June: optimal time for smallies

Smallmouth season is rocking into high gear this week, as the bass are completing their transition into summer patterns and anglers can count on stable weather.

During typical years, my personal fishing calendar has me targeting largemouth bass in April and May. I start to get serious about smallies in the first week of June when I feel confident I can visit Lake Erie or the Ohio River and find favorable conditions.

Thanks to a couple of April trips to Lake Milton, I have already battled nice bronzebacks and my appetite has been whetted. I’m looking forward to the next three weekends.

Today I’m on the Ohio River. And before June ends, I hope to have a couple of Lake Erie trips logged — weather permitting, of course.

Smallmouth-bass populations have been getting stronger around Youngstown. Berlin has a nice fishery. Lake Milton is really gaining steam with smallies. The Mahoning River is full of them, and Lake Erie and the Ohio River are smallmouth factories.

I like June smallmouth fishing because all of the variables seem to align for success.

The spawn is over and the fish are eating. The water is at the optimum temperature for the metabolism of bass. The weather is generally good and the winds are favorable.

So unless your weekends are booked solid with graduations and weddings, you are well advised to hit the water during the next few weeks if you want good odds for a successful smallmouth fishing trip.

Here are a few tips for those who want to try local waters:

Few anglers talk up the Mahoning River’s smallmouth fishing, but I’m letting the cat out of the bag. Our hometown river is full of bronzebacks, many in the 2- to 3-pound class.

Access is limited. Try Warren’s Perkins and Packard parks. In Youngstown, try the area around the waterworks and the confluence of Mill Creek. Upstream, Canoe City above Leavittsburg has a small boat ramp. Downstream, you will find access in Lowellville.

A bass-style chartreuse spinnerbait with tandem willowleaf blades is a great choice. It’s relatively snag-resistant and smallmouth will smash it. Also try a Zoom Fluke or Senko-style sinking worm for slackwater areas. Small crawfish crankbaits also are good bets.

At Berlin, look for smallies around the hard-bottom areas from the Route 14 bridge north to the dam. Rocky points are excellent, as are rip-rap areas such as the U.S. 224 causeway.

Try topwaters and crankbaits. When conditions are right, both will catch Berlin smallies all day.

At Milton, smallmouths are becoming the dominant bass species. Look for them shallow around main-lake docks and deep on river channel bend ledges and off-shore humps. The pilings of Interstate 76 also host schools of smallies.

Dock fish will strike compact creature baits flipped into the shady hiding spots. Try small plastic worms around the bridge pilings and deep-diving cranks and Carolina rigs for the main-lake ledge fish.

Down on the Ohio River, anglers will find smallies willing to strike topwaters, crankbaits and spinnerbaits. The key is to work the lures around current breaks. Find eddies off the main current and you’ll almost invariably find one or more bronzebacks.

There isn’t much need to downsize and fish slowly in June. This is the month when the smallies really don’t need to be finessed. The main thing is to get out there and put your lures in their faces.


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