Fishing a Smithwick Suspending Rogue
By Josiah Gaza
My favorite time of year to fish is early-to-mid spring, when the water temperature is still less than 60 degrees. One reason is that there is less competition on the water, since many people mistakenly think that it is still too cold to fish. However, I learned by ice fishing up north and catching several largemouth in the process that is never too cold for the fish. The other reason I love early-to-mid spring fishing is that there is no better time, save the actual spawn, to catch the fish of a lifetime. During this time, my favorite lure by far is a Smithwick Suspending Rogue.
The Rogue has been around forever, but it continues to be one of the best cold-water baits in existence. I have caught countless bass on this lure, including several 6 pound class fish back in my home state of New York where a 6 pounder is a trophy. There are several reasons why I feel that the Rogue is the best cold-water jerkbait around. First of all, its movements are slower and more subtle than other suspending jerkbaits like the Rapala X-Rap. While sharper, flashy movements are more appealing to fish when the water warms, bass get lazy and lethargic in cold water. In these conditions, less is more when it comes to lure action, and this applies especially to suspending baits. Also, the Rogue has a peculiar rolling action when you twitch it that seems to trigger more bites than other suspending baits.
When fishing a Rogue, I usually work it pretty slowly through the water. My retrieve is generally something like: jerk-pause-pause-pause-jerk-jerk-pause-pause-pause. I’ll speed up my retrieve slightly as the water nears 60 degrees, or if I’m fishing dirtier water. My retrieve slows significantly if I’m fishing very clear or very cold water. If the water is both clear and less than 40 degrees, I’ll sometimes pause the Rogue for as long as 1 minute. In my experience, it can take that long for a bass to make up its mind that it wants to eat the lure. However you retrieve the Rogue, it is very important that you keep your rod tip pointed at the water at all times when you jerk it. It is also important that you jerk it with a slack line. Both of these tips will help the lure achieve the correct action and get it to the maximum depth it can reach.
I almost never fish a Rogue right out of the box. When fishing any suspending jerkbait in cold water, it is crucial for the lure to just sit there in the water and not move up or down at all. Rogues almost never suspend perfectly right out of the package, tending to rise slightly when paused. Some people upsize the hooks and/or split rings to get their Rogues to suspend, but I’ve found that using that method is too imprecise. Some people use SuspenDots, but I’ve found that it is too easy to throw off the action of the lure with imprecise placement of the dots. In order to get my Rogues to suspend, I wrap wire around the shafts of my hooks, trimming the amount of wire around the hooks until the lure sits perfectly still in the water. In addition to helping the lure suspend, I can also alter the action and look of the lure in the water using this method. For instance, wrapping the wire around the front hook only causes the lure to rest nose down in the water, which allows it to run deeper. Also, it causes the lure’s overall action to decrease, something that in very cold water is actually desirable. In addition to wrapping wire around the hooks, I always swap out the hooks for ones that are higher quality, since the factory hooks on a Rogue are not particularly sharp and rust almost instantly.
My rod, reel, and line setup when fishing a Rogue looks something like this: 6’6 medium or medium heavy power rod, 6.3:1 gear ratio baitcasting reel, and 10-12 lb fluorocarbon line. I like a little bit of a softer rod when fishing a Rogue because it helps prevent a bass from throwing the lure if it jumps, but the rod also has to have a stiff butt section so that I have the power to fight the big fish that are often caught on this lure. Reel speed isn’t particularly important, since I do all the moving of the lure with my rod, but I like a high-speed reel to help catch up to any fish that grab the lure and then run straight toward me. I like fluorocarbon line because its low stretch properties allow me to work the lure with a lot less effort than when using monofilament. Fluorocarbon also sinks, which helps the bait run a little bit deeper. I’ve found that this overall setup allows me to fish a Rogue very efficiently, and also helps me land many fish that I might otherwise miss if I were using different tackle.
While I usually use different lures and techniques if I’m fishing very dirty water, at all other times when the water is cold I’ve found it hard to beat the subtle but deadly action of a Smithwick Suspending Rogue. When the ice melts off the lakes and rivers this spring, I’d suggest you dust off your fishing tackle and give the Rogue a try. You might be surprised at the results!