By Rick Lawrence
One of my favorite times of the year is late summer to early fall fishing for Smallmouth on the Pend Oreille River here in North Idaho. Over the past 10 years I have acquired a few new techniques that have greatly improved my catch rates. One of those new methods got me a 94 fish day on the river a few days ago, so I thought I would share some of my somewhat secret techniques I have learned over the years to catch river Smallies.
First off let me say I love catching Bronzebacks on topwater gear and do it as much as I can. You can’t beat fishing a good popper in the early morning hours for the old Riverturds for some amazing strikes. However two other somewhat finesse methods have proven to be the way to really put the numbers in the boat. Those are the Dropshot and the Ned Rig. I have however modified both of these with slight tweaks that just seem to make them work better for me.
First I will cover the Drop Shot;
I use a few different methods when Dropshotting, one is my drag the Dropshot technique I developed about 15 years ago where I tie on a Walleye bottom bouncer type weight I make without the top wire hooked to it and use a piece of hollow core pencil lead as the weight for my Dropshot rig. I bend the wire on the bottom, so it will slide over the rocks without getting hung up. I use just enough pencil lead to keep the weight on the bottom and put my bait about 12” to 18” above the weight. Then I just let the boat drift with the current as I fish this rig straight under the boat with just enough line out for the weight to drag over the rocks. I like to drop shot a craw imitation bait for this mostly, but other minnow type baits work good as well. I use 3 different rigging methods as shown in the picture, and a varity of baits on my Dropshot. The 3 rigs use different typed of hooks and I use them under different conditions and with different baits. If I’m fishing areas that have a lot of logs and wood on the bottom I use a EWG worm hook and Texas rig my baits. This will not stop you from getting hung up but it sure helps. If I’m fishing pretty open stretch of river without many hang-ups I use a finesse or circle hook and just nose hook the baits. One of my favorite ways to rig however is to chin-hook the bait. Where you put the hook into the bottom of the bait about where the gills would be and have the point of the hook right at the nose of the bait, but not showing. This makes the bait a little more snag resistant and improves my hookups a little, but mainly it gives the bait a little more action. My bait of choice lately is to Dropshot 2 ¾ or 3 ¼ inch swimbaits. This Drop-swim technique has been deadly for me the last few years in the late summer. I sometimes fish this on the drag - the Dropshot setup in a pole holder while I fish another rod with a different type of lure with my 2 pole permit here in Idaho doubling my odds. My other way I like to fish a Dropshot mainly in deeper water is a lift and drop technique with the Drop-swim. I nose rig a swimbait on a regular dropshot with a normal dropshot weight. The basic idea is to let the bait fall to the bottom then lift it up about 3 feet and let it fall again. For some reason Smallies really like hitting a falling bait and will nail it on the fall, but will totally ignore the bait once it hits bottom and is no longer moving. I will say that fishing these small swimbaits for Smallies can get expensive, as they can throw it off the hook in a heartbeat and off it goes to the bottom of the river.
The other technique I want to talk about here is the Ned rig. I have no clue why this stupid little jig worm thing catches fish and I even laughed at it when it first came out, but I’m not laughing anymore! The thing just puts fish in the boat and I don’t really understand why, and at this point I don’t care, I just fish it! LOL
This little Worm thing will catch fish when nothing else will. The important thing about the bait is the floating Elaztech plastic that makes the bait stand up off the bottom. This rig works with a drag technique or hopping it up off the bottom like I do my swimbaits on the dropshot. Lift the bait up a few feet and let it fall, the next time you lift if you feel weight, set the hook! I must say that although I use the Z-man baits their jig heads are not very good. The hooks have too light of wire and bend super easy. I’m still looking for a good Ned head jig that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. I have also been looking for a snag proof Ned rig hook as I fish a lot of heavy cover with a lot of logs in the water and a standard rig Ned head is history on the first cast. Owner makes a good one, but they are a little hard to find and at about a buck 50 each, a little pricey for me. I do fish the EWG hook shown in the pictures but it’s not really a Ned head. I guess I will ended up having to making a mold I can put my 1/0 Gammy EWG hooks in with a stainless steel wire eye weight insert and pouring them myself. One way I have gotten around not being able to find the right hook is to fish the bait upside down with a EWG hook and a nail weight as a backwards Ned rig. This works very well in areas that have a lot of hang-ups. The Turd Worm AKA Ned rig is however my go-to bait when the fishing gets tough and I know it will just about always bring to fish in the boat for me and it will for you too.