Mark Rose: Northern Smallmouth Strategies From a Southern Point of View

Mark Rose is certainly no stranger to catching smallmouths.

By Lynn Burkhead - April 4, 2017

Mark Rose is certainly no stranger to catching smallmouths.

After all, the Major League Fishing GEICO Select pro from West Memphis, Ark. lives in a state and a region known for harboring some pretty solid bronzeback bass fishing as long as an angler is in the right spot.

From the Buffalo River in Arkansas to a smallmouth rich reservoir like Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee/Alabama border or Dale Hollow Lake near Nashville, there are certainly plenty of smalljaws bass to be caught by anglers living down south.

But not like they can be caught up north, especially in the state of Michigan where the MLF crew is visiting the Alpena area this week to contest the 2017 MLF GEICO Challenge Select.

Standing at the boat ramp on one of the smallmouth rich waters in northeastern Michigan, I asked Rose what the differences were between northern smallmouths and those that live in more southern latitudes.

Not as much as you might think.

While that might be surprising to some, it isn't to Rose in a number of areas, including the relative size of smallmouths that swim in both regions. While the North Country is famous for its huge smallmouths, some of the biggest bronzeback bass in the world also come from some of the southern reservoirs mentioned above.

Likewise, northern smallmouths are famous for roaming around in wolf packs that terrorize the local baitfish population. Rose admits that's true, but he also notes that he can find pretty good sized groups of bronzeback bass down south, too.

"It's just that they are grouped up in schools sitting on a ledge rather than roaming a flat like they might do up here," said Rose, a four-time winner on the FLW Tour.

So what is the primary difference between northern and southern smallmouth bass?

In Rose's mind, it's the habitat and what that does for the northern smallmouth spawn, something that creates a much greater population density in places like Michigan as opposed to a southern water.

"The habitat a lot of times is different," Rose said. "There's not a flowing river on smaller lakes like this (where the) water is moving and generating a lot of current."

In the part of the country where Rose lives, most smallmouth are caught either on river systems with flowing water or on deep reservoirs that have frequent power generation.

That's especially true on the river-fed impoundments that Rose knows and fishes so well in the Mid-South region, water bodies that can feature a lot of current pulling through a dam from day to day.

"These landlocked lakes up here might have a few ditches and canals and things like that, but they won't generate the kind of current that say the Tennessee River does," he said.

"The habitat up north is different than down south with a lot of flats that make up a lot of these big bays and shoals up here."

Mind you, Rose isn't complaining about the habitat differences.

"Those vast flats up here, that's what makes these lakes so good with such great spawning habitat," said Rose, who did well enough on the B.A.S.S. Southern Open tournament trail in 2016 that he was named the circuit's Angler of the Year. "It enables them to have such good spawns (and great populations)."

If the lack of river-generated current and the huge flats on northern lakes are a couple of differences that Rose notes, so too is the water clarity since the glacier-carved natural lakes up north generally have bottom compositions that lend themselves to great visibility for both fish and anglers.

Given the smaller and shallower nature of many northern lakes as opposed to the deep impoundments down south and the MLF pro Rose admits that such characteristics can affect how smallmouth behave.

"If the wind is blowing out of the east, they'll just switch (and move) to the other side of the rock (up here)," laughed Rose, an angler who has put more than $2.2 million dollars in the bank during his career as a competitive bass fisherman.

"I think that helps them bite (better up here)," he added. "And it helps bass fishermen get up on them a little bit better and it helps hide a lot of the trolling motor noise and things like that."

Basic habitat differences aside, Rose says that in his mind, that is pretty much where the differences cease to exist between the smallmouth bass of the north and the south.

"Other than the habitat, that's about it," he said. "The smallmouths in the Tennessee River, they think pretty much like any other smallmouth does."

Because of that, Rose targets smallmouths up north by focusing on many of the same things that he does when fishing down south.

Mark Rose Challenge Select

In general, he's looking more for the right pattern rather than the right spot.

"I'll be moving a lot (here in Michigan). My cameraman and my boat official, they'll get tired of me telling them 'Let's go!' because I'll be on the move a lot."

Why such movement? Again, Rose is going to be looking for the right pattern versus trying to find the proverbial mother lode of fish in a particular spot. And that's going to mean that he'll be throwing a lot of baits designed to cover water and to elicit a reaction strike, things like crankbaits, jerkbaits and spinnerbaits.

Given the aggressive nature of northern smallmouth bass, Rose is very comfortable with his game plan, so don't look for him to abandon his cover the water power fishing approach once the day begins to unfold.

"I'm not going to do a whole lot of spinning rod fishing, at least at first," he said. "It will be an entire first period of trying to catch them on moving baits and trying to solve the mystery. I'll be moving a lot."

As he said that, however, Rose paused and chuckled a good bit.

"Having said that, I'll find me a place out there loaded right out of the gate and fish the spinning rod the whole time," he grinned. "Because it's Major League Fishing and we're fishing on the fly.

"I'll give you a good conscience conservative guess (about what I'll be doing) but 15 minutes from now, I may be changing that," he added.

"Because that's Major League Fishing."

A statement that's as true as can be, no matter what species of bass an angler like Rose is targeting.

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