UPCOMING EVENT: Costa FLW Series - 2019 - Lake Champlain

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

How Felix Game Plans the Smallmouth Spawn

How Felix Game Plans the Smallmouth Spawn
Austin Felix

May and June are prime spawning months for Northern smallmouths. It’s a time when the big brown fish are easy to catch. In smallmouth country, what separates a tournament winner from an also-ran often boils down to committing to a smallie spawn-specific practice strategy. Few do it as well or as consistently as FLW Tour pro Austin Felix of Eden Prairie, Minn.

 

Austin Felix

Can smallmouths win?

The first step is determining if smallmouths can win a tournament on a multi-species fishery, or if it’s only a remote possibility. You’ll need to factor in the population trends and other factors. For instance, on the Great Lakes, smallmouths are easily the biggest bass, and the most prevalent. Easy choice there. On a lake such as Minnetonka in Minnesota, which Felix frequents, largemouths dominate throughout most of the tournament season. Yet there’s a window shortly after the bass opener in mid-May when smallmouths are on beds and easy enough to find and catch that they’re well worth targeting. You need to judge the scenario for your fishery.

 

Austin Felix

Assess the spawn

According to Felix, the smallmouth spawn isn’t a one-shot deal. On the northern Great Lakes, where the water is deep and windswept and takes longer to warm, Felix has seen bass spawning from May through August. In inland lakes, the window is smaller.

“They usually have about a three-week to about a one-month window,” he says. “There are usually about two cycles, assuming it’s a steady warming trend. There’ll be one wave of shallow fish and one wave of deep fish.”

Shallow areas fire up first because the water column warms faster, so Felix searches for the early spawners in shallow coves. Once that wave of fish finishes, another wave is setting up on the sides of shoals and deeper areas out in the lake.

Felix also finds more shallow spawners in lakes with dirty water or low fishing pressure. Where the water is extremely clear or the fish are targeted more often, he’ll look to deeper waters. Depths can vary from 4 to 6 feet on the shallow end to 8 to 12 feet on the deep end. There are extremes, too, such as at Sturgeon Bay, where Felix spies beds as deep as 20 feet.

 

Austin Felix

Find and inventory

The next step is to locate beds. For Felix, the search is about commitment, and spending his entire practice conducting a high-speed canvass of the fishery. He runs from one likely area to the next then searches with the trolling motor the entire time – checking shallow and deep for “light or dark spots that are the beds, depending on the fishery” – until he has an idea where the better quality fish are bedding. Then he expands from there.

Smallmouths spawn in “pods,” or small groups, usually where there’s a change in bottom content or some sort of object they can relate to. Dock posts, sticks, shallow rocks and other obvious shoreline targets are easy to check. Out deep, Felix monitors the bottom content.

“You’re looking for hard rock shoals, rock veins, single boulders on the sand – anything that’s really inconsistent on the bottom,” he says. “They absolutely can spawn on sand, but you could have a single softball-sized rock on a bunch of sand and the fish will always orient to something like that. Or it could be a 2-foot-long stick, and they’ll choose to spawn on the stick even though it’s only an inch in diameter, just because it’s something different on the landscape. You might think it’s insignificant, but to them it’s important. You don’t find them just in the middle of nowhere.”

Calm conditions make for the best searching. If there’s a chop, Felix seeks out protected areas. A bathyscope like the Flogger (a cone-shaped viewing device designed for underwater sight-seeing) is a good tool for looking through a choppy surface, too, but it can be time consuming to use in practice. While some pros use them extensively, Felix has a different opinion.

“Floggers are really only good for a really niche deal,” he says, “and it’s not actually searching out fish. The Flogger is only really good if you have a fish that you know is on a bed, but it’s too choppy to see. You can check it before you waste time and really fish for him.”

Click here to read more about the Flogger. 

Felix’s goal is to find five big fish to catch on tournament morning and to have a good idea what his limit will weigh and where he’s likely to land in the standings if he can get to those five fish first. Knowing the quality of the bass you’ve found is critical, especially on a fishery that’s full of bass that are of a similar weight class and are easy to catch. In that situation, five 4 1/2-pound fish go a lot farther than five 4 1/4-pound fish. 

 

Austin Felix

Follow the script

With a plan in place, now comes the easy part.

“When they get on beds they get really aggressive, and they’re about the dumbest fish on earth,” Felix says. “Either a drop-shot or a tube, or even a wacky-rigged Senko are all you need.”

