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  • Writer's pictureRyan Kelly

How to Catch Smallmouth Bass on Mille Lacs Lake (Pre-Spawn Jerkbaits)

Spring smallmouth bass fishing on the best bass lake in the country, Mille Lacs Lake. The pre-spawn window on this body of water (opening fishing through Memorial Weekend), can provide some of the best smallmouth fishing of the year. Fast action and big fish attract anglers from around the country at this time.


However incredible the bite can be in spring, this time of year is a period of transition. Not only for fish but, also the weather. Fish movements from deep wintering areas to shallow spawning areas, can be complicated by unstable spring weather. Often causing fish to make movements on and off shallow structures. These cold fronts not only change smallmouth location, they also affect smallmouth behavior. Often times creating a difficult bite, post front. Fortunately Mille Lacs is a resilient fishery, producing fish even under the toughest conditions.


There are many good options for techniques during the pre-spawn. One technique stands heads above the rest at this time though, the jerkbait. While some techniques do well on feeding fish and other techniques work on lethargic smallmouth, the jerkbait excels at both during the pre-spawn. Jerkbaits will entice a feeding response from aggressive fish, they can also trigger a reaction from lethargic fish. No other technique is as effective for pre-spawn smallmouth.


Jerkbait fishing isn't difficult. It takes a little practice but, a lot of confidence. Fishing jerkbaits is done on a jerk-pause cadence. Varying this cadence is done to suit the conditions, and ultimately fishes behavior. Typically a faster cadence is used with warm water aggressive bass, a slower cadence is used in cold water or post frontal conditions.


Jerkbaits can be used in shallow or deep water. Often times the shallow variations of jerkbaits are best even in deep water. Smallmouth will come far off the bottom to hit a jerbait. Deeper variations of these baits I use primarily around specific deep structure, or shortly after ice out on very late springs.


Rod setups are all personal preference with this technique. In general, a 6'6" to 7' medium spinning or bait casting rod is perfect.

I have two setups that I prefer, both are spinning. I use a medium extra fast, for fishing around shallow structure. My main line is 20# braid to a 15# fluorocarbon leader. This may seem unnecessarily heavy but, shallow structures on Mille Lacs have many hazards that make a little heavier setup more efficient.

My second setup is for fishing deeper structures. That is a 7' medium light rod with 10# braid and a 10# fluorocarbon leader. This combo is much better for finessing lighter jerkbaits, and also aids in landing fish with the lighter action.


When selecting baits, my choices are simple. When fishing shallow, I use a white #10 x-rap. When fishing deeper Ill vary my selection a little more. I generally grab a three hook suspending bait, the Japanese varieties are typically the best. I pick one of three broad color variations, based on the conditions.

  • Chrome when it is sunny, and the water is stirred up.

  • White whenever, it's a confidence color.

  • Translucent or natural, only under the calmest and clearest of conditions.


When looking for spring smallmouth on Mille Lacs, I start by looking at the weather. Water temperature is the single most important factor in spring bass fishing. It is also the most misunderstood by many anglers. A common misconception of many anglers, is the importance of particular static temperatures in pre-spawn. The temperature itself isn't very important, it's the trend that matters. Warming and cooling trends are what drive movement and feeding in bass during the pre-spawn. Warming trends attract fish to shallow warm waters. Cooling trends push fish back out of the shallows, and in seek of more stable conditions. By watching weather forecasts before and during fishing, you can easily spot warming/cooling trends and adjust accordingly.


Mille Lacs Lake smallies are fairly predictable when it comes to locations, pre-spawn is no exception. Warm water bays will hold many fish, as well as areas protected by points, reefs, or even well aligned shorelines. Smallmouth do not necessarily seek out the warmest water in the lake, they will seek out the warmest water in their area. Combine warm water areas with a hard bottom, and you'll have a pre-spawn smallmouth hot spot.


Good Luck Fishing


Ryan Kelly

Lagoona Guide Service

651-769-3142





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