Jeff Kriet sees Southern Smallmouth as Lessons for Northern MLF Success
By Bailey McBride
February 14, 2017
Growing up bass fishing near his Ardmore, Okla. home, Jack Links Major League Fishing pro Jeff Kriet knows what it is like to wipe sweat from his brow while anchoring the front deck of a bass boat.
After all, it can get blistering hot when fishing for Sooner State largemouths in the triple digit heat of an Oklahoma summer.
With that in mind, it might be a surprise to some observers that Kriet is something of a smallmouth bass fishing specialist.
Kriet might not be a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, but he is a Sooner State smallmouth guru fishing in the North Country in the 2017 Summit Cup, even as cloudy weather, cool winds and a little rain necessitate a waterproof/windproof rain suit from HUK.
Why the smallmouth bass fishing prowess that Kriet possesses?
Because his home lake - the beautifully clear and moderately deep Lake Murray in Carter and Love Counties in southern Oklahoma - happens to be loaded up with plenty of 1-, 2-, and 3-lb. smallmouth bass.
"Lake Murray is a lake that I've grown up on," said Kriet a few years back. "It (is a good lake and it) has (plenty of) smallmouths and largemouths."
Prior to becoming a bass fishing pro on the Major League Fishing and Bassmaster Elite Series circuits, Kriet guided anglers at the 5,728-acre Murray.
Over time, he found the fishing to be so good that he once told the late B.A.S.S. fishing writer Tim Tucker that "...when I used to guide there I would guarantee 50 (fish) a day or they wouldn't have to pay me."
While there would always be a few largemouth bass in that mix - Kriet once held the official lake record at Murray with a 12.1 pound largemouth that he caught in April 2010 - most of that 50 fish on any given day would be smallmouth bass.
Because of that, Kriet never really feels like he's at a disadvantage when fishing northern waters where plenty of bronzeback bass roam.
With all of that in mind, I had the chance to visit with Kriet and ask him what the key differences were - if any - between an Oklahoma smallmouth and the ones being targeted at the 2017 Summit Cup being staged in Grand Rapids, Minn.
"I would hope they are bigger," deadpanned Kriet with a wry smile. "I would think that they would (definitely) be bigger.
"And they don't get as much pressure here."
Why the latter statement?
Kriet said that for starters, lakes in northern Minnesota are going to be under ice for several months out of each year meaning that only ice fishermen can target them during the hard water season.
And second, many anglers up north prefer to catch other species like walleye, muskies and yellow perch.
"These fish (up here) are usually a little easier to catch than the southern fish are," said Kriet. "So I expect to find some good fishing."
While Kriet notes that the really big smallmouth lakes up north - think Lake Erie here - can be a struggle for him at times, the skill set that he possesses from Lake Murray is very transferable to the moderately sized lakes around Grand Rapids.
"These lakes will (likely) fish much more like Murray," he said. "You'll catch a lot of these fish shallower (than you will in those big Great Lakes)."
When I noted my surprise, Kriet reiterated that you don't always have to go into deeper water for smallmouths, a lesson that he learned on Murray.
"Yeah, there's always some smallmouth shallow (back home and up here)," Kriet said. "You want to cover lots of water until you find them."
Because of that, Kriet said that active baits that can cover water quickly and search for hungry fish can be a key consideration here.
"You can never go wrong (on Murray or up here) with a jerkbait and things like burning a spinnerbait (back to the boat)," said Kriet, winner of one B.A.S.S. event along with more than $1 million in career earnings.
With the idea that some smallmouths will be closer to the bank here in northern Minnesota, I asked Kriet if he had a preference on what he catches: largemouths, smallmouths or a mixed bag like he used to put his guide clients on back in the day?
"I'm going to try and put myself in areas where I think that there might be both," said the eight-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier.
Kriet has a specific reason for such thinking - he feels like zeroing in on largemouths early on in the day might have cost him a chance to succeed at the 2015 MLF Summit Cup contested in and around Waterville, Maine.
By the time he realized his mistake in not targeting smallmouths - at least a little bit - Kriet had been passed by other MLF pros who went on to fish well and advance to the next round of the MLF derby.
"I made the mistake of fishing for all largemouths in the first period and a half and it was all smallmouths," said Kriet. "Pretty much, anyway."
In fact, Kriet says that the Maine MLF event was one example where trying to read into the constant results popping up on SCORETRACKER LIVE! actually cost him.
"In Maine, I was sure that they were catching largemouths (as the leaderboard began to sing)," he laughed. "I stayed with largemouths."
"Because I was listening to the board get lit up, listening to them go to 15 lbs., to 25 lbs., and I was thinking 'Gosh, they're catching big fish.'"
But instead of big northern largemouths in the 5-, 6- and 7 lb. range, anglers in Kriet's Elimination Round were actually catching a lot of one, two and three-pound smallmouths.
"They had 30 fish (that day)," said Kriet. "So the first thing I'm going to do here is really pay attention to the size of fish, the average size of the fish (being caught). I'll never make that mistake again because they one-pounded me to death in that event."
With that lesson still fresh in his thoughts, Kriet plans to keep an open mind this week in Grand Rapids...even though he is quick to admit that he won't hesitate to target one bass species versus the other if a given day's action warrants that.
"I'm just going to go fishing (here)," said Kriet, a former banker turned bass fishing pro."(But) if I find stuff where it looks like there should be a green one (largemouth) and I catch a brown one (smallmouth), then I'm going to figure out pretty quick that I need to be catching brown ones and I'm going to target them (then)."
With such a mindset, Kriet is confident that he can succeed here on the waters of northern Minnesota this week.
Northern waters which really aren't that much different than the familiar lake down south near his Ardmore, Okla. home that Kriet knows so well.
Even if it is many, many, many miles away from Grand Rapids, Minn.