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The Quest for 20

Mike Clifford

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It seems that in our specific area, a 20" Smallie is pretty much the bar at which most strive for, with fewer actually getting there than one might imagine.

Seeing as how the ISA is a club consisting of some very hard-core anglers, you know there are those among us fishing hard on any given day.


I'm going to "pin" this thread for those that have caught or will catch this magnificent fish at 20" or above.


Those that have photos already are encouraged to post them in this thread with the lure used, and the time of year it was caught.


As for the "where"- I'd rather keep them guessing, and if somebody really needs to know, that's what the PM feature is for. B)


There are giant Smallies in any system that has bass as one of it's species.

This thread is intended to discuss HOW they can be caught- not where, and the reader can use that knowledge on their own home waters.


So let's have those photos!

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My personal best is still 19 3/4, but I'm working on it.

What gave me the idea to post this is the fact that I became just a little bored with catching 10" smallies, no matter the numbers- and felt like making it my mission to get that 20 out of the way.


Lately, I've been throwing a 7" topwater version of the Bettencourt Baits Rodent (it's ridiculously freakin huge!), the Rodent crankbait, and the biggest plastics I can get my hands on.


Of course, many will say that Spring is the best time to get them, but I've had equally as good success with large bass in summer months....and my Spring consisted of moving my residence, so it isn't like I have much choice this year..LOL

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I would say that using the larger baits turns the odds in your favor of getting that 20"+ bass. I consistently catch larger bass on larger baits. I have caught them on 1/16 oz. jigs as well, but not as often. If you aren't keeping a big spinnerbait in your pack, you could be "missing the boat." I would say that a tandem white spinnerbait has caught more 18" plus bass for me than any other lure. A big topwater, buzzbait or crankbait works well too. When I work a finesse approach, lately I have been throwing 4" tubes or bigger.


Being in big fish "habitat" is also a plus. To me, this usually means the right combination of structure and depth. The deeper water seems to be the key. There is a stretch of the WI River I have been fishing for close to 15 years (?). It sees a lot of fishermen and the big girls are not so easily fooled. Getting off the beaten path helps the odds in this case. But, knowing the fish are there, but wary, keeps me interested enough to keep plugging away. I'm not a live bait guy, but a live craw in this situation has helped saved the day many times when a mile downriver, they will more eagerly hit an artificial.


I also like fishing the rivers when they are up a bit and a little off color. I think the stronger current really shakes them up and gets them on the feed for awhile.


How are you guys measuring fish to the 1/4"? Isn't that an automatic roundup to the next whole inch? That's the way the USPS does it! From the butt of my rod to the first wrap is an even 18". That's as close as I ever measure. I tack on the inches as I see fit.


I am an estimator by trade after all!


Don, that is a sweet bass!

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How are you guys measuring fish to the 1/4"?


Well, my biggest at 19.75" was witnessed by 2 other anglers that just HAD to know if it was a full 20! :lol:

One of my buddies took the photo after checking the length.

What can I say- some guys just need to get that fish before any of their closest friends do, and want proof....HAHA

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So far, I'm at 6 over 20". ( I'll add pictures later. Photobucket is down this morning..otherwise..y'all know where to see them anyway). The lures I use are generally on the small side. Lures used for these fish in particular were: Exude Hellgie on a 1/8 oz. Slider head jig flipped under a fallen tree next to current ( Fox River).

A Salmo Bullhead that got nailed before i could even close the bail on a cast. That fish was suspended over a 12' drop.

A jointed Shad Rap in walleye pattern. I don't know the model number but it's the smallest one you can get. That fish also hit on a 12' drop-off at high noon on a warm cloudless day.

A Rapala Husky Jerk. Again, I dont know the model number...not the little tiny one but the next size up. Again 12' drop off. Hmmm...see a pattern here?