In choppy conditions, Felix might break out the Flogger to check his beds in the tournament, but usually it’s not necessary if he already has them marked from practice. The first pitch is often all it takes to pester a smallmouth into biting. If Felix sets the hook but misses or loses the fish, he swaps baits and pitches in something different. Aggressive smallmouths don’t shy away from striking twice.

Once he has a limit in the boat, Felix starts the process over again. He hunts for kickers if he thinks his weight isn’t good enough for a high finish, and then goes searching for more fish for the next day.

 

Austin Felix

Watch for cruisers

A smallmouth locked on a bed is like a schoolteacher in a bad mood: You can get it fired up pretty quickly. A pitch or two is all it takes.

A cruising smallmouth is a tougher target, but one that shouldn’t go overlooked.

“A lot of times that’s the perfect time to break out a marabou hair jig or drop-shot and sling it out in front of you,” says Felix of cruisers. “Some of those fish you’ll just never get to bite, and others you just have to get it in front of them before they know you’re there.

“A lot of times your bigger fish will end up being those cruisers. When I’m focused on bed-fishing, I’ll always have my drop-shot ready. If I see one cruising I’ll pitch it out there in front of it. You want to lead it 20 feet in front of where it’s heading. Then just hold it there. They’re visual, and they’re really curious. So if you could get a bait out there in front of it you’ll probably catch it.”

Catching smallmouths is always fun. If you disagree, you’re wrong. Winning with smallmouths, particularly when they’re bedding on fisheries with a slew of cookie-cutter fish, takes a specific strategy. Felix has it figured out, and if you practice his approach, you might wind up showing off a big stringer of tournament bronze, too.

Tags: smallmouth  -spawning  -flogger  -bathyscope  -minnesota  -mille-lacs  -champlain  curtis-niedermier  article 

Summertime on Champlain

Summertime on Champlain

For three years running now, the Costa FLW Series Northern Division presented by Gajo Baits has kicked off on Lake Champlain. The tournament, which is presented by Polaris, should offer great fishing like usual, but it’s going to be far different than the last two FLW Series tilts on the big Northern lake. READ MORE »

Schmitt Takes Champlain Title

Schmitt Takes Champlain Title

FLW Tour pro Bryan Schmitt of Deale, Maryland, won Saturday’s T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League (BFL) tournament on Lake Champlain presented by Navionics after catching five bass weighing 19 pounds, 10 ounces. For his win, Schmitt earned $7,209 and 250 points in the Northeast Division presented by Gajo Baits standings. The winner of the division’s Angler of the Year title after five tournaments will win $3,000. READ MORE »

Schmitt Wins T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League Tournament on Lake Champlain Presented by Navionics

Schmitt Wins T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League Tournament on Lake Champlain Presented by Navionics

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – FLW Tour pro Bryan Schmitt of Deale, Maryland, won Saturday’s T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League (BFL) tournament on Lake Champlain presented by Navionics after catching... READ MORE »

Big Little Boats

Big Little Boats

There is a massive surge in innovation in the fishing kayak industry, as evidenced by a showroom floor packed with canoes, kayaks, boats – and, in many cases, a combination of all of them – at ICAST 2019. READ MORE »

4 Hot New Reels from ICAST

4 Hot New Reels from ICAST

2019 is the year of the trolling motor at ICAST, but it wouldn’t be ICAST without at least a few next generation reels from some of the best manufacturers in the business. READ MORE »

New Baits from ICAST 2019

New Baits from ICAST 2019

Here’s a primer on some of the baits that we thought stood out at the show. It’s not a comprehensive list. Rather, it’s just a taste of what will probably make a splash on the market in the coming months.  READ MORE »

Plattsburgh Readies For Round Two – FLW Returns With Costa FLW Series at Lake Champlain presented by Polaris

Plattsburgh Readies For Round Two – FLW Returns With Costa FLW Series at Lake Champlain presented by Polaris

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – The 2019 Costa Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) Series Northern Division presented by Gajo Baits will open the season next week at Lake Champlain, July 18-20, with the Costa FLW Series at Lake Champlain presented by Polaris. Hosted by the City of Plattsburgh and the Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau, the three-day tournament will feature more than... READ MORE »

Peter T and Crew Win ICAST Cup

Peter T and Crew Win ICAST Cup

Representing Lew’s, the team of John Carman, Peter Thliveros and Matthew Mattingly won the 2019 ICAST Cup at Lake Toho this morning with a five-bass limit that weighed 20 pounds, 4 ounces. It’s the first time in the ICAST kickoff event’s five-year history that a team has won two titles, and they come back-to-back – though this time it was an outright win.  READ MORE »

