Fall For Smallmouth Bass
It is no secret that I love fishing for smallmouth bass. And just like the leaves on the hardwoods at this time of year, the love affair blossoms in the fall. The lakes have quieted down and are mostly deserted now, and the bass are biting like crazy, so long as you keep a few important details in mind.
I was thinking just that, yesterday, when my ten-year old grandson, Liam and I hooked up with a couple of Manitoba-based buddies, Tom Van Leeuwen and Mike Schamber for a day of smallmouth fishing. With two boats on the water at the same time, both carefully criss-crossing and probing the same structures with our sonar units, and throwing different lures, it sped up the process of finding and catching some nice fish. With a ton of big bonus walleyes thrown in for good measure.
Oh, did I mention? We didn’t see another boat all day.
But the fish were not where I’d had found them a couple of weeks ago, when In-Fisherman Editor-in-Chief, Doug Stange, paid me a visit and we shot some television segments for next season. It brought to mind an interesting fall fact I’ve always found intriguing. Something, I think, many bass anglers overlook. That is that autumn is not a single season but rather three sub-seasons. I like to break it down into the early fall period, the mid-Indian summer phase and the late cold-water stage that we’re entering right now.
Diminishing daylight and falling water temperatures prompt smallmouth bass to binge feed in order to survive the upcoming winter starvation period. So you’d think the fishing would get better and better and better. But, it is not always the case. Or, at least, not in the way you might think.
When Doug was here in the early fall period, for instance, he wanted to shoot a big fish multi-species segment. He always sets his sights high.
“Let’s see if we can catch a couple of walleye in the ten pound class before noon,” he suggested. “Then we can try for some four-pound plus smallmouth. If we can catch them, we’ll spend the rest of the day targeting big pike.”
I know, I know, he didn’t want much, did he!?! But, after we quickly met our morning walleye objective, boating at least half-a-dozen fish in the 7- to 9-pound class, we ate a quick sandwich in the boat and headed after smallmouth.
On the first spot we stopped, we hooked a double header of four-pound-plus class fish. Talk about horseshoes up your you-know-where! We caught those bass, by the way, casting the new Havoc Sick Fish swimbaits over a shallow, mid-lake shoal, the top of which was about 8 feet deep. And we were able to duplicate the results at several other similar spots during the course of the afternoon sticking with our shallow, main lake structure, run-and-gun approach.
(By the way, we almost met our trophy show objective, catching big bass and walleyes, but the biggest pike we caught that day was only a mid-teen fish. Nice, for certain, but not quite the fall hat trick we’d hoped for).
Now, fast forward a couple of weeks to yesterday. The water temperature had dropped considerably – it varied between 47F and 49F – and it was cool, wet and windy. And along with the steadily declining water temperature was a shrinkage in the size of the strike zone – the distance the bass would swim to hit our baits.
Bass that were scooting 20-feet to smack a lure floating well above their heads two weeks ago, now weren’t moving more than a couple of feet to eat a jig dangling in front of their noses. The other thing that was very noticeable was that the smallmouth had moved deeper along with their food. It is nearly always true, that when you find the food you find the fish, but it is especially the case in the fall when smallmouth and their prey both move ever deeper seeking stable water conditions.
Earlier, when Doug was up filming with me, we found the smallmouth marauding schools of shiners, smelts and ciscoes in 8- to 15-feet of water. Yesterday, those same fish and their forage were 20-, 25- even 30-feet deep.
It is a classic late fall scenario and is why we rarely fish a spot unless we first spot bait on our sonar screens. Something else that is worth keeping in mind. When youre fishing for open water,
structure-oriented smallmouth in the late fall, let the wind guide you to the fish. Yesterday, for example, it was breezy, so we drifted across prime rocky deep structures dragging drop-shot rigs,
jigs and other near bottom presentations.
Had the water been any colder, or more breezy, I’d have thrown out a drift sock and used the electric trolling motor to slow down our presentation even more.
Something to keep in mind when the hardwoods turn colour and wither, the water temperatures plummet and the days grow ever shorter in the fall.
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