The exception as far as lure size was a Lake Darrow smallie that hit a #4 Mepps over a cabbage bed edge. I'll give you one guess at the depth I was working. .....12'. We hooked up with 3 over 20" in 3 or 4 casts but we only landed the one.

The latest one was last week. She hit a Salmo Bullhead on a miserable evening when the temps dropped into the 50's. Sundown in 2' of water at a creek mouth. Again..you know where to see that one too.


My biz partner Mike also cracked the 20" mark that weekend by throwing a Chatterbait. I know he's cracked the 20" mark before on Husky Jerks in gold/black.


Lure colors I use are always natural colors. I know..I know..some guys love chartruese or firetiger, etc. But even in stained or muddied waters I still use only natural colored baits. Black, white, browns, dark greens, minnow patterns, golds, silvers. Even for muskies I throw natural colors especially back and silver or white and silver. For topwater muskie lures I'll throw any color...as long as it's black.


For pike I'll toss in the occasional loud color just because they're nuts and will sometimes hit anything. I know of two pike that I'm sure Scott F could back me up on from http://www.taltsonbaypike.com/ that were caught on some crazy colors.....one was candy apple red, because they were trolling an apple on a treble hook. And the other was dirt colored because Rob Kolar of Kolar Bait & Tackle caught it while throwing a dirty sweat sock on a treble hook. But then again, maybe you could classify those as natural colors too.

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Yes. Lakes. I should have clarified that. Although regarding river depth. Mike K and i have been hitting the Fox via boat for the past 2 summers and have found that...oh god, here comes a fight...the upside waters of the dams are pretty darn good as long as it's not like 90 degrees outside for a week. we start fishing upstream in about 3-4' of water and by the time we end our routes we're sometimes in 9-10' of Fox River water not too far from a dam and still banging smallies. We also found that the pools are where some of the biggest ones live. I know..I know.. this totally goes against everything we were ever told. But then again I didnt expect to get that last 20"er in 2' of water last week when the temp dropped to 56 in 12 hours and our nastiest cold front this year blew thru....and that was only one smallie out of many that were shallow and going nuts. ( It was a full moon that night too though).


As far as color. I dont know really. I've tried the loud colors and i cant catch crap on them. I toss out a black something and whammo. Maybe it's just a confidence thing. I'm sure that has alot to do with it. I know alot of guys swear by them and I'm not saying they wont work...they just don't do anything for me personally. I mean, even in the dark waters of the Fox River's deeper pools I'm throwing a Salmo Bullhead or a Salmo Minnow. And lord knows there isn't anything colorfull on those things.



Good question.

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Regarding color, I have a lot of success with a Clown colored (chartreuese with blue top) Risto-Rap or DT series crankbait. This is when I'm mostly fishing cranks in the deepest, swiftest water I can find. Throw the same bait across a clear, shallower stretch of river and I have seen the bass go running. There are always exceptions, of course.


Husky jerks have always been a favorite of mine as well.

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My story is a lot like Don R's. All 5 of my 20" + smallmouth have come from up north in lakes. 18.5" is the best I've done in IL waters and I've tied that several times. Even got (2) 18.5" in one day one time.


The latest 20 was about a week and a half ago when I caught this 20" pictured below. Its not the best picture since the sun wasn't at the right angle. We were anchored over a good spot catching 16-19" smallies pretty consistantly. I wasn't going to pull anchor just to get the right angle.




This one was caught on a 5" Kinami Hulagrub in a dark pumpkin color fished on a 1/4oz slider head. The fish came off a rocky hump in about 4-6ft of water but was near some deeper water. The retrieve was just a slow drag with some pauses. It went out over some deep water after being hooked and really bull dogged me down deep. It took a while to get this fish to break the surface.


The next one was the first 20" smallmouth I ever caught. Same lake but 4 years earlier.




