MLF pro Matt Lee may have cut his teeth fishing for largemouth and spotted bass south of the Mason-Dixon line, but the Alabama native has proven his smallmouth chops time and again throughout his professional career. Lee looks forward to the yearly northern swing, when tournament trails head north to famed bronze-bass fisheries.
Lake Erie out of Sandusky, Ohio is the playing field for the FLW Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit anglers this week, and it’s sure to come with its share of drama. Big water, big brown bass, and long runs are on the minds of all competing anglers. Lee is coming off two solid tournaments on Sturgeon Bay and the Mississippi River out of La Crosse, where smallmouth were key for both finishes.
While it sounds like the Lake Erie smallmouth have been somewhat unreliable for the Carhartt pro this week, Lee still graciously laid out two tips for catching more smallmouth that you can take to the bank.
Use Bright Braided Line
Finesse equipment is synonymous with northern smallies like spaghetti is with meatballs. Lee is an expert with his spinning setups and doesn’t hesitate to admit they do the lion share of his heavy lifting when catching smallmouth.
“Using a super high-vis line color is extremely helpful,” Lee said. “I’ve been using the ‘Flash Green’ color. Having a bright main line helps in multiple ways. It makes it easier for me to see what my bait is doing, and it helps me detect bites. You’ll be able to see if your bait is on the bottom or still sinking, and if your line jumped with a bite or if it’s swimming off to the side much, much easier.”
Lee always ties a Seaguar Tatsu Fluorocarbon leader to his braided main line when finesse fishing. So he still gets the sneaky, subtle advantages of fluorocarbon, while also taking advantage of the visibility, sensitivity, and durability of braid.
“I’m still young but I’m not scared to admit that bright line helps me keep eyes on it,” Lee joked. “In all seriousness, seeing what your bait is doing while it’s on the bottom is a big deal in finesse fishing. It also saves me a lot of money cause I’m only going through 8-15 feet of fluorocarbon leader line at a time instead of a whole spool.”
Add scent to your soft plastics
A second step Lee takes when he knows he’s headed to battle with smallmouth is adding different scents to his soft-plastic finesse baits. It’s no secret smallmouth are aggressive sight feeders and locate most of their meals with their eyes. Ironically, that’s why Lee believes scents work so well on bronzebacks.
“Smallmouth might see your lure from a long way off but they don’t always just race in and eat it,” Lee explained. “I think your lure catches their attention and a lot of times they’ll come in for a closer look. That’s where adding scent is key. When that bait has natural scent flowing off of it I don’t think smallmouth can help themselves.”
While you might not think of clear water fisheries as ideal places to start boosting soft plastics with scent, Lee conceded he only takes this step when targeting northern smallmouth. He genuinely believes this process gives him a potential edge over his competition. And when you fish against the bunch Lee does, you can’t take anything for granted.
“I must have gone through two bottles of scent adding them to my 6th Sense Ned Fry Worms at Sturgeon Bay,” Lee admitted. “There isn’t any brand or particular flavor I live and die by, I’ve tried them all. Pro-Cure, Gulp, BANG – they all seem to work. As long as you have some kind of scent for those smallmouth to key in on when they cruise by your bait, you’ll catch more fish.”