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Table Rock Smallmouth Spring Primer

Bill Babler

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Mean-A-Muss, Pull-A-Muss, Break-A-Muss Rod-A-Muss. Locally know as the Bronze Back, Brownie, Smally, Small Jaw, or most commonly know as the Smallmouth bass, is getting ready to start on its Spring chomping binge. Time for sushi , crayfish gumbo, and shad alamode.


This feeding frenzy results in missed work, broken lines, lost fishing fodder, and a whole bunch of fun, fun, fun.

Table Rock Lake witnesses this madness, like no other body of water in the mid-west. Starting when water temps nudge into the mid-to-upper 40's and generally lasting till late June, the Rock is truely a trophy smallmouth destination. You would be hard pressed from Michigan South, to find a better hidey-hole for trophy caliber small jaws.


During this peak period smallmouth in the 3lb to 5lb range, are the norm rather than the exception. I take very few guide trips in which we don't catch one of these bronze beauties. Targeting smallmouth during late March, April, May and early June can and is done on a daily basis by experienced local anglers and guides alike. A few years ago when someone called and asked to go small mouth fishing the answer was usually, yes we will catch some if the conditions are right, but lets target Kentucky's or Black's and let the chips fall where they will. Not now, not during the peak period, we can and do catch-em everyday.

When I was going to the School of the Ozarks in the mid-70's, we rarely caught them even in the dam area. Yes we caught a few, but nothing like today.

The lakes major range on the jaws runs from Long Creek to Big M. My best, a 6 pound monster came right across the lake from Big M boat dock on the White River Arm. Campbell Point, to the 86 bridge on the Long Creek arm is the Mecca, and that is a huge main lake area. Smallmouth love main lake flat gravel.

April 10th. -- May 10th. Is absolutely prime time. Here are a few tips to help you catch that trophy Jaw.

Let's take a victory tour, starting in March and skipping our way thru June in pursuit of these wonderful fighting fish.

Mid-March brings on longer daylight hours and water temps on the upward swing, not huge rises, mind you but increases of a degree or two during the day and somewhat stable during the night time hours. Smallmouth move from there suspended states and deep water haunts and start to cruise windy sun-splashed banks. Banks with wood or pole timber seem to warm at a faster rate and the wood is an attractant to early season smallmouth. Like most bass, Smallmouth usually prefer to feed during low light times of the day, early, and late. Not so much at this time of year. Most bass love the warmth of mid-day and it is not uncommon to do quite well on Jaws, during warming high light periods, in March and April.

There always seems to be some small mouth shallow on the lower lake under docks and on gravel, but March is when they start to get frisky, and there country cousins from the deep start to arrive in numbers.

This is without a doubt one of my favorite times to catch these feisty fighters. It's stick bait time. X Raps, Rogue's, Pointers and Thundersticks, twitched, jerked hopped and sat motionless, will get their attention toot-sweet if presented where there lurking. Flamboyant colors in pink, chartreuse, purple, red, yellow and green, will catch the eye of smallmouth on the prowl. Short rods 5 ½ ft, to 6 ft, with sensitive tips soft mid-sections and firm butts are the ticket here. Most stick baits are fished on 8 to 12 lb. mono. If I want my bait to fall slightly, I will at times fish fluorocarbon of the same test, but most often just the mono and weight the bait with suspend dots for an even float, slight sink, or slight rise.


The preference is in the preferred way each person likes to fish the bait. I prefer a neutral to a slight sink.

Start the season on transition banks and channel swings. Most all lake maps will help you pinpoint these locations. Good transitions are bluff to chunk rock to gravel. Three different zones in a 100 to 200 yard stretch. Look for a ripple or wind on this type of a location, and pole timber is nothing but a plus. Position the boat on the outside of the timber and cast to the bank working the bait from the bank thru the transition zone to the offshore wooden structure. Be sure to pause as close to any structure as possible, let the bait sit and just twitch the head back and forth, keeping the bait as close to the tree as possible. Do not be afraid to have your boat in extreme deep water this time of year. I have had the boat in as much as 70 ft. twitching the bait thru the upper column in 50 ft. and have caught huge smallies.


Very seldom will the bite come while the bait is moving. The bite will happen as the bait sits motionless, falls or rises. It is not uncommon, early in the season, to let the bait sit for up to 20 seconds. A jerk, jerk, jerk, pause method is a very good method to work the bait. Jerk, jerk, twitch, twitch, pause, twitch, pause, twitch, BANG.

