On many smallmouth bass waters in the North Country, summer smallmouth aren’t usually difficult to catch, according to Team Northland bass fiend Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson. Still, the widely-traveled tournament competitor from Kenora, Ontario, prefers to take a dynamic approach.
“Whether I’m fishing for money or fun, I like to run-and-gun, and always stay on the hunt for active, biting fish,” he says. “It means never trying to wait fish out, or sitting in one spot very long. One thing about smallmouths is, if they’re around and willing to bite, they show themselves pretty quickly.”
On most waters he fishes, a substantial percentage of the bronze bounty resides in relatively shallow water—4 to 12 feet—so he focuses on that zone most of the time, fishing fast with reaction-style lures.
“The approach is uncomplicated,” he says. “If it’s calm, I throw a topwater bait, usually a popper style. If the wind blows, I throw a spinnerbait. I have been using the Northland Reed-Runner® Tandem Spinnerbait for years and it’s helped me win several tournaments.
“When John Peterson and I won the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship on Rainy Lake in July 2014, we caught 12 of the 15 fish we weighed in on a ½-ounce Reed-Runner® Tandem Spinnerbait. I never go lighter than a half-ounce because I want to be able to fish the bait fast and trigger reaction strikes.”
In clear water, a spinnerbait in the white shad pattern is the way to go, he explains, but if the water has some stain to it, gold blades are his top choice. “We always use gold blades on Rainy, either in the pumpkin or crawfish pattern, because of the stained water,” he says.
Though Gussy loves to sling blades, he’s never without a backup lure like a 3.5-Inch soft plastic tube. “I use it in a number of situations,” he says. “For example, when a smallmouth misses a topwater or spinnerbait, the tube is a great follow-up lure. I also cast it to specific targets, like a visible boulder, log, or dock. A small-profile tube such as this one is like an ‘after-dinner mint’ for these fish—something they seldom pass up.”
Most of the time Gussy wraps the tube around a 3/8-ounce Inner-Tube® Jig head but sometimes drops to 1/8 ounce in calm, shallow water. “I like to let the tube fall straight down next to whatever I’m casting to, then drag and hop it along the bottom for 10 to 20 feet before reeling in and firing it back out,” he says. “Most strikes come pretty quickly after the tube hits the water.”