Scott Johnson is an outstanding fishing guide. His knowledge of two of the Nation’s best shallow river smallmouth bass fisheries is second to none. Scott guides on the Upper Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers. As a guide, he needs to know what baits will catch his clients fish every day he goes out. Scott broke down his 2017 best baits for us to help us prepare for the 2018 bass season. So here in no particular order are Scott Johnson’s top ten baits for river smallmouth bass.
#10 – Adam’s Atak Crankbait
First up is the Adam’s Atak Crankbait. This bait runs about 3 to 5 feet deep. I bang this thing through rock and wood. It is remarkably snag resistant. I catch bass, catfish and even walleye on it. The paint holds up. It has black nickel hooks that don’t rust. April through late summer this really delivered well. My favorite colors include Stone Cat for clear to stained water; dirty water devil for stained to muddy water
#9 – Lucky Craft Pointer 78
It is interesting how patterns can change from year to year. Last year I fished the Pointer 100 almost exclsuively. This year downsizing to the 78 really paid off. This lure is deadly in colder water temps from like 36 to 50 degrees. As with any jerkbait, the pause is really the key. Sometimes in cold water it takes a really long pause just like dead sticking a soft plastic. Two colors I really like a lot are the bone blue and the auorora perch. The perch I use on stained to muddy water.
#8 – Storm 360GT
This bait really shined spring through fall. Very simple…throw it out and simple slow retrieve back in. It has a small rattle in the head. This lure was great for the tough bite days when fish were short striking crankbaits and spinnerbaits. The more soft and subtle action of this really came through for a lot of fish. This is also great if you are taking the kids out. Single hook means you are not swinging trebles around, and its simple and easy to use. I kept colors simple. I used Smelt and Houdini.
#7 – Lucky Craft LV RTO Lipless
I know this is my second Lucky Craft lure, and I am not sponsored by Lucky Craft. One of the things I love about fishing rivers is the constantly changing raver levels and water clarity. This lure is excellent for high and muddy water. It has a super loud rattle. It really allows the fish to key in on its location from the sound and vibration. I love to use this with a stop and go retrieve. I use the TO Gill color a lot. A lot of people shy away from the high and muddy water conditions but with this lure it is worth giving it a shot.
#6 – River2Sea Whopper Plopper 90
I know everyone has heard the buzz on this lure. If you haven’t tried it, you owe yourself to do it. Smallmouth absolutely hate this bait. You get some of the most explosive blow ups on this. It is a lot of fun to fish. I will fish this from May to November. It will be on my deck every day that I am out. And I will throw it every day that I am out. Don’t discount trying to throw this on bright sunny days. I have had days that I have caught them all day long on this lure. While I am not convinced that lure color makes a big difference with topwater, I use the Monkey But and the River Perch. Definitely worth giving it a shot.
#5 – Snagler Tackle Spinnerbaits
Spinnerbaits may be my favorite way to fish. Snagler Tackle Spinnerbaits are designed for fishing current for river smallmouth bass. River smallmouth will absolutely destroy these to the point that it feels they are going to rip the rod out of your hands. I have this tied on from 45 degrees in the spring down through 40 degrees in the fall. My retrieves range from slow rolling them to burning them. Skirt, blade shape and blade color can make a big difference. A couple of my favorite colors are Upper Snag Remover turtle back blades for stained to muddy water; Roadkill River Craw for clear water and burning in the summertime. These baits produced a huge number of fish and huge fish for me in 2017.
#4 – Seaguar Inviszx Floro
This one actually isn’t a lure. This line is a huge part of my finesse presentations. It handles so much like monofilament but is extremely sensitive. It is great for detecting light bites, fishing cold water, post-spawn, anytime the bite is tough. But I love it so much I am actually fishing it year round on all my finesse applications now. I know braid to a leader is most sensitive. But fishing shallow rocky rivers and getting snagged dozens and dozens of times a day, it becomes a huge time saver to be able to just tie direct and not have to mess with the leader.
#3 – Case Magic Stik
As much as I like to power fish, there are days that the fish won’t cooperate and you have to go finesse. I will fish a 4 inch Magic Stik pretty much year around outside the coldest water temp days that I am out. I like to fish these two different ways. One is a simple wacky rig with a Snagler Tackle Wacky hook. And the second way is a way that I got turned onto my the owner of Angler’s Express, the Owner Shaky Head. Both these techniques are relatively snag free and weedless which is a big plus for fishing shallow rocky rivers. So if you are heading out this year, you definitely want to have these in your boat. They will pay off.
#2 – Keitech Swing Impact 3.5
This bait real excels on the toughest bite days. And that is primarily when I fish it. I don’t know what they put in this plastic but the fish cannot resist. I will fish this very simply on an Snagler Tackle Company ball head with a Sickle Hook. And I fish it just like a tube or another jig. I am not swimming it. I use slow hops and drags along the bottom. So on your toughest days out you want to have this Keitech. You can’t beat it. It is a soft plastic. So you will go through them quick but when you want to put fish in the boat, you can count on this.
#1 – Campground Special Tubes
These tubes are my absolute go to confidence bait. They put more fish in my boat every year than any other lure. It is not just small fish even though these are small size, 2 3/4 inch Teaser size tubes. I catch plenty of big fish on these tubes. In my opinion, there is simply no better bait for river smallmouth than to fish a tube. Two colors I use primarily are KP Purple and Purple Craw. I fish them on Snagler Tackle Company 1/8 oz. tube head with a black nickel sickle hook. If I had one bait to go on the river with to catch fish, this would be it.
If you are interested in any of the Snagler Tackle Baits mentioned as well as the Adam’s Atak and the Campground Special Tubes, go to SnaglerTackle.com. For the other baits mentioned here, check out AnglersExpress.com. If you go to Scott’s Instagram, you can see the actual videos he produced on his favorite baits as well as get a special discount code for March 2018. Finally if you are interested in Scott’s guide services on the Susquehanna River or Upper Potomac, visit SJFishing.com.