard spots and gravel bars where they started spawning in 9 to 11 feet of water.

Davis believes that’s what made Jordan Osborne’s (fifth place) “magic spot” in Ryan Creek so good: Shad were spawning on it. 

 

White baits right for Williams

David Williams used a variety of lures en route to winning his first FLW Tour title. His choices included a pair of swim jigs, a vibrating jig and a buzzbait. But no matter which one he threw, the color was all the same: plain white.

With literally hundreds of lure colors to choose from these days, why was Williams so dedicated to white?

“Well, obviously, the shad were white,” Williams says. “And it’s just a reaction bite. I’m not trying to tease the fish into biting; they’re already aggressive. They’re under those docks wolfing down shad by the dozens. They’re going to snap at anything that goes by their face, and white is easy for them to see.

“It’s also easy for me to see,” he adds. “I can see when a fish eats the whole jig or if the fish just nips it. I can track the bait better as it comes through cover, knowing when to pause or twitch it.”

Williams used to work in a tackle store and still remembers how much anglers got hung up on the tiny nuances of color selection. Green pumpkin versus green gourd; black blue flake versus black purple flake; red bug versus plum – he says the amount of concern anglers have about color is way out of proportion to other important details such as where or how the lure is being fished.

 

Carolina school of hard knocks

During FLW Live, David Williams was asked how he got so good at skipping jigs under docks. He went on to name the who’s who of the Carolina jig-skipping contingent: Andy Montgomery, Bryan Thrift, Chris Baumgardner, Todd Auten, Shane Lineberger and Hank Cherry.

“When you compete against those guys on a weekly basis, you either get better or you quit,” Williams reasoned. “And I didn’t want to quit.”

 

Arey “Fetches” bass

Pennzoil Marine pro Matt Arey used a unique one-two combination of a swimbait and wacky rig to finish fourth at Smith.

Arey loves a swimbait, not only because it catches bass, but also because it finds a lot of bass.

“I basically use a swimbait as a search bait,” Arey says. “A lot of fish will come up and look at a swimbait. Once they show themselves, then I pick up a wacky rig and cast it right back to where the fish flashed. They can’t resist the wacky rig, and that’s what I end up catching them on.”

Over the years, Arey has used the same one-two combination to score multiple top 10s at Grand Lake in Oklahoma and Beaver Lake in Arkansas. One of his two Beaver Lake FLW Tour wins came from the same combination.

Arey uses this lethal pair of lures so much he has designed a swimbait for Lunkerhunt, aptly named the Fetch, which “fetched” him a lot of bass at Smith Lake last week.