Here we are, at the height of the fall transition when temperatures drop, nights are longer and lakes begin to turn over. This is truly the time of year you can run into some really large smallmouth, but where do you look and what do you throw at them?
Smallmouth can be fickle and very elusive during the fall. Some anglers use the old cliché to describe the search for these bronze bass as finding “a needle in a haystack”. Smallmouth will often travel in larger and often, tighter schools during this change in season which makes them more difficult to locate. But once located, what you find will inject a shot of adrenaline into your veins for sure.
One major change in smallmouth behavior during the fall is that they often become less dependent on crustaceans (crayfish) and are more apt to key in on baitfish. Depending where you are located, baitfish such as shad or shiners (or whatever the main forage is in your neck of the woods is) will school up and begin some sort of migration to stage upon potential spawning grounds, wintering spots and so on. Once this takes place smallmouth will in turn school up, thus stalking said baitfish. Something to note is that although baitfish are inevitably at their largest in size, they can still be easily digested which works out because as water temperatures drop rapidly, the metabolism of bass will slow down.
Now, obviously this seasonal change brings cold nights, which cools the haunts indicative of smallmouth bass so mornings will become a less productive time to chase them. As the sun heats up the high water columns along main breaklines, mid-depth sections of points and steep shoreline banks, you should gear up and get out there. If the body of water you are on is calm enough, look for busting/dimpling baitfish on the surface in these areas. You’re not always going to be able to spot them visually on the surface, which is when electronics are of utmost importance so pay close attention to your graph along with a GPS unit to better pinpoint the prime locations. Look for large, dark bait balls and pay even closer attention to larger arcs lurking below. One thing you may notice is a large dark school that forms a huge arc, visually similar to that of a single gamefish. This could be a school of bait mixed in with you guessed it, many big hungry smallmouth.
A good rule of thumb would be to search out smallmouth during the mid-day period on south/east facing spots with hard substrate such as rocks, gravel and sand, and lush green cover such as milfoil as these areas will be the first to heat up which will attract baitfish. At days end, I’ll move to north/west facing, shallow rocky points and banks adjacent to deep water as these areas will be the last to heat up and will hold warm water and baitfish. These spots will offer smallmouth the opportunity to feed heavily in close proximity to deep water. Poppers are the order of the day here. Erratic, walk the dog presentations mimic baitfish evading hungry bass and sunfish perfectly (and it is ridiculously fun watching surface explosions).
When it comes to mimicking baitfish, there are a few lure types you should never leave home without. During these daytime patterns discussed here I always lean on spinnerbaits when it comes to searching out, and triggering smallmouth. In clear water I will cycle through my collection of 1/2oz-5/8oz double willow spinnerbaits in natural colors such as gold/silver blades with a more subtle skirt color. In stained water I experiment with hammered finished colorado/willow blade combinations along with brighter more gaudy skirt colors such as chartreuse, charteuse/white or just white. The bright colors, along with the thump of the fatter blades will be more easily seen and felt by smallmouth. For this, I prefer a 6’6”-7’ heavy action spinnerbait specific baitcasting rod coupled with a 6.1-1 to 7.1-1 reel spooled with 17lb fluorocarbon line. Why such a fast 7.1-1 ratio you ask? In the fall I burn spinnerbaits frantically which triggers the most aggressive strikes of the entire season. And as these schools are hard to locate, covering as much water is the wise choice.
Thump is good, topwater action too but another fantastic presentation right now is the mighty and often forgotten lipless crankbait. The tight wobble coupled with the rattles and smart color selection can truly turn the mood from somber to ecstatic in a heartbeat. For this I count on the Kamooki Smartfish and Smartcraw which have a unique spiraling action in open water and the innate ability to stand on its nose like a floating worm or shaky head rig. These baits lend themselves to the fall hunt as versatility is the order of the day.
Next, I always have a selection of jerkbaits, especially when water temps drop below 58 degrees. Keep in mind that this is a visual presentation that is dependent on clear water so if the water is murky, I definitely stick with the thumping blades of a spinnerbait or the rattles of a lipless crankbait. Size and color selection will be determined by the forage base in the area you are located. I like a white, gold/black or black/silver body to mimic the predominate baitfish in my area, but a firetiger mimicking a perch in stained water, or a black/orange body will get it done. I usually lean towards suspending jerkbaits because long pauses, as the bait hangs helplessly in the balance, becomes the most visually tempting stimuli for cold water smallies.
I also like to compliment hard jerkbaits with a more subtle version such as a soft plastic, fluke style bait. For me, a 4-5” white/baitfish colored “Magic Shad” by Lake Fork Trophy Lures can’t be beat for finicky smallmouth. I like spinning rods for both applications. Braided line paired with fluorocarbon leaders for both with the only difference being longer leaders for hard jerkbaits (and a looser drag as well) allowing for more stretch/give which prevents treble hooks from being torn out. A new feather I’ve put in my cap is the use of a scent trail for neutral or negatively responding bass.
I always count on the Garlic Minnow scent by Liquid Mayhem when the visual sense of a smallmouth can’t solely be counted on.
Okay, I’m excited. Let’s turn off our computers and get on the hunt for these big bronze beasts. Just remember, finding smallmouth in the fall can be tough. Attention to detail, hard work and persistence can pay serious dividends. See you out there!
ALL FISH IMAGES IN THIS ARTICLE WERE CAUGHT AND RELEASED IN THE KAWARTHA’S NORTHUMBERLAND REGION OF ONTARIO! COME SEE FOR YOURSELF!