"I haven't been skunked this year, even during the winter," he said. "In fact, on New Year's Day, fishing at a public catch-and-release lake, I caught 17 bass. Four of them were over 4 pounds and the biggest one weighed 6 pounds, 11 ounces."
Smith, 51, said he's been obsessed with bass fishing since he was 12 years old. "I was really serious about it. I read about fishing as much as I could, and watched every TV show that was available at the time. If they'd had classes in fishing at school, I would have paid a lot more attention and made a lot better grades.
"I was a freshman in high school when I caught my first really large bass, a 7-pounder from a farm pond. A photographer took my picture and put the story in the local paper. After that, I started focusing on catching big bass. I learned through trial and error how to do it."
Some of his tactics defy conventional wisdom. For example, he fishes almost exclusively with baitcasting equipment, and with heavier line than one might expect.
"When I go fishing, I take seven rods with me, all baitcasters, all rigged a little differently so I'll be prepared to switch at a moment's notice," he said. "Usually, I fish with 15- to 17-pound-test line. My go-to lure is a weedless skirted jig with a crawfish-claw plastic trailer."
Most of Smith's jigs are painted somber colors and are rigged with similarly somber skirts. His lone concession to bright color is to the bright-orange fluorescent tips he paints on his crawfish trailers' claws with permanent markers.
He doesn't own a fancy bass boat. He fishes from a 10-foot johnboat rigged with an electric trolling motor. "For the waters I fish, it's perfect," he said. "It has enough room for me and my gear, and that's about it."
Smith occasionally brings other anglers along on his outings, but most of the time he fishes alone.
"To catch big fish, you have to be stealthy," he explained. "When you have two people casting, having their baits splash down close together, it scares the fish. I like to fish alone and make short, controlled casts to keep my baits from smacking the water."
Smith also does a lot of his fishing at night.
"That's when I catch most of my big bass," he said. "Not this year, though - at least not so far. The big ones I've caught this year were all caught during the day."
When fellow anglers ask Smith how they can catch more and bigger bass, he gives them simple advice.
"Fish a lot. Experience will teach you what works and what doesn't," he said. "And don't be afraid to go against conventional wisdom. What works for everyone else might not work for you, and by going against the grain you might just find something that works better."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.