Wisconsin smallmouth guide Gordon Pagel grew up fishing the Wolf River and its tributaries. In the past few years, locals have seen an explosion in the smallie population and Pagel has cashed in on the windfall. Using his NuCanoe Frontier, he beats his way into the backwaters where he pulls the biggest smallmouth out of the thickest deadfalls.


Early in summer, Pagel paddles deep into the side waters looking for fish hiding in thick cover. When the water is clear and low he finds the fish congregating around heavy wood. On the Wolf River, these conditions often coincide with the smallmouth migration from July to August. When Pagel approaches a deadfall, he first lands a cast five feet from the woods. Aggressive smallies will come out of hiding to hit a well-placed lure. His next cast lands closer. He’ll work one cast off the bank and then jig his lures through the holes in the tangled wood until he catches every fish hiding in the structure.


To beat the bushes for big bass, Pagel recommends a 3/8-ounce, safety- pin style spinnerbait with a Colorado blade and a rubber jig tail that he can rip across the surface, work mid-water or bounce off the bottom. By switching the jig size and style, he changes the spinnerbait’s sink rate. To work the lure, he uses a six-foot, medium-weight, fast-action conventional rod. The shorter stick is easy to work in tight cover and provides more accuracy when pitching into the wood. He matches the rod to a high-speed 7:1 conventional reel. He spools the reel with 10-pound monofilament, which offers more stretch to keep a fish from breaking him off in the trees. The reel’s fast retrieve lets Pagel zip the lure away from wood so it doesn’t get snagged.


When the smallies won’t warm to his spinnerbait, Pagel switches to a quarter-ounce swimjig. He uses a six-foot spinning rod to pitch the jig into the woods. The reel is spooled with 15-pound braided line. The extra sensitivity allows him to feel a smallmouth even breathing on his jig. And the line is strong to work a fish out of the rough stuff. Pagel has a trick to make his jigs snag-resistant. He fans out the weed guard to provide more surface area without preventing the fish from hitting the hook.


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