In Praise of Smallmouth Bass

Filed in The Sporting Angler by on February 9, 2016 0 Comments

Whether it was the smallmouth bass or its largemouth cousin I’m not sure. But in 1881 Dr. James Henshall declared black bass “Inch for inch and pound for pound, the gamest fish that swims”, and I can do nothing but utter a heartfelt, “Amen!”  If we in the cyber-shire were unabashed Anglophiles we would possibly discount this notion but that would be a mistake. Even at the time Dr. Henshall was writing such British commentators as ‘Frank Forester’ and ‘Oblique’ praised our bass not only for its combative gameness but for its excellence as table fare.  Again I say, “Amen!”

Smallmouth Bass Encounters

The heroic smallmouth bass

The heroic smallmouth bass

I am ashamed to admit that I was well into adulthood before I ever met Micropterus dolomieu.  Growing up in Southern California I was (and to some degree remain) a saltwater angler.  The ocean was closer, the fish were bigger and sixty plus years ago if there were any smallmouth in my half of the state I definitely didn’t know about it.  However, in my mid-teens I started receiving Outdoor Life and while my main devotion was to Jack O’Connor’s gun and hunting articles the photos of leaping smallmouth and the author’s unabashed praise for the fish definitely got my attention!  However, it wasn’t until I was in my late fifties that I ever got the chance to go after one.

The circumstances were, as is normal for me, somewhat eccentric.  My outdoor partner, Jim, happened to mention that he had come across an outfitting company  at a sportsman’s show who offered fishing where the client got a cabin, boats and the exclusive use of an entire lake.  Unfortunately, he hadn’t gotten their contact information.  All he had was a name.  Well, as a trained historian and senior Intelligence Sergeant, digging up data was a large part of what I lived for and after some diligent searching I discovered the people he was talking about though their name had changed.  Jim was more than a bit amazed when I announced that I had located Canoe Canada and that these were the people we needed to check out.  Even more amazed were the people there when I told them how I had hunted them down!   They didn’t seek out Western clients and never went to shows (except once) west of the Mississippi.  However, they are a hospitable lot and gladly flew us into Naymaygoos Lake for a week.  The fishing was wonderful.  We caught walleye, Northern pike (and I even caught a lake trout!) but the high point for me was finally hooking into the storied smallmouth bass.  It was a revelation!

Smallmouth country

Smallmouth country

Why the Smallmouth bass?

Dr. Henshall not only was America’s first great advocate for the smallmouth bass but also instrumental in the development of what today we call bait-casting.  The landed classes of the Continent have long been and remain to this day fly anglers.  Most everyone else on that side of The Pond fishes with spinning gear, the technique that came into its own after WWII.  Bait-casting with multiplier reels was an American invention and still pretty much is centered here.  Bass, both large and smallmouth, are a big reason for that.  There is just something about the basses’  maniac attack on a surface lure that raises the hackles on the back of your neck and sends your blood racing.  Though nearly all of America’s great fly casters have been great fans of the smallmouth bass, it is plug casting that really hits me where I live.  And the plug of plugs, as far as I’m concerned, is the Heddon Spook.

Heddon Spook, smallmouth lure of lures

Heddon Spook, smallmouth lure of lures

In Canada all plugs must be barbless and treble hooks must be replaced with singles.  Fine by me!  I’ve had so much fun heaving a spook out in likely habitat, letting the ripples die down, giving it a twitch and watching some scaly berserker hammer it and go dancing across the surface that I know it’s added years to my life.  In a couple of months I’ll have moved to the Pacific Northwest.  I’ve already established that the Willamette River has a fine population of smallmouth and I plan to pursue them with delight.  Though I may fish for salmon, steelhead and shad with cuisine aforethought, when it comes to smallmouth bass, it’s all about fun.  Yeah, filleted and trimmed of the dark meat, smallies are good on the plate but I’d rather slip them back in the river to fight another day.  If I had to spend the rest of my life fishing for only one species, the smallmouth bass would the the first choice, hands down!








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