Last time I talked to Wes Smallwood, he had qualified for the 2017 Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship. So that is where we start this interview. We find out exactly how he did during the tournament. But we quickly get into the topic I wanted to explore in depth with Wes, Shenandoah River largemouth bass fishing. The Shenandoah is well known for its smallmouth bass fishing but this interview shows that the largemouth bass are worth the trip.
How did you end up doing at the 2017 Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship?
The 2017 KBF National Championship was an amazing experience for me. I spent an entire week fishing some of the best bass fishing waters in the nation. I felt I had some really good patterns developed, however my prefishing success didn’t translate over into the tournament days. The weather changed significantly, and I failed to adjust accordingly and finished well out of the money for the event.
All in all though, I learned a LOT about the lake(s). I came away with a fire to be able to qualify for 2018 and take another swing at those fish. The lake is amazing and the fishing is nothing short of impressive. All week long I was able to find and catch solid limits of fish with several going above 5 pounds plus. It just didn’t translate into competition days.
How was the rest of your 2017 fishing season?
2017 was a pretty busy year for me competitively and personally. It can be difficult sometimes balancing the demands of a full-time job with my desire to be on the water as much as possible. But I found a good balance and managed to fish at least one event each month.
Some of my highlights were getting to fish in the annual YakAttack Heroes on the Water charity event in May, fishing Briery Creek for the first time…it’s an amazing fishery. Other top memories would be qualifying for the 2018 KBF National Championship during an overnight event on Smith Mountain Lake. A very late and surprising smallmouth bass enabled me to get a qualifying spot. In September, I was able to participate in the 2017 Barbie River Rumble charity event to benefit Casting For Recovery, and we could only use kid’s fishing rods, i.e. Barbie, Spiderman, Cars, etc. It was a lot of fun and was a unique challenge to land decent fish on such a small rod and reel combo.
How often were you able to make it out to the Shenandoah?
While I didn’t get to make it to the Shenandoah nearly as much as I would have liked, due in large part to my work schedule during the week, I did still manage to fish it multiple times. This year we mostly targeted largemouth more than smallmouth bass, and I would say the fishing was as good as ever.
What section of water do you fish for Shenandoah River largemouth bass?
We primarily fish the South Fork Shenandoah, and this portion of the river holds numerous locations where quality fish of both species can be landed. There are sections of nice rock shelves as well as ample areas with grass and other aquatic vegetation which are prime bass attractors.
What is the average size of largemouth on this section of the river?
It’s hard for me to say what the average size largemouth are in this portion of the Shenandoah. But I will say that we landed numerous fish from small 1 pound bass, to quality 3 to 5 pounders, all the way up to a 9 pound plus largemouth that my fishing buddy Dustin landed this past summer.
In the world of kayak tournament fishing, especially the online events, you have an entire month to try to land the best five fish. For the Shenandoah, anything near the 100” mark is a VERY good month, but with 9 pound plus bass lurking, the possibilities for having a 5 fish total near the 105”+ mark is not out of the realm of possibility.
The best day I was able to be a part of on the Shenandoah was one evening when I fished with Dustin. I witnessed him land a beautiful 6.5 pound largemouth that won him the monthly challenge event that month. The funny part was I was the first kayak fishing the area. I decided to move across the river to a dock instead of continuing the way I was headed. That opened up the area for Dustin to make his cast, and that’s when he nabbed that beauty. I was really pumped for him, and it was just one of those things where I made the wrong move.
What do you consider the keys to reading the water for Shenandoah River largemouth bass?
From what I have learned about largemouth on the Shenandoah is they typically do not venture too often directly out into strong current. Area of success have been current breaks and slower, deeper pools just outside of faster moving water. Areas where grass and other vegetation is relatively close to deeper water have also proved very productive.
What are your 5 favorite baits for catching Shenandoah River largemouth bass?
In no particular order, I have been successful throwing a spinnerbait, squarebill crankbait, Whopper Plopper, Ned Rig style finesse presentations, and of course the Senko. All of those lures have produced quality fish of both species in the Shenandoah.
Which kayak are you fishing out of for Shenandoah River largemouth bass?
I fish out of my Wilderness Systems Ride 115x Max Angler kayak. It gets the job done nicely for me. It’s a good all-around size for easily navigating the river. It’s stable enough for me to stand and fish the calmer areas. So I can sight-fish and locate some of the larger fish.
If you are setting out for the day to just put big Shenandoah River largemouth bass in the kayak, how does your approach change from days when you are ok with general #’s?
It would definitely change my decision on where I would fish. I would decide to fish areas where slow, deeper sections with vegetation dominate. These sections would typically hold larger concentrations of largemouth bass. If I’m focusing on bigger bass, I would typically make sure the 130 size Whopper Plopper is tied on. I would focus a lot of time on deep grassy areas and alternate between throwing the Plopper and larger Senkos, at least 5” but mostly 6”.
Who are your current sponsors?
I’m currently sponsored/affiliated with Kistler Rods, Ardent Reels, Lifted Jigs, and Tournament Tackle. My Kistler Rods are an absolute game changer. The sensitivity and power of these rods are unlike anything I’ve used before. I have the utmost confidence in knowing they will handle anything I throw at them. They pair very nicely with the wide variety of Ardent reels I own. Those two combined have helped me have a very successful year.
I am definitely going to try to make it to the Shenandoah River this spring. Thanks to Wes I have a good start in my planning. Make sure to check out Wes on Instagram @anglerwessmallwood.
Read More about Wes Smallwood: Wes Smallwood Interview Part II: The Fishing
Read More about Shenandoah River Fishing: South Fork Shenandoah River Bass Fishing