Let’s put this into terminology nonanglers might understand.
A 1-pound smallmouth is a welcome catch. It fights with nimble persistence, like the best halfback in a high school football game.
A 2-pound smallie is a prized catch. It’s a special fish with grown-up muscle, like the athletes vying for the starting tailback job at YSU.
A 3-pound specimen is a spectacular catch. It has power and speed and is capable of breaking your line as readily as Ohio State’s Boom Herron busts opponents’ defenses.
Smallmouth bass in the 4-pound class and beyond are freaks of nature. In my opinion, they deserve enshrinement in any angler’s hall of fame.
All smallmouths are special. Big smallies are wild and crazy with all of their weight carried as muscle built for speed and endurance.
When hooked, oversized smallmouth bass hug the bottom as though they have hands and are holding for dear life on a boulder or stump. A moment later they rocket to the surface and cartwheel like an NFL running back leaping would-be tacklers for a goal-line score.
I connected with one of them last Sunday at Shenango Reservoir and can’t get the sensation out of my mind — not that I really want to forget, mind you.
The fish smashed my spinnerbait as I pulled it rapidly across a sunken road bed. The bait had just cleared the old pavement, passing over the washed-out edge, when the fish blasted it.
Without exaggerating at all, I tell you my first reaction was that I’d wedged the lure between two rocks. It simply stopped. I pulled and nothing moved in the first instant. Then my rod started bending into a big arc as the smallmouth headed away from my boat.
I held on. The rod bucked as the fish shook its head. One of the shakes pushed the smallie half out of the water, and I heard the spinnerbait’s tandem willowleaf blades clang like bells.
The fish gave up a couple of feet, then with a little depth under its body, kicked its tail to propel it 3 feet clear of the surface.
These fish impress me. Whether it’s a 12-incher in the Ohio River or a 6-pounder in Lake Erie, the smallmouth bass is the fittest freshwater fighter in my book.
One day this past June on the Ohio River, I boated 20 of the bronze battlers. What they lacked in size, they made up with intensity. A week earlier, I did battle with 20 Erie smallies, all of whom were big enough to eat any of the fish the river yielded.
When I’m on the big river, a small creek, a Youngstown-area reservoir or the expansive waters of Lake Erie, I’m alert for opportunities to catch smallmouths.
They are more fun than any other species I can imagine. And with football time on the calendar, the smallies are heading into prime time.
As you read this, I’m back on Shenango this morning probing for another encounter with a battling bronzeback. Next weekend may find me on Erie bouncing a tube jig around a bottom break holding big smallies.
Many will be tuned in this afternoon to college football. I love football, but it’ll be there when the weather deteriorates. There are smallies to catch, and I cannot resist.