How To Catch Bass: Spring to Summer Smallmouth

Surefire Smallmouth Tactics, Part 1

By Darl Black

In the next three posts, follow Darl Black as he takes us on a tour of three great places to fish for smallmouth bass while revealing expert techniques and tricks worth trying in your favorite smallmouth waters. 

How to catch bass: smallmouth taken with topwater plug

Throw topwater plugs past cover in late spring - early summer to catch smallmouth like this bass.

“Over there… wanna bet there’s a smallmouth guarding fry around that submerged bush?” queries Jim Duckworth while making a gesture of his rod towards a fishy looking spot in the back of a pocket on the lower end of Center Hill Lake.

“Jim, you’re the guide and this is your lake. I’m not going to make that sucker bet,” I respond with a smile.

“Bet? That was a rhetorical question, not a bet,” says Jim. “I don’t want to take your money on a sure thing!”

Good place to fish for smallmouth Center Hill Lake TNJim fires his surface plug beyond the bush and works the bait up to the cover. When the plug edges around the right side of the bush without incident, I’m beginning to think I should have made the bet. But then, about two feet past the cover, a large swirl appears on the surface and the prop bait disappears as if being flushed down a toilet. Jim rears back on his rod, and the water explodes as a brown fish rockets skyward.

“Got him! I got him!” shouts an elated Duckworth as if this was his first smallmouth ever, even though he has taken thousands of smallies from Center Hill – including one over 8 pounds.

Bass Fishing Tip: Late Spring into Early Summer Means Topwater Action

I first met Jim Duckworth during a trip to Dale Hollow Lake near Tennessee’s border with Kentucky about a decade ago. He invited me down to fish smallmouth on Center Hill, a little farther south, the following spring and we caught brown bass on Bandit crankbaits until our wrists hurt. I’ve been back several times, always enjoying the smallmouth experience.

This most recent trip to central Tennessee included the opportunity to test Jim’s new handcrafted topwater baits – the Splashing Pup prop bait and the Duck’s Dawg walking bait.

The water level in the reservoir was higher than normal due to an unusually rainy spring. The first wave of smallmouth had already spawned, eggs had hatched and males were guarding bunches of fry.

“This is the ideal situation for a prop bait,” explains Jim. “When smallmouths are guarding their offspring in shallow water before fry dispersal, they are nervously aggressive. If you go with too large or too loud of a lure presentation, fish will spook. A finesse topwater presentation is the answer. The single rear propeller along with the Bleeding Red treble hooks on my Splash Pup are key triggers. Unlike similar molded plastic topwater baits, my wood bait will cast a long distance and dance perfectly on the surface with a slight twitch. It’s just the right combination for shallow smallmouth. My clients absolutely love fishing topwater all day long at this time of year!”

Pack These Lures for Center Hill Lake, Tennessee

Early Spring

Post Spawn


Next post: How to Catch Lake Erie’s Smallmouth Bass

About Darl Black

A lifelong freshwater angler and veteran writer/photographer, Darl tackles a wide variety of fishing related stories for print publications and websites.  Of all fishing, angling for smallmouth bass is his favorite pastime.  He may be reached for assignment at

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