UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Clear Lake

The Smallmouth-Alewife Connection

The Smallmouth-Alewife Connection
Ron Nelson

Smallmouths across the Great Lakes region and North Country have no shortage of food to eat, but while they’re very opportunistic, they can also get locked in on certain forage from time to time. One of their favorites, when present, is the alewife.

When smallmouths get locked in on these nomadic baitfish, smart anglers adjust their approach and pattern the baitfish, as well.

 

What’s an Alewife?

The alewife is a North American shad that’s native to the Atlantic Ocean and its freshwater tributaries. It’s closely related to a blueback herring, and, similarly, there are populations landlocked in freshwater.

Alewives are prevalent in the Great Lakes. They were introduced in the early 1900s, and by the mid-20th century were at peak abundance. Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are their most notorious haunts, though alewives can be found in numerous rivers, lakes and reservoirs that spread from Minnesota to the East Coast.

The alewife is a baitfish that prefers cooler environments. It doesn’t relate to structure, opting to roam a body of water suspended in search of its food – an important distinction we’ll discuss in detail.

 

Ron Nelson

On the Great Lakes

FLW Tour pro Ron Nelson of Berrien Springs, Mich., has spent years chasing smallmouths on Lake Michigan and knows how feast-or-famine the bite can be when the fish are dialed in on alewives.

“I moved to Michigan in the early ’80s, and I remember walking the beach of Lake Michigan when the alewives were so bad that they would wash up on the shore and have to be removed with front-end loaders,” Nelson says. “Their population has gone down over the years, but no doubt smallmouths still love to feed on them. They aren’t the primary forage, but I don’t doubt that there are smallmouths that chase them throughout the year.

“To me, the best time to target smallmouths eating alewives is in the summer when you get the water to flip. By that I mean, when you get a strong, offshore wind, it pushes the warmer surface water away from the bank, pulling the cooler water closer to the shore. That brings the alewives closer to the pier systems and structure, making the bass easier to catch.”

Targeting nomadic bass when they are easy to locate not only puts the odds in your favor, but helps eliminate a lot of water right out of the gate.

“When the alewives come in, the bass know it,” Nelson says. “The water temperature might be 70 degrees one day and 50 the next when it flips. It might last a few hours or a few days, depending on the wind, but you want to make sure you’re out there fishing because it’s a blast. You really just have to pay close attention to the wind to know when it’ll get good.”

Nelson adds that a telltale sign the alewives are in is an increase in salmon and trout anglers on the shore. Those coldwater species also come toward the bank to pursue alewives with the cooler water.

Break walls, piers or even offshore structure a few hundred yards out from the bank are good places to target smallies. Find the bait, and you’ll find hungry smallmouths.

“They are easy to catch in this situation when you get around them. Match the hatch and you’ll catch them,” Nelson says. “It’s a lot of fun. You’ll want to go back out and catch them again the next day, but you have to wait for the conditions to be right.”

 

Matt Becker

Inland Waters

Tour pro Matt Becker agrees that summertime is the right time to target smallmouths gorging on alewives.

“There’s a reservoir near me that the smallmouths chase alewives on, and from postspawn through the summer is when I target them,” says the Finleyville, Pa., pro. “That’s when those fish are moving out deep trying to recover from the spawn and trying to eat all day. They roam all over the lake chasing alewives anywhere there is deep water – 50 feet-plus. Once they get done spawning, they’re out looking for the buffet.”

Since the bait lives in no-man’s land, that means the smallies do, too. Because of that, Becker relies on his electronics and eyes to locate fish.

“First thing in the morning I’ll be looking for schooling fish, or at least for bait that might be pushed up to the surface,” he says. “From there, I’m idling. The bass are only there to eat. If you don’t see or mark bait, there’s no sense in making a cast.”

Becker runs dual 12-inch Lowrance graphs on his console, with one dedicated to a map and the other split with StructureScan on the bottom half and the top half split between 2D sonar and DownScan.

Matt Becker

“You can see big clouds of bait on StructureScan, and once you mark that, you can turn around and start casting,” Becker says. “You want to pay attention to what depth you’re seeing the alewives so you know where your bait should be. Sometimes they are 20 feet down over 100 feet [of water], and sometimes in 40 feet on bottom.”

Once Becker starts casting, he’s not inclined to stay in one area for long. If his first few casts don’t yield a bite, he’ll stick around (as long as he’s still marking bait) but try a different offering. If that doesn’t work, or he stops marking bait, he goes back to idling.