As the water starts to edge into the 50's smallmouth get a real hanker-en for crayfish and the huge amounts of calories these yummy cru stations provide for procreation. Wiggle Warts, tubes, jigs, hula-grubs, shaky-heads, and split shot rigs will get you nipped most often. The stick bait is still in vogue. Again wind is important if you can find it. Fish will begin to shallow up and fishing from bank depth to 30 ft. will keep you on target. Smallmouth during this period will start to migrate toward transitioning chunk rock and flat gravel. Cove mouths and the first 100 yards or so of big spawning pockets will hold lots of fish. Main lake flats adjacent to spawning coves are magnets, for staging feeding fish. Grub swimming, stick baits, and split shot rigs work wonders, as the fish occupy all levels of the water column and all depths in this range.


Warts and Jigs are most generally fished with 10 to 12 pound fluorocarbon on bait casters, and the soft plastics on a spinning rod, with 6 to 8 pound flora.


As water temps again nudge upward, into the upper 50's to 60, smallmouth will be at an absolute feeding Mecca. On Table Rock this means on the bank to 16 ft. depth range and migrating and moving the bank in large numbers. Shaky head , split shot rig, jigs , hula grubs and tubes are at there best. Great color combo's included are green pumpkin, watermelon candy, watermelon red, and peanut butter and jelly.


Late April and early May are here at last and the water temps are 60 to 65. Smallmouth are bedding in 3 to 16 ft. of water and again one of my favorite times is here. Top water like the Zara Spook, Red fin, Yellow Magic and a multitude of others presented parrell to the bank will get vicious strikes. This is also the time when floating worms seem to work there magic and are as fun as the top water stuff. Not only do you feel the strikes, but you see the attack. Bubble gum, mercurochrome, chartreuse, yellow and white are my favorite soft floating baits. The fish are available main lake wide at this time and finding them is just a matter of exploring large pockets of mixed chunk and gravel.


As the post spawn starts in May, thru early June, the fish are again on the move and extremely hungry, no naps or smokes after the spawn, its time to eat again. At this time really nice catches can and do occur mostly top water and swimming a grub. Top water again is without a doubt just a flat favorite. Deep Cove mouths, Bluff ends , channel breaks and over deep humps are great places to see and start chasing action for huge smallmouth . Grub swimming is probably the easiest way to entice a bite or two. I usually position my boat in the 30 ft. range on flat as a mat gravel and toss ¼ oz jig heads with 4 inch C-tail grubs, in copper, salt and pepper, grey pepper green pumpkin, on 6 lb. maxi.. A good 7 ft. rod is a must here, I prefer a very fast tip with a willow soft mid-section and firm butt. Allow the grub to sink to the bottom and follow the bottom contour back to the boat. You should at the end of the cast be almost reeling your bait straight up from the bottom, under the boat. The bite is not a true smallmouth attack and is a bit deceiving, as most often the fish will just ride the bait. The locals and Pro's let the fish mouth the grub and just keep reeling. As the rod tip begins to bow, and the mid-section of the rod, starts to bend, now is the time to lay the wood, or better yet just lift on the fish. Raw windy, rainy , overcast days are what you want at this time of the year. The worse it is the better the experts like it.


All thru this period is a great time to fish the Rock, as you know for sure the Kaintucks, are just flat not going to let those smallmouth get all the goodies.


Table Rocks top baits for trophy small mouth start with the family of suspending stick baits, and go to hard plastics like the Storm Wiggle Wart, Jigs made by Jewell Bait Co. with the Spider Jig being a small mouth getter. Soft plastics without a doubt are the king. Zoom, Fish Dr. and Centipede, Chomper soft plastics, hula-grub, Chomper tubes, Spot Remover stand up shaky head jig, and a variety of C-tail grubs.

Hope to see you all on the lake this year. Take advantage of one of the best sport fish this country has to offer, and one of its best fisheries. Going after, Table Rock's pot of Bronze at the end of the Rainbow.

William Babler

White River Outfitters-Guide Service

White River Lodge

Lilleys' Landing Resort and Marina

OAF Table Rock Moderator











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Sweet topic. I for one will take any bass I can get, but smallies do have a special place in my anglers heart.

"May success follow your every cast." - Trav P. Johnson

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Bill excellent article, raised my fever at least ten degrees as I sit here watching the ice build up on the trees, not enough "carharts" to get me out today ha

To have a true friend is wonderful, to have a true friend who fishes with you....... priceless

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That was the best read I have seen on fishing Table Rock I have ever read. I am gonna have to make a copy and carry it with me in the boat as a reference manual on Table Rock Smallmouths. Thanks for this informative and easy to read and understand article.

Respect your Environment and others right to use it!

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Thanks Bill for the informative article. It left no stone unturned. I've been working on the boss, (my fishing partner), to book a trip with you this year. In years passed, we made a few trips down to Lunker Landing at Shell Knob. Not a whole lot of success with our shallow, stained lake tactics. As I read the post's on this great site I can see why. Anyway, thanks again to you and all the members that contribute to this site. It makes the winter seem a little shorter.


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