EDITOR'S NOTE: Anglers know Roger Stegall of Iuka, Miss., as Mr. Smallmouth on Pickwick Lake on the Mississippi/Alabama/Tennessee border and one of the nation's leading smallmouth guides. He has guided for smallmouths on Pickwick for 17 years, and has fished for smallmouths on the lake since 1975. Stegall's clients commonly catch smallmouths over 5 pounds, 6- and 7-pound smallmouths frequently and every now and then, an 8-pounder or better. Stegall gives us some tactics for catching springtime and warm-weather smallmouths.

In the early spring, I'll look for water temperatures between 50 and 58 degrees, but the perfect temperature for large smallmouth is 52 to 53 degrees. A bait that produces in the spring is the Kevin VanDam Pro Tube in green pumpkin, chartreuse and mustard with a 3/8- or a 1/2-ounce weight inside the tube.

Smallmouths prefer that the tube be dragged along the bottom like you drag a Carolina rig. I'll also use the 1/2-ounce spinnerbait with a chartreuse skirt and a single gold blade. I'll fish this spinnerbait around secondary ledges and underwater gravel points, and search for current breaks because that's where the smallmouths like to stack-up.

Spring smallmouths

I'll cast a smoke with blue glitter or chartreuse with silver glitter Strike King 3X grub to catch smallmouths. A 3X grub has a tail with its own action. I'll cast it, let the grub hit the bottom, bring my rod up to the 10 o'clock position and make eight or 10 quick turns of the reel handle to cause the grub to look like a minnow swimming off the bottom. Then I'll stop reeling, and the grub will swim toward the bottom instead of falling vertically.

When I see slack in my line, I'll know the grub has hit the bottom. I'll reel eight or 10 more times and stop the grub again. I like to use yellow Stren line because it's highly visible and enables me to see when the grub hits the bottom and/or when a bass attacks the bait. You don't always feel the bite when the grub's swimming back toward the bottom. You may see your line move sideways or spot a twitch in the line.

Wild shiner tactic

When fishing a jerkbait for smallmouth, many folks fish it really fast. But if you've ever watched a school of shad in the wintertime and see the shad dying off, they'll just barely twitch as they flutter to the bottom. So, in the springtime, I'll cast a Strike King Wild Shiner, crank it down 8 or 10 cranks pretty hard, stop it, and then let it sit still. I'll use my rod tip to pull it slowly like you'll pull a Carolina-rigged worm across the bottom. The bait will wobble slowly. I'll take up the slack and once again pull the lure slowly with my rod tip. I have a lot of hard hits from big smallmouth when I'm using this technique.

My favorite color is chartreuse with a black back when the water has a little bit of color or is cold. I start using this tactic when the water temperature is 48 degrees. When the water's clear, I'll fish a clown color that has a lot of red in it, a chrome with a blue back or a chrome with a black back.

Late spring, beyond

One of my favorite lures for this time of year is the slow-falling, salt-impregnated Z Too. Also, I like the watermelon-colored Zulu, and I tip the tail with chartreuse to look like the yellow-tailed minnows in the Tennessee River. To fish without my line twisting, I tie on a barrel swivel and a 6-inch leader the same size as my main line, then tie the hook going into the Z Too onto the leader. Once rigged, I'll cast close to the bank or to visible targets like brush, stumps and logs. I'll let the bait fall to the bottom, give it a twitching action to make it jump off the bottom and then let it fall back. Most of the time, you'll never feel the strike; you'll just see your line moving sideways.

Unlike largemouths, I think numbers of smallmouth stay in shallow water after they spawn. So, I fish the brightest Diamond Shad I can find - bright orange or bright chartreuse - around gravel flats. Even if the water's really clear, the smallmouth will attack the bait. There's something about fishing a bright-colored, fast-moving, rattling bait in shallow water that smallmouths can't stand; they just have to eat it.

After the spawn

To catch more and bigger bass, you have to fish with different baits than other people are using. Instead of casting a lizard or a worm on a Carolina-rig, I'll fish a Zero. This rig will catch big smallmouth, especially on secondary ridges and points. Mid-lake humps about 10 feet deep – are also very-productive places to fish the Carolina-rigged Zero.

Also, I'll use the Spit-N-King on humps in 5 to 10 feet of water just like I do when I'm fishing for largemouths. I'll pop the bait three or four times, let it lay dead on the bottom, pop it three or four more times and let it be still on the water. I've had some big smallmouth blow up on this bait and practically scare me to death. Don't think you can't catch big smallmouths deep on the Spit-N-King also. I've seen smallmouth come from a 12- or a 14-foot bottom to hit this bait in the top story of the water.

Being able to make long casts is the secret to fishing the Spit-N-King in open water. I use 10-pound-test Stren line and a 6-foot-6 baitcasting rod. The longer the cast you can make to the hump you're fishing, the more fish you'll catch.

Also, when smallmouths come off the beds and move to mid-lake humps, I start throwing a big Series 5 Strike King crankbait, although most fishermen will tell you that big smallmouth want little baits. Once, in a tournament, I caught four smallmouths that weighed a total of 15 pounds, 2 ounces on a Series 5 and won the tournament against 183-professional fishermen.