“I always pay attention to my graphs or keep my eyes on the surface of the water,” he adds. “Sometimes they’ll school all day, so you need to be alert. Once you find the bait, the bass are usually pretty easy to catch. So, if you aren’t catching any, you probably aren’t around them.”

No doubt it’s a different way to approaching smallmouth fishing, especially if you’re used to parking on structure to catch smallies. For those willing to break the mold, you can get in on some awesome fishing for bass that hardly get pressured.

“You really need to retrain yourself from fishing structure and thinking that fish live on that certain thing to thinking about fish following the bait wherever it goes,” says Becker. “It’s different and took me a little adjusting to get the hang of, but it’s fun.”

 

Keitech

The Baits

Both Nelson and Becker keep things simple for this application. A 3- to 5-inch swimbait – a Keitech Swing Impact or Swing Impact FAT are favorites – is the No. 1 choice. They both like a swimbait in a shad color rigged on a 1/4-ounce head. An umbrella rig can also be a good choice, since alewives school in big groups. And, of course, you can’t count out a topwater for any schooling activity. Remember, keep things simple. These fish are looking to eat, so there’s no need to overcomplicate things.

Tags: alewives  -smallmouths-bass-fishing  -ron-nelson  -matt-becker  -lake-michigan  kyle-wood  tips-and-techniques 

Top 10 Baits from the Potomac

Top 10 Baits from the Potomac

Some of the top 10 pros chose a power approach to cover vast stretches of grass, while others slowed down with some of the finesse tactics that always seem to play on the Potomac. READ MORE »

Maupin Takes Potomac Title

Maupin Takes Potomac Title

The dock talk all week at the Potomac River for the Toyota Series Eastern Division event was that fishing was tough. That rang true again today as the wind help stall the tide making things tough for most of the top 10. James Maupin, however, kept his streak of consistency alive as he weighed his third 13-pound-plus limit of the week to move from second to first with 40 pounds, 11 ounces overall. For the win, Maupin earns his first FLW trophy and over $24,000.  READ MORE »

Potomac Midday Update – Day 3

Potomac Midday Update – Day 3

Clouds have lingered throughout the morning, which most of the top 10 were thankful for as the bite has been better than it was during practice when conditions were calm and sunny. READ MORE »

Roten Best from the Back on the Potomac

Roten Best from the Back on the Potomac

James Roten has had a phenomenal year as a co-angler on the Toyota Series. He started it off with a top 10 in the Central Division event on Lake Chickamauga back in February. Then, weeks later he finished second on Hartwell to kick off the Eastern Division. Now, the 53-year-old mechanic claimed the top prize in just his fourth Toyota Series event ever. READ MORE »

Vaughan Cruising at the Potomac

Vaughan Cruising at the Potomac

The leaderboard definitely saw some shuffling on day two of the Toyota Series Eastern Division event on the Potomac River, but Wayne Vaughan managed to keep the top spot thanks to another solid day. Weighing 14 pounds, 10 ounces today, Vaughan’s total now stands at 31-10 and gives him a nearly 5-pound lead over second place. If he can put it together for one more day, Vaughan will take home his second Toyota Series title in just as many years. READ MORE »

Potomac River Top 5 Patterns – Day 2

Potomac River Top 5 Patterns – Day 2

Saturday’s final round will feature drastically different weather with sunshine in the forecast and with it being a weekend there will be plenty of people out enjoying the resource. READ MORE »

Potomac Midday Update – Day 2

Potomac Midday Update – Day 2

Clouds once again greeted the field for day two of the Toyota Series Eastern Division event on the Potomac River and the fish were biting this morning. With low tide this morning around 8:40 a.m. ET – about an hour and a half later than yesterday – more anglers had time to capitalize on the strong bite revolving around that window today. READ MORE »

Vaughan Out Front on the Potomac

Vaughan Out Front on the Potomac

Taking the lead after day one with 17 pounds, Wayne Vaughan separated himself from the rest of the tightly-packed top 10 thanks in large part to his 6-5 kicker. Vaughan’s past experience on the river is playing a role this week, but a bite like that helps the cause almost anywhere in the country. READ MORE »

Potomac River Top 5 Patterns – Day 1

Potomac River Top 5 Patterns – Day 1

September is a tough time to fish almost any body of water and while the Potomac River may not be showing its true colors for the second stop of the Toyota Series Eastern Division the top pros are making do. Wayne Vaughan dropped 17 pounds on the scale to take the lead thanks in large part to his 6-5 kicker. Behind him, however, is a pack of hungry pros – some locals, some not – separated by just a few pounds with their sights set on fishing in the championship round. READ MORE »

