February Means Big Smallies

By Ronnie Parris

Hey folks. Hope all is well with you and your families. The cold is hanging on and it sure feels good sitting in front of a nice big fire. But this is probably your best chance at a truly big smallmouth bass. Although the numbers have dropped since the introduction of the spotted bass, we still have decent numbers of smallies. By far, the wintertime is when we see the biggest taking our baits.

Almost all of our mountain lakes have smallmouth working the rocky shorelines, but my two favorites are Nantahala an Santeetlah. My preferred way to fish for them is by working the shoreline or deeper water according to where I find them on my sonar with live bait. Usually bass minnows or bait I have cast netted when I’m lucky enough to catch some on the surface—usually threadfin shad or blueback herring.

The main key is locating the bait and the smallmouth will be close. Most days they will be feeding close to the shoreline, but according to the barometric pressure they do sometimes go really deep. I’m talking 70 and 80 feet deep. Another great smallmouth bite comes when you get a good rain in the winter. Really concentrate on spots where creeks and branches pour into the lake, as the rain washes a lot of food in and will concentrate smallies in a small area. Crayfish seem to be a favorite food source around such an area, so a jig sometimes is a good bet for these areas. We do like releasing the smallmouth, so try to handle them as easily as possible and get them back in the water as fast as you can.

A common day this time of year is going to start out in the 20s and get in the 30s or 40s with a good breeze after the first part of the morning. The fish in the photo was caught on just such a morning. Me and my brother-in-law, Ron, had been catching a good number of smallies, largemouth and yellow perch while fishing down a rocky shoreline line, with most coming from around 20 feet deep. When we got to the main point the wind was really whipping it down the straight, making the point be a definite break. We were scanning with the Panoptix and saw this nice smallmouth a little deeper. Ron made a cast an let the minnow sink slowly. Just like it was scripted, when it got within 15 ft of the fish you could see her coming up for his bait and the fight was on. After releasing her we worked this same stretch, boating several more really nice fish.

Another perk to fishing this time of year was that we were the only boat on the lake. Make sure to take a few extra clothes as it’s going to be cold, but it’s worth it if you’re wanting to catch some nice smallmouth. If you really want to have some fun, I suggest using ultralight rods and no heavier than 6 pound test. These fish are like little balls of dynamite and tend put on a show. Always be versatile. There will be days that artificial will outfish live bait. I always have a selection of soft plastics and deep running crank baits. One of the best smallmouth lures is the jig.

Just remember, the water is extremely cold, and these fish are not going to chase. It’s got to come close and be fished slow. If you think your fishing slow, but aren’t getting bites, slow it up some more. I’m bad to yo-yo my slack line but not pull the bait from that spot. Expect a light, slow load up on the rod and set the hook.

Be extremely careful. Hyperthermia is a real thing and this time of year is when you may find yourself in trouble. Stay as dry and warm as possible. God bless and stay safe.

Ronnie Parris is owner and head guide of Smoky Mountain Outdoors Unlimited-Fontana Lake Fishing Guides, headquartered in Bryson City, N.C., heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, www.smokymountainoutdoorsunlimited.com; (828) 488-9711.