Fishing for smallmouth in February might not be a big hoot for some folks down south, however, up in Minnesota where we frequently drop down below zero degrees during that time of year, catching open water smallmouth is a privilege. So, when the opportunity presents itself, some of us take full advantage. Follow the link for a short clip of the action.
There are a few places in the land of 10,000 lakes you can find open water in February and the Mississippi river is one of them. Bringing some mud boots or waders, you can explore the shoreline for miles. I’m not going to tell you exactly where, but if you think about it real hard or read the comments on this article, someone will let you know where I’m catching these winter smallmouths.
I don’t need to remind many of you that the 40-degree heat blast we had just a few days back. The sun was out for most of the day and the wind was relatively calm. The rivers water level is where its normally at in the winter with very clear water.
Depending on where I fished, the current was both strong and weak. I found that the fish held around points, but specifically, point with baseball or smaller sized rock. For whatever reason the smallmouth didn’t want to be in the faster current and opted for a smaller rock size.
I found myself catching fish in 3-4 feet of water. Mostly because I only have mud boots and couldn’t get out much farther, I did notice one of my fishing partners catching more fish because he could get his bait another 5 yards father than me could have been a big factor or may just been a psychological thing. Fishing was still great for both of us, he just got the bragging rights for the day.
Time of day:
The fishing did seem to have its highs and low for sure. Groups of smallmouth would move up and down the shoreline feeding at their own desire. At times, we would notice a group of guys catching them while we are not and vice versa. Up until about noon, the fishing was constant, but like clockwork, two days in a row they stopped biting until about 2, after that things picked up. I was unable to get out there before 9am, however, I imagine you could get on em’ pretty good, it helps to be the first guys to the spot too.
Rod: I went and broke out the spinning gear and couldn’t be more excited about it. Using a Cabela’s Fish Eagle 54 7’0” Med paired with a Quantum Accurist 5.2:1 ratio with 8 bearings. Great set up for around $150, super light and the rod has a lifetime warranty.
The reason I opt for a med action rod when fighting fish on the river is simply to let me throw the heavy bait that I’m using and to give me more control over the fish. Once you have these river smallies hooked, they hardly ever come off.
Line: Using Berkley Fireline (11lbs) with a six foot Berkley fluorocarbon leader (8 lbs) you can’t go wrong. Sure, you could go a bit bigger and not worry about line snaps, but I just loosen the drag and let em’ fight. You can also go 100% fluorocarbon and that may not be a bad idea either.
Bait: Being the die-hard bass fisherman, I am almost NEVER using live bait when fishing for smallies. This time of the year I do make exceptions, especially when I can catch so many with one technique. If you have never heard of the drop shot, you need to do some serious research! It’s a killer when the fish want it. An Eagle Claw live bait hook size #1 and medium-large sucker minnow with a 4-8 inch tag on the drop shot with a ½-¼ oz. weight depending on current and water depth. The lighter weights don’t snag as much but they also travel down current faster than sometimes desired, so experiment with weights and go with what you are comfortable with. Nose hook the sucker and try not to go too far back on the skull.
Throwing around a nose hooked sucker minnow can be tricky, if you whip it, your sucker goes flying off into space. If you baby the cast, you may not get in the deeper water that sometimes in key. Toss your rig up stream and make sure to keep the line tight. If you fail to do so, the line can wrap around rocks or you won’t feel the bite.
As you let the bait move down stream, keep on reeling up the slack line. The bites can come right when your bait lands or when your bait is downstream, ready to be sent back up. This kind of fishing does require a lot of casting and retrieving. I found that to be an impotent factor. I was constantly trying to cast my bait as far and upstream as possible. Now remember, other people may be around, so have some common respect and realize your baits may end up near each other, it’s just part of the game when river fishing from shore.
If you are near the Mississippi River and you know there is open water, smallmouth bass will bite! These fish put up one heck of a fight and keep eating alllllll yearlong. In one afternoon, we went through Three dozen sucker minnows between two guys. The catch and release season for this area ends shortly. February 25th will be anyone’s last chance to get out before the season is shut down until opener. The boarder waters are still open though so make sure to keep your eye out for any updates on some southern MN largemouth.