Potomac Midday Update – Day 1

Potomac Midday Update – Day 1

It was a gloomy start to the first day of competition for the Toyota Series Eastern Division event on the Potomac River, and though it seems like a fishy day, so far the fish don’t seem to think so. READ MORE »

Top 10 Locked for Championship Round

Top 10 Locked for Championship Round

The Knockout Round of the Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota was a good one, with plenty of fish caught by most everyone, especially the anglers in the top 10. Winning the round, Spencer Shuffield caught 25 bass for 86 pounds, 10 ounces. Behind him, Joey Cifuentes tallied over 77 pounds, and Grae Buck, Bradford Beavers, Casey Scanlon and Rusty Salewske all banked over 60 pounds. READ MORE »

Mitchell’s First Look at Sturgeon Bay

Mitchell’s First Look at Sturgeon Bay

Having fished as a pro on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit for five years now, Kurt Mitchell started coming into his own during the 2019 season. That year he qualified for the FLW Cup – for the first time in his career – by finishing 24th in the points. This year, Mitchell kept rolling along cashing checks in five of the six Pro Circuit tournaments to settle at 31st in the points and now finds himself in his second straight championship. READ MORE »

Sturgeon Bay Readies for Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota

Sturgeon Bay Readies for Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota

STURGEON BAY, Wis. – The Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota, the FLW Pro Circuit Championship, will visit Sturgeon Bay and Lake Michigan next week, Aug. 24-29, to crown the top Pro Circuit angler of 2020. Hosted by Destination Sturgeon Bay, the tournament will feature the top 50 professional... READ MORE »

Hall Secures ROY

Hall Secures ROY

Kyle Hall entered the 2020 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit season with 28 other rookies looking to set the tone for their future in professional bass fishing. While Hall wasn’t necessarily keen on trying to win the Polaris Rookie of the Year title, making four straight day-three (or better) cuts to end the season helped earn the Granbury, Texas rookie the top honor, along with a Polaris Ranger 1000. Not a bad tone to set for a 23-year-old.  READ MORE »

Day Three on Erie with Gelles

Day Three on Erie with Gelles

Hailing from Pingree, Idaho, Kyle Gelles is about to wrap up his first season on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit. Currently, he sits 56th in the Angler of the Year standings, and with a solid finish this week could punch his ticket to the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit TITLE presented by Toyota on Sturgeon Bay in a few weeks. READ MORE »

Cruising Erie with Wall

Cruising Erie with Wall

In his second year as a professional on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit, Jacob Wall finds himself in a position he never thought possible with one event left in the regular season. This week, Wall will not only have a chance to win the final Pro Circuit Super Tournament of the year on Lake Erie, but he’ll also be competing for one of the most coveted titles in the sport as he sits second in the Pro Circuit points race – Angler of the Year. READ MORE »

TITLE Bubble Watch

TITLE Bubble Watch

There’s a lot at stake in the final Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Super Tournament on Lake Erie. Aside from someone taking home the $125,000 top prize, Angler of the Year and Polaris Rookie of the Year will be crowned. But there is another important thing to be settled on Erie: finalizing the field for the Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota on Sturgeon Bay. The top 50 anglers in the points will qualify, and while some are already just about locked in, others will need to fish down to the wire. READ MORE »

Summertime Shootout on Tap at Wheeler

Summertime Shootout on Tap at Wheeler

Summertime on the Tennessee River may not be the prime time to hit the water, but the second stop of the Toyota Series Southeastern Division on Wheeler Lake will certainly showcase how diverse of a fishery it can be when the tournament takes place July 30 - Aug. 1. READ MORE »

Looking Ahead to the Mississippi River 

Looking Ahead to the Mississippi River 

With just two events left in the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit season, it’s time to turn attention to the northern part of the country. Presented by OPTIMA Batteries, the Pro Circuit Super Tournament on the Mississippi River out of Stoddard, Wis., will not only crown a winner with a $125,000 payday but also shape the Angler of the Year race. READ MORE »

Review: Favorite Soleus XCS

Review: Favorite Soleus XCS

Favorite Fishing stormed the rod market a few years back and has held its own against even the most established brands. Now, the company is diving into the reel market with the launch of their new baitcasting lineup this past fall – with the Favorite Soleus XCS leading the charge. READ MORE »