Go with the flow
Rivers offer some of Canada’s best but little known fishing for smallmouth bass. A top pro shares his old-school secrets for getting in on the action
I’ve never met another angler quite like New Brunswick bass pro Jason Gogan. These days, we’re bombarded daily by new fishing tricks from far-flung locations, and we can watch in real time as the best anglers on the planet compete in the biggest cast-for-cash events. Gogan (above), however, prefers to do things his way. It’s not that he tunes out the hype—he’s as sophisticated, tech savvy and up to date as any bass angler I know. It’s just that he understands better than most how smallmouth bass behave in moving water, and what it takes to make them bite.
So, unless Gogan’s certain that the “next best thing” is better than what he’s doing, he sticks with his tried-and-true tactics. And for good reason. Over the past three seasons, Gogan has had a dozen top-10 tournament finishes, including back-to-back wins in New Brunswick’s Triton Evinrude Bass Tour.
For each of the past two seasons, I’ve spent several days with Gogan, fishing his home water, the beautiful Saint John River. And at his insistence, I arrived each time with my bags stuffed with every new bass lure and rig available—all of which I’m certain the Maritime smallmouth had never seen. While I enjoyed some stellar action on the Saint John with my transplanted tactics, were they better than Gogan’s presentations? Nope.
Indeed, having watched Gogan wave his wand at the front of the boat, I’m convinced his strategies are worth emulating. While other anglers trip over a dozen or more pre-rigged rods lying on the floor of their boat and rotate through a plethora of tactics at every location, Gogan relies on just two old-school presentations—in-line spinners and tube jigs.
Gogan’s precise boat control allows him to cast close to shore and bring his spinner out to the current break, where he can see the ledge. As soon as the spinner swims over the edge, he lets it flutter down for a second or two before retrieving it back to the boat. Once it’s back at the boat, he again lets it flutter for a moment before reeling it up and making another cast.
“I’m certain the spinner mesmerizes the fish and causes them to follow it,” Gogan (above) says. “I can’t tell you how many smallmouth I catch every year right at the boat. Every strike is visible, too. You have to get used to it, because it’s hard watching them eat it. You have to be patient and wait until they have the spinner well inside their mouths.”
Gogan is also a stickler for switching back and forth throughout the day between a rods rigged with Mepps Aglias and rods equipped with Blue Fox spinners. As well, he experiments with different colours, including his go-to copper, firetiger and glow-white options. “Copper produces an enticing flash when it is sunny, fire tiger is best when the bass are feeding on young-of-the-year perch and glow-white is ideal when they’re eating smelt and other silvery bait fish,” he says, noting he also dresses the treblehooks with red hackle feathers and pearl Krystal Flash.
When I reminded Gogan that most bass anglers stuff so much equipment into their rod lockers and storage compartments that the added weight slows down their boats, he just shrugged. Says Gogan: “I can usually catch ’em on the spinner when they’re aggressive, and a tube jig when they’re not.”
The spinner set-up
Presentations aside for a moment, Gogan is living proof that when you’re fishing for moving-water smallmouths, location is paramount. In other words, the best techniques in the world are useless if there are no bass where you park the boat, or if you position the boat poorly and the fish never see your bait.
“Compared to a highly structured lake, a river is subtle,” he says. “It’s often hard to find features that stand out in a river.” That’s why he says success revolves around reading the current.
Specifically, Gogan is always looking for two things: tiny ledges along shore, and current breaks or eddies, where smallmouths sit in the slack water looking for the easiest possible meal. That’s also why he says moving water that’s clear is always better than water that’s dirty.
At one point, for example, we fished in the swirling water downstream of the world’s longest covered bridge, which spans the Saint John River between Hartland and Somerville. Gogan positioned the boat close to shore while we cast to the bass hanging leisurely in the current breaks created by the 1,282-foot structure’s many concrete footings. It was like picking lush fruit from the vine.
What made it even sweeter were Gogan’s lures. They’re the ones he never leaves home without, occupying a lot of space in his tacklebox, and he usually has one tied onto at least three rods: classic Mepps Aglia (above) and Blue Fox (below) in-line spinners. And rather than the #3 models, which many anglers know to be fish magnets, he favours the much bigger #4s and #5s. Stifle the snickers—his tactic works.
“The more I fish, the more my tacklebox shrinks,” Gogan says, sounding more like a heretic with each cast. “But I work in-line spinners differently than most bass anglers.”
That’s an understatement. Plying the water below the covered bridge, Gogan alternated between two boat-control methods. He either pointed the bow of the boat upstream, holding it in place with the bow-mounted electric trolling motor, or slipped downstream at the same speed as the current while casting his lure tight to shore. Then he barely cranked the reel—just enough to make the spinner’s blade rotate.
“I know a lot of tackle makers aren’t going to like me saying this,” Gogan says with a smile, “but in a river, it’s where you cast and how you position the boat that dictate whether you’re going to catch any bass.” There’s no shortcut or lure that can compensate for bad boat control, he says.
The tube tactic
Oh yes, Gogan—ever the radical—also uses tube jigs. But instead of dragging the tube across the bottom, as most anglers do, he quickly swims it back to the boat, typically only a few inches below the surface. Gogan even does this when fishing over deep water. So, why use this unconventional tactic? “Because smallmouth living in rivers are more apt to come up to hit your lure than they are to go down to get it,” he says.
Gogan admits he stumbled onto this brisk swimming retrieve by accident years ago, after he had made a cast to an obstruction in the river, but missed the mark. He was quickly reeling in his bait to make another pitch when a huge smallie swallowed the jig. So he made the “mistake” again, and duplicated the result. “Much of fishing is flukiness,” he says with a laugh.
Of course, there’s much more to it than that. For starters, he uses a ¼-ounce jig inserted into a black-and-blue, green pumpkin (above) or crayfish-coloured 3½- or four-inch tube. This is considerably lighter than you’d expect, given the river’s swirling current and deep water. Even more unexpected is his backup weight: a ⅛-ounce head he selects when he wants an even slower drop.
And get this: Gogan doesn’t use a spinning outfit, as do 99.9 per cent of bass anglers who fish tube jigs. Instead, he uses a six-foot four-inch medium-action baitcasting rod and a low-profile baitcasting reel (above) spooled with 10- to 12-pound-test monofilament. When I asked why he uses a baitcasting outfit, he looked at me as if it were strangest question ever. His reply? “Because it’s easier.”
As I said, ever the radical.
Fishing editor Gord Pyzer plans to put his new-found river tactics for bass to work this summer and beyond.
New Brunswick bass guru Jason Gogan says a quality snap swivel is essential for correctly presenting an in-line spinner, and not just to avoid line twist. He says the terminal tackle also allows the blade to spin at the slowest possible speed, which is sometimes key to enticing a bite.