I recently had a chance to talk with Mike Sholley about Susquehanna River smallmouth bass fishing. We discussed one of his favorite baits for catching Susquehanna smallies, the spinnerbait. We go into detail with his advice on how to be successful catching river bass with spinnerbaits from early spring through late fall.
How long have you been fishing the Susquehanna River for smallmouth bass?
I have been fishing the Susquehanna river since I was 5 years old when my dad first took me out. I grew up in Williamsport till I was about 12 years old. We lived right behind the Loyalsock Creek. That’s where I spent all my summer days fishing and catching live bait.
What do you love specifically about fishing spinnerbaits for Susquehanna smallmouth?
I would have to say the best thing about fishing a spinnerbait is when the bass hit it so hard it almost rips the rod out of your hand if you are not paying attention. It’s awesome to watch them chase the spinnerbait down and hit it on the retrieve. When you are using a good sensitive rod you can actually feel the change the way the blades move in the water just before a bass hits the spinnerbait.
Are there certain characteristics that make a good river spinnerbait?
There are many different characteristics about each spinnerbait company. From size and shape of blades, thickness of wire, hook style, head weight profile and color combinations. I personally only throw 3 different companies’ spinnerbaits, Sick Customs Baits, War Eagle and Nichols.
Do you have any general rules when picking blade types and skirt colors?
When it comes to fishing the Susquehanna River, things can change quickly depending on the weather. This all affects color and blade size. For instance if it’s higher water with stained/muddy conditions, I’m going to go for a bigger blade and a brighter color combination. If it’s slow and clear like in summer, I’m going to go with a smaller profile blade and more of a natural translucent color skirt.
Do you use trailer hooks?
When it comes to trailer hooks I usually don’t throw one unless the fish are short striking or just hitting the blades. When that happens, I will put a trailer hook on to help with missed strikes.
Sometimes the Smallmouth will just hit the spinnerbait lightly. If you just kill it instantly and let it fall they’ll come back and eat it. The reason they do this is in a way they’re wounding the bait to make it easier to capture.
When do you use any type of plastic trailers with the spinnerbait?
I don’t personally use any trailers on my spinnerbaits I like the way they are out of the package. Sometimes adding plastics to a spinnerbait can make them big and bulky and not run in the water the way they were tuned to be. This is all based on personal preference. Many people have much success with using a soft plastic trailer.
How do you go about determining your retrieve speed on any given day?
Retrieval speed of a spinnerbait mostly depends on water temperature and what the fish want. Spring/fall when the water temperatures are around the 50-degree mark, I like to slow roll the spinnerbait near the bottom.
Fishing a spinnerbait in the summertime is more about burning it back to the boat trying to get a reaction bite. It’s pretty neat as you can actually reel in a spinnerbait really fast and have the blades break the surface kind of like fishing a topwater bait.
How cold will you fish a spinnerbait?
The coldest water temperature I have fished a spinnerbait is around 45 degrees. I can say you won’t catch many fish, but you can usually lure a big smallmouth into biting it. Fishing a spinnerbait in that cold of a water temperature is after casting it out let it sink to the bottom and then slowly start to reel as it bangs off rocks on the bottom like a wounded bait fish.
Related to winter fishing, what is your approach to stay warm and comfortable when fishing the winter bite?
Fishing the river either before the ice comes or after ice-out safety is key. It’s best to fish with 2 people. That way if someone happens to fall in you have help to get back in the boat.
The technology that we have now a days with many companies like Under Armour, Simms and Gore-tex can make fishing a lot more bearable and enjoyable then it was for the older generations. Wearing a good waterproof/windproof suit after under layers is key during the colder months.
I also like to use hot hands for in my pockets to warm up my hands and in my boots to keep my feet warm. It makes fishing in 30- 40 degree air temperatures much easier!
What gear are you throwing your spinnerbaits on for the Susquehanna?
The set up for rod, reel and line is all personal preference. People have had good success with different companies.
I like to use higher end St.Croix rods, also MHX rod blanks for fishing spinnerbaits in a medium heavy action. I have had great success with Shimano reels. They take the abuse for many years without any issues.
I run 12lb test on all of my baitcasters. Mono is the type of line because it floats and has a little stretch. There are all kinds of line companies to choose from. It all comes down to what you like and have confidence in. My line choices are Mustad, Seaguar and Kimura fishing lines.
What are the weather conditions that you see and you think that the spinnerbait bite might not be great when fishing the Susquehanna?
When the water temperatures drop below 45 degrees it is not ideal to fish a spinnerbait. That’s when you pull out the hair jigs and tubes for a slower presentation bouncing off the bottom.
And what are the ideal conditions that you know you are going to crush them on the spinnerbait?
The ideal spinnerbait conditions are cloudy days or when there is a little wind pushing bait fish on the banks or rocks. Usually if the water temperatures are above 50 you can catch a smallmouth on the river everyday no matter what the conditions are. Other baits can be more productive but spinnerbaits work most days.
Do you have any sponsors?
As far as sponsors I have a few local companies that support me with my tournament fishing throughout the year. Susquehanna Native is a clothing/apparel company that donates money to cleaning up the Susquehanna and Chesapeake Bay to keep our fish healthy.
Sick Custom Baits supplies me with the best light wire spinnerbaits and chatterbaits on the market. Their color selection is the best due to making colors specifically for the Susquehanna and Juniata River matching the forage the smallmouth like to eat.
Hollywood Hair Jigs is another great local company that makes beautiful hair jigs for fishing in colder months. They have a wide variety of colors and trailers for hair jigs.
The Hook Pal is a great fishing tool designed by a fisherman to keep your baits in place with a small plastic disc. I use them with all my soft plastics so the bait don’t slide down the shank of the hook.
Thank you Mike! Great information for anyone who is trying to find Susquehanna River or other river smallmouth bass throughout the northeast.
All of us can follow Mike and his spinnerbait and fishing success on Instagram @blueflash717.