Sign up for Polaris Sportsman Giveaway

Sign up for Polaris Sportsman Giveaway

FLW has teamed up with its partners at Polaris to give away a Polaris Sportsman® 570 EPS valued at approximately $7,799. This special giveaway offer is being shared with FLW members and fans. READ MORE »

Ouachita to host Dee Zee FLW/KBF Cup

Ouachita to host Dee Zee FLW/KBF Cup

The Dee Zee FLW/KBF Cup presented by YakAttack will feature up to 238 of the top kayak bass anglers from around the country who have qualified for the event through the FLW/KBF Kayak Open, the KBF National Championship, the KBF Trail and the KBF Pro Tour. They will be competing for a total prize package of $18,000 – a $3,000 Dee Zee gift card and $15,000 in cash. READ MORE »

Winning Baits from the 2019 FLW Tour

Winning Baits from the 2019 FLW Tour

Before we shift our focus to previewing the 2019 FLW Cup at Lake Hamilton, let’s start with a look back at the baits that were used to win the seven FLW Tour events this season. READ MORE »

First 2020 FLW Tour Invites Sent

First 2020 FLW Tour Invites Sent

Today, FLW sent out 119 invitations for the 2020 FLW Tour to the top performers from the 2019 FLW Tour. These invitations are in alignment with the 2019 FLW Tour rules that were announced last summer that transitioned the Tour to a qualification system, as well as one amendment made to accommodate changes in the pro bass fishing industry. The amendment was announced to pros at the registration meeting for the season finale on Lake Champlain last week. READ MORE »

2019 FLW Cup Roster

2019 FLW Cup Roster

With Casey Scanlon’s win at Lake Champlain in the books – not to mention the crowning of David Dudley as Angler of the Year for the fourth time and Ron Nelson as Polaris Rookie of the Year – the 2019 FLW Tour season is complete. Now, focus turns to Hot Springs, Ark., and the 2019 FLW Cup August 9-11. READ MORE »

Top 10 Baits from Lake Champlain

Top 10 Baits from Lake Champlain

June is a fantastic month to be on Lake Champlain, as the FLW Tour pros showcased at last week’s season finale, which was presented by T-H Marine. Smallmouths were spawning all over the place, but the winning pattern was catching postspawn largemouths down at Ticonderoga. READ MORE »

Top 10 Patterns from Lake Champlain

Top 10 Patterns from Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain is the kind of fishery that forces pros to make difficult decisions about where to go and what color of bass to target. This time around, in the FLW Tour 2019 finale, which was presented by T-H Marine, on the big Northern fishery, the decision was more interesting because there were spawning smallmouths everywhere up north, but the forecast was favorable for making the long run south to Ticonderoga to catch largemouths. READ MORE »

Scanlon Wins FLW Tour at Lake Champlain Presented by T-H Marine

Scanlon Wins FLW Tour at Lake Champlain Presented by T-H Marine

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – After starting the day in second place, pro Casey Scanlon of Lake Ozark, Missouri, caught a five-bass limit weighing 19 pounds, 10 ounces, Sunday to vault to the top of the leaderboard and win the FLW Tour at Lake Champlain presented by T-H Marine with a four-day total of 20 bass weighing... READ MORE »

Lake Champlain Day 4 Coverage

Lake Champlain Day 4 Coverage

Yesterday saw the crowning of the FLW Tour 2019 Angler of the Year (David Dudley) and Polaris Rookie of the Year (Ron Nelson). Today, there's nothing left to do but crown a champion for the Tour's last stop of the season. READ MORE »

Scanlon Wins it at Ti

Scanlon Wins it at Ti

Running south to Ticonderoga each day, Casey Scanlon weighed 19 pounds, 10 ounces on the final day of the FLW Tour event presented by T-H Marine on Lake Champlain. With a total of 76-2, Scanlon earned the win in the final event of the season and pocketed $102,700 for his efforts. READ MORE »

Cortiana Recovering from Wreck

Cortiana Recovering from Wreck

Oklahoma pro Kyle Cortiana was involved in an accident near Indianapolis on his way home from the FLW Tour event at Lake Champlain on Saturday. He has since been released from of a local hospital and is now in a hotel room recovering and waiting for a ride home to the Sooner State.  READ MORE »

Nelson Wins ROY

Nelson Wins ROY

Ron Nelson blanked on the first day of his first FLW Tour event. Then he got things on track – so on track that he finished the season ninth overall in the standings and above every other rookie to earn the Polaris FLW Tour Rookie of the Year award. Winning ROY is typically a career-setting accomplishment, and to go with the hardware Nelson will also receive a Polaris Sportsman® 570 ATV. READ MORE »