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Lester's Smallmouth Bass Search Tips

It’s said that seeing is believing and modern electronics have evolved to the point that there are no longer many mysteries. No doubt, forward-facing sonar has revolutionized the way anglers search for smallmouth bass; and with real-time images showing fish location and movement, anglers operate with invaluable detail.

On the Bassmaster Elite Series, Mustad pro Brandon Lester does his searching with Lowrance ActiveTarget. As he explained, this technology has provided a game-changing benefit that confirms what was once only speculation.

“As fishermen, we’ve suspected; and I’d even go so far as to say we’ve always known that smallmouth are a lot more nomadic than largemouth are, ”Lester said. “I picture a largemouth as a lazy fish that sits beside structure a lot more, but smallmouth like to get out there a roam around —sort of like a spotted bass.

“I feel like forward-facing sonar has blown the doors wide open on the smallmouth deal, because guys are catching fish just out in the wide open areas in 25-50 feet of water. The only thing those fish are relating to is bait — they’re just out there chasing baitfish.”
- Brandon Lester

Strategic Advantage

Lester said his forward-facing sonar may show him a single fish or a school of fish; but either way, it’s an immediate discovery. Whereas, in years past, anglers would have to simply fish through an area to figure out what was — or was not — there.

It’s all about time efficiency and Lester knows that casting to fish beats casting to an area. Also, consistency is hard to maintain with the highly mobile smallmouth, so knowing when the fish are gone is just as helpful as knowing where they were.

“In the past, if you got lucky on a particular day and got into an area the fish were using, then yeah, you might be able to catch them,” Lester said. “But then tomorrow, when you went right back out there, they may be 2 miles away, or 300 yards away and you’d never even know it. You may spend half your day trying to relocate that school of fish, where now, you just go out there, put the trolling motor on high, scan until you see them, and then start casting to them.”
- Brandon Lester

Bait &Tackle Selection

This is mostly open-water finesse fishing, so there’s no need for heavy tackle. For his forward-facing sonar searches, Lester uses his 6-10 medium-light signature series Mustad BLF Instinct rod with a size 3000 reel, 10-pound braided main line, and an 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.

His bait of choice for the smallmouth hunt is a dropshot with a finesse worm on a Size 4 Mustad AlphaPoint Dropshot Hook and a Mustad Tungsten TitanX Dropshot Weight.

Key Observations

“When I first started using forward facing sonar, one of the things that was eye-opening to me was just how much fish do move,” Lester said. “We always kinda thought that, if a fish positions by a clump of grass or over by a buoy, then that’s where that fish lives.

“But that’s not always the case. Those smallmouth will just take off swimming and swim across the middle of the lake.”

Lester also pointed out that smallmouth will dramatically change their depth in a remarkably short timeframe. Again, that real-time response helps anglers capitalize on more opportunities, by showing them precisely where they should be fishing.

In closing, Lester points to his top lesson from the forward-facing sonar game:

“Don’t be afraid to look for fish in places that you would not necessarily have looked before. There doesn’t always have to be structure in an area. It may just be the presence of baitfish.”
- Brandon Lester


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