UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Lake Cumberland

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 

Varkevisser, Eastman Win 2020 FLW South Africa Championship

Varkevisser, Eastman Win 2020 FLW South Africa Championship

After three days of fishing on Witbank Dam, Justy Varkevisser and Reed Eastman of Team Beli VC took home the 2020 FLW South Africa Championship title with a total weight of 19.56kg (43.12 pounds). Taking place Nov. 19-21, Eastman and Varkevisser won over $1,300 for their efforts. READ MORE »

Top 10 Patterns from Table Rock

Top 10 Patterns from Table Rock

Fall can be a tough time to fish most places in the country, and for the final Toyota Series Plains Division event of the season on Table Rock Lake, that certainly was the case. A cold front passed through the week prior, bringing cool rain that lowered water temperatures and raised the lake. Then, come tournament time, the forecast was more like spring than fall with plenty of sun and highs in the 70s. READ MORE »

Top 10 Baits from Table Rock

Top 10 Baits from Table Rock

Though the final Toyota Series Plains Division event of the season on Table Rock wasn’t the usual fall bite you may expect to see in the Ozarks, the top 10 pros stuck to their strengths and employed everything from ice fishing jigs to topwaters to catch their fish. READ MORE »

Huff All the Way on Table Rock

Huff All the Way on Table Rock

Cody Huff didn’t even plan on fishing the final Toyota Series Plains Division event on Table Rock, but being it’s only on 45 minutes from his house and he already filled a deer tag he figured why not. That decision turned out to be the right one as he’d take the lead on day one with 16 pounds, 15 ounces and never look back. READ MORE »

Caldwell Tops Co-anglers on Table Rock

Caldwell Tops Co-anglers on Table Rock

Living in nearby Springfield, Mo., Adam Caldwell is more than familiar with Table Rock Lake. With tough fishing for the Toyota Series Plains Division finale, local knowledge proved to be worth its weight in gold as Caldwell utilized his experience targeting suspended bass to catch 23 pounds, 8 ounces over three days to tow home a brand-new Phoenix 518 Pro boat. READ MORE »

Table Rock Midday Update – Day 3

Table Rock Midday Update – Day 3

The final round of competition for the Toyota Series Plains Division event on Table Rock Lake has been yet another beautiful early November day with highs in the 70s, a light wind and clear skies. READ MORE »

Huff Cruising on Table Rock

Huff Cruising on Table Rock

After two days on Table Rock Lake for the final Toyota Series Plains Division event of the season, Cody Huff is in command, backing up his Thursday weight of 16 pounds, 15 ounces with a solid 13-15 for a 30-14 total overall. READ MORE »

Table Rock Midday Update – Day 2

Table Rock Midday Update – Day 2

Day two of the Toyota Series Plains Division finale on Table Rock Lake has been essentially a carbon copy of day one, well, as far as weather goes. Bluebird skies, light wind and temperatures hovering in the mid 70s once again made for pleasant conditions on the water, though it hasn’t done anything to help the fishing. READ MORE »

Huff Ahead on Table Rock

Huff Ahead on Table Rock

Jumping out to a lead over a tightly packed top 10, Cody Huff weighed 16 pounds, 15 ounces on day one of the Toyota Series Plains Division event on Table Rock Lake. Huff, who is a Bethel University student, has already won one Toyota Series event this year, and he’s now starting off another on exactly the right foot. Behind him, Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit superstar Spencer Shuffield is tied with Corey Cook for second place with 14-5 and Dale Andrews is in third with 14-1. READ MORE »

Table Rock Midday Update – Day 1

Table Rock Midday Update – Day 1

Most of the dock talk this morning hinted at the fact things weren’t going to be easy on Table Rock for the final Toyota Series Plains Division event of the season, and while that was mostly true, the guys focusing their efforts off the bank have been producing both numbers and some quality. READ MORE »

Tricky Times at Table Rock

Tricky Times at Table Rock

Though the calendar says fall is here, it sure doesn’t feel like it for the final stop of the Toyota Series Plains Division event on Table Rock Lake. Rain and cold temperatures nearly a week ago have given way to highs in the low 70s and things don’t look to change much for the event, making it more than comfortable to fish in but not near the conditions needed to flip the switch for bass to put on the fall feedbag. READ MORE »

Au Best in the West

Au Best in the West

While 2020 has been a year to forget for many people, Tai Au will cherish it forever. Though Au has dabbled in Toyota Series competition over the span of nearly a decade, this was the first year he went all-in to fish the entire division. In doing so, he won the season opener on Lake Havasu, banked a top 10 on the California Delta and closed it out with another win on Clear Lake to handily win the Western Division Strike King Angler of the Year title. READ MORE »

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 »