This one was caught on a 4" purple senko dragged along the bottom on a 1/8oz slider head. We had caught several 18's and 19's out of this spot that this fish really didn't seem extra special at the time. It looked just like another 19 but this one just stretched out a little longer in the tail. The spot could best be described as a saddle. It was a narrow between too points that had shallow water coming up out of a steep drop into deep water. The bottom was mostly sand with a few softball sized rocks mixed in.


The other (3) 20's were caught on Senko's or Bass Pro Shops stick O's. It all the same thing in my book. The colors were pumpkin and white on the other ones.


Great topic. I wish a had some stories of local 20's but I'm still working on it. They just aren't that common in IL rivers. At least not the ones I fish.

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Eric wrote:

Regarding color, I think a lot of it has to do with personal preference and confidence. Same thing with lure selection. I find that if you limit your choices and take the time to really learn how to fish a lure, pretty soon color doesn't matter as much. Also, regarding lures, we all become "experts" in our own right on certain lures and fishing styles.


You make a great point.

It so happens the Rodent also comes in white (Albino), so now I have 2 choices of lures to throw. :P


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Oh yeah- those bird lures are pretty cool to look at, and they were originally marketed as "collectors items", not lures.

I did have a partnership for a time with the producer of those and they didn't sell at all, for whatever reason.

I even packaged them up with the guy's crankbaits and ran specials- the birds just didn't sell.


It's really nothing more than a matter of people seeing a certain lure hanging from fish in photos time and time again to get them interested.

How many times do you hear of Case hellgrammites catching fish like they are the best thing since sliced bread?

You don't.

That worked for one or two seasons because everyone was hot for them.

The photos on the internet stopped coming, and people fell back on their go-to lures that have always worked for them.


Let me see- I know I still have marketing photos of the bird lures.........





The crankbaits aren't too shabby either- BUT, they aren't Rapala:



A bigger picture of just one of many species of Birds offered:

Baltimore Oriole



The manufacturer:


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I love the picture you added to your first post. It is the one I showed my Dad awhile back when I tried to convince him to make the time to fish.


It didn't work.


Still, a great pic that no doubt depicts the quality of the bass in this river (and the effectiveness of the spinnerbait :) ).

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This is the first time I've ever seen a giant turtle hanging out on my favorite boulder in the whole river.

Found this old-timer this morning:


Did somebody mention turtle lures?

I'll take mine with 10/0 or larger Gamakatsu (red) treble hooks- but I can put my own on if necessary.

Let me know if you find any! :blink:

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The river is about as optimal as it gets Steve.

Clearing up very nicely, but we don't need it to get any lower- though we know when the rains stay away it is going to get ridiculously low as it does most summers.

That won't be long now.


Forget about Rock Creek or the mouth unless you are wading up into some of the deeper holes for dinks. There is no water there, and dropping by the minute....and the big fish know it, causing them to head for the river long before they get trapped.

I always get a kick out of folks that go to various local fishing websites and ask "How's Rock Creek doing?".

It's late June, how do you think it's doing??

Bring the camera there and leave the gear in the truck, walk or ride the trails- whatever.


I can sum it up by saying:

If you have some favorite places to wade in the main stem- why are you sitting there reading this? It doesn't get any better than it is right now. = )

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  • 3 weeks later...



This is s 20.75" Smallie my son, Kris landed from our home water, the Hocking River, here in southern Ohio. He landed a 19.75 about 100 yards below this. We commonly see 17"-20" smallies on his stream.


Rick D.

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I'd have to agree with the guy that said right place right time. I got a 20" 4 pound 5oz smallie today out of a local river. I have fished for bass now for close to 20 years and must say some areas just do not have fish that large. I fished the Fox and Dupage tons while I was younger and think my largest there was 18.5. Although I know bigger fish do exsist in both. I was unable to hook into one.

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  • 3 weeks later...



I have been rigging the crawbug like a tube jig, since the body is hollow (just pushing a tube jig head thru the hollow body and pushing the eye through the body). This way, I avoid starting with a hole in the tail, though I often end that way after it gets beat up from the smallies.

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