Summertime giants

In Pickwick Lake, you'll find humps and ledges off the main river channel. Many of these underwater humps are actually ancient Indian mounds that were part of the landscape before the lake was impounded. To excavate these mounds, archaeologists dug trenches through the centers of the mounds; you can locate the trenches on your depth finder. Often, there will be a drop-off on the top of the mound, and then the mound will reappear and drop off again.

The bottom of the lake also has hills that drop off sharply. Smallmouth usually will relate to the hills and drop-offs closest to the main river channel, especially when current is being pulled through the lake. Pickwick Lake is a productive summertime smallmouth lake because the lake has been designed for hydroelectric power and current is pulled and pushed through the lake from the dam.

A variety of lures produce smallmouths on Pickwick in the summer, but my number-one lure choice is the Strike King 3/4-ounce Premier spinner bait. I prefer this bait with a chartreuse-and-white or a solid chartreuse skirt with a single willow-leaf blade and no trailer hook or any type of trailer when I fish humps and ledges. I'll cast the bait and let it fall on a tight line all the way to the bottom. When it hits the bottom, I'll pull it up, reel it four or five cranks, allow it to fall back and hit the bottom again. I'll use this hopping motion all the way back to the boat. The real key to this tactic is being able to feel the blade on the spinner bait turn the entire time it's in the water.

If I don't catch smallmouths using this tactic, I'll fish the same areas with a Carolina-rigged 3X Lizard in watermelon seed or pumpkin seed with chartreuse tails. I'll use a 1-ounce slip-sinker up the line and a 6-foot leader to allow the lizard to float off the bottom and have more action than a shorter leader will give.

If I can't get the bass to bite the Carolina rig, I'll use the Strike King Series 5 or Series 6 crankbaits. My favorite crankbait colors for big smallmouth are watermelon shad and chartreuse/black back. I fish the Series 6, if the water's 10-feet deep or more, and I fish with the Series 5 crankbait in water that's 6 to 10 feet deep. I'll use a slow-retrieve reel to crank the bait down to the bottom. Then I vary my retrieve, letting the bass tell me how they want the bait and use that same retrieve on other underwater humps and ledges.

My other go-to bait for big smallmouth is a Denny Brauer or an Elite jig in a 3/8- or a 1/2-ounce size with a twin-tail trailer behind the jig. My favorite colors are black/blue, sapphire blue or blue/metal flake. I'll hop the jig off the bottom, allow it to fall back on a slack line, hop it up and let it fall back again.

Another technique that produces giant smallmouths during the summer is fishing Strike King's Midnight Special spinner bait with either red/black or black/blue skirts at night on the humps and ledges. Solid black also pays off in the dark. I'll fish the spinner bait at night just like I will a jig in cold weather. I'll lift it off the bottom with my rod tip and let it fall back to the bottom, much like I fish a Texas-rigged worm.

Summer shell beds

In warmer weather, the new Strike King 3X Lizard that's impregnated with garlic and salt works well when fish aren't right on the bottom. I like the watermelon or the pumpkin colors with chartreuse tails. I'll fish these lizards on Carolina rigs – each with a 5-foot leader and a 3/4-ounce weight. I'll use a 7-foot All-Star titanium rod with a 12-pound-test main leader.

This time of the year, I fish a lot of rough-bottom shell beds where smallmouths like to hang out and eat the crawfish and shad. I'll throw Strike King's Centipede in chartreuse-pepper (a bright color in a compact bait) out over these shell beds, drag it slowly, reel up my slack, then drag it and reel it again. The slower you fish a Carolina rig, the more smallmouths you'll catch on it.

Late-summer current

The current really helps anglers catch smallmouths in the late summer by stirring up the bottom, causing the crawfish and the minnows to feed on the algae. Then the smallmouths will feed on the crawfish and the minnows by positioning themselves on the ends of humps in front of a current, often in a dead spot right in the front of a stump or a log.

A 3/4-ounce Premier spinner bait in chartreuse or chartreuse-and-white with gold specks works great. I'll also throw a grub on a Texas rig with a red hook and fish both the grub and the spinnerbait on tight lines. When the bait hits the bottom, I'll make about eight or 10 cranks to get the bait close to the bottom. Then I'll let it flutter back down. The fish will hit it most of the time when it falls.

Pickwick Lake contains a super population of fish. I believe that Pickwick holdsthe next world-record smallmouth. I've had smallmouths on my line there that have weighed in the 10-pound range. I think there's a 12-pound smallmouth in Pickwick Lake.

Fishing on a full moon

Smallmouth fishing at night in shallow water is best around a full moon, particularly around the first of June through mid-September or October, depending on how cold the weather gets. In June or July when the current runs at night, you'll increase your chances for catching smallmouths by throwing crankbaits, a Diamond Shad, buzzbaits and 3-bladed buzzbaits in about 4 to 6 feet of water.

I think the smallmouths can hear the loud Diamond Shad and can hone in on it. At night, throw the Diamond Shad across shallow flats - places you'll normally fish in the springtime. Smallmouths will be searching for crawfish or minnows and be much more shallow because the sun isn't bothering them. Use a steady stop-and-go retrieve. I catch bigger smallmouths at night, perhaps because the bigger smallies feed up higher at night, making them easier to catch.

For more information on fishing with Roger Stegall, call 662-423-3869, e-mail rogstegall@fishpickwick.com, or check out www.fishpickwick.com. To learn more about Strike King, go to www.strikeking.com.