Fishing For Smallmouth Bass In Current
Since moving to Ottawa a couple years ago, I’ve heard so much from local anglers about the fishing opportunities on the St. Lawrence River. This massive body of water flows north-easterly through the bordering waters of Ontario and Quebec, and Canada and the United States covering over 3,000kms. It connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve only been to the St. Lawrence three times so far, but each trip has been memorable and left me wanting more. It’s become a place of awesome catches and you can bet that it’ll be a yearly destination on my calendar!
A recent trip to the ‘Larry’ took place over a four-day weekend in mid-August with a focus on targeting bass with my favourite fishing partner, Eric. As such a large body of water, it can be overwhelming to know just where to begin. We booked in at Ivy Lea Campground and stayed in one of their lovely Camper Cabins. They are quite roomy and can accommodate a group of anglers. The prices are great and you can launch a boat right from the campground. Located between Gananoque and Mallorytown, it is a great central spot to explore dotted with islands (known as the 1000 Islands region). Arriving on a Friday to a very windy afternoon, the weather forced us to make the safe decision to wait until the following morning to set out. With three days of fishing ahead, we weren’t disappointed and rigged up our rods, settled into our cabin, and anticipated the next morning. My earliest fishing trips took place at a lodge lined with cabins, so the pine-scent sure triggered some memories of childhood. Just like in my youth, I still have the optimism for ‘the big one’ as I drift off to sleep….actually, it keeps me awake most times!
Fishing for bass in current is a whole new ball game in comparison to where I typically spend my days, targeting bass on lakes. Boat control is the key factor in being able to present rigs properly and naturally, as well as adding weight to reach the desired depths for bottom-contact baits. You have to take both current speed and lure weight into consideration, otherwise you will blow by your spot or your baits will get thrown in the current and end up nowhere near the intended position. Thinking ahead by starting a drift beyond where you want to fish and having a great trolling motor (such as the Minn Kota Terrova that I use) will enable you to control your speed and hit the desired locations. What worked well for us was keeping our drift speed down from 0.8 to 1 miles per hour by pointing the bow into the current with both Constant and AutoPilot activated on the trolling motor. Without the trolling motor controlling our speed, the current pushed us at about 1.5 to 2 miles per hour. Wind is also a huge factor in speed.
Focusing on offshore main channel humps was how we cracked the code for these smallmouth. We tried fishing around islands, shorelines, and flats but humps were key. Doing several passes on each hump (hitting the front, and drifting down each side) was where we picked up bass although they weren’t holding in great numbers. Stacking and schooling up happens later in the season. A drop shot rig with a 1/2 ounce weight or a 1/2 ounce tube jig were our presentations of choice. We ‘matched the hatch‘ with similar colours and sizes to gobies which are a main food source in the St. Lawrence River. You can often feel them picking at your bait!
Locating humps with the right depths was crucial for us and we were able to find them using my Humminbird sonar. Below you’ll see an example of offshore humps we charted on the Humminbird ONIX SI using AutoChart Live. AutoChart Live is an incredible tool which enables you to map water in realtime while driving your boat. First, here is the base map of an area showing humps and depth (in feet) without AutoChart Live on.
The image below is the same area after using AutoChart Live. Think of the colours as warm and cold (warm = shallow, cold = deep). After charting the area, we were able to get more detail and information about the humps. Having this information enabled us to plan our drifts and focus on specific areas which were more likely to hold fish. Fish were primarily holding in the light blue areas (30-35 feet of water) on the sides of the humps. Once we figured this out, we were able to spend our time wisely focusing on specific sections.
One of the weekend highlights for me took place on the first evening. We were almost ready to head back to the cabin and I was dragging a tube jig. It stopped dead and I could not budge it, but it started to move another direction. At first I thought it may be a monster smallmouth but the head shakes were wide… it felt different and… HUGE! After a few moments I got a glimpse of a big beautiful walleye and I was not disappointed at all! That was my favourite catch of the weekend!!
Eric caught the largest smallmouth of the trip on the last day which was a bittersweet end to another amazing trip on the St. Lawrence! Aside from targeting smallmouth, we ventured out of the main channel and into some back bays and got into a few largemouth and northern pike. There’s no shortage of species to target! I still have musky on my list as I haven’t targeted them yet on the St. Lawrence.
This nice largemouth bit MY JIG FIRST…. and I unknowingly thought I was caught up on a reed, fumbled the hook-set and then got a tangle in my line. Eric took the opportunity to cast in and STEAL MY FISH! At least it was a nice one 🙂 I’ll chalk it up to ‘team work’!
Needless to say we had an eventful weekend with plenty of catches, some nice quality fish, great weather and a wonderful stay at Ivy Lea Campground! It’s so fun to fish somewhere new and figure out the formula. I can’t wait to head back to the St. Lawrence River again!
Thanks for reading!