Fall is quickly turning into one of my favorite times of year. As the weather forecasts shift, bringing in cool temps and cold rains, our northern waters start to go through a rather dramatic change. The biggest change that occurs is the drop in water temperature making the lakes abundant vegetation and forage start to die off or hibernate. This pushes the bass out of their deep summer haunts and schools them up in large groups in the shallows, gorging themselves for the long winter. Over the past few years, the fall has produced some of my best fishing of the entire season. No matter if it’s largemouth in a lake or smallmouth in the river, these fish all move to relatively shallow water and put on their feed bags, making them all more susceptible of falling for one of my baits.
While in Tennessee last month, I found the largemouth to be in big schools in less than a foot of water on the shallow flats in the creek channels. These fish where feeding up for the winter and they where wreaking havoc on the many schools of shad that where doing their annual migration up the creeks to spawn. Now back home Minnesota, I’ve been spending every extra hour out chasing smallmouths in some of our local rivers. The success is been good and the size has been rewarding, but the key to catching them has been to trigger the school. Once the school gets excited, it can result in fish after fish for cast after cast.
Targeting small river smallmouth this time of year I find micro ledges off flats to be especially productive. There will be times when the fish roam the flat chasing baitfish but the majority of the day you can find them hanging off that immediate first drop, for instance where the 1 foot flat drops to 5 feet. The fish tend to stack in these areas, and when fished correctly can result in check cashing bags at the scales.
One river in particular I found the ledge to go from two feet down to seven rather quickly. I fished my bait thoroughly along the 7 ft break concentrating on the bottom. Once I caught a good smallie I would instantly slow down, or better yet, I STOP! It’s critical to not spook the school. Once I release the fish my next cast is to the exact same spot that the last one came from and more times than not I’ll get met instantly with another bite. It’s not uncommon for me to throw back 10 times and get bit on 9 of those casts.
I find bait choice not to be to big a deal this time of year. The bass are not always that picky to what they eat. Mother nature says it’s time to fatten up for winter so they do, they start eating anything and everything that comes there way. Not to mention the competition to eat because of others in the school. Although I do still have my favorites that have produced so well for me over the past few years.
Early in the fall I like to throw crankbaits like the Biovex Micro Crank and Biovex Mid Runner, these work real well at impersonating baitfish and can be fished fast on shallow ledges. When there’s a presence of baitfish or fish are busting bait on the flats, there’s nothing better than a topwater spook, or my favorite, the Reaction Innovations Vixen. Another great reaction bait this time of year is a Super K Swim Jig, which subtle action locates these schools of bass rather quickly. Last but not least, there is no bait better at catching cold bass than a jerkbait and lately I’ve been using either a soft jerkbait pegged with a 1/32 oz. Tru Tungsten sinker to keep the nose down or a hard plastic jerkbait like the Megabass Ito Vision 110.
Once I’ve caught one or two from the school on the reaction bait, I slow down and pick up a bait like a tube or a beaver and continue to pick apart the ledge. I like the YUM 3″ Tube and a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver. The tube I usually rig hook exposed with a light tube jig. Last weekend my buddy Rich Lindgren went out with me and had success by rigging a stupid tube, which you can read in one of his recent blog entries. Basically, the stupid tube is a texas rigged ball head jig, which when rigged correctly works it’s way through cover with relative ease. I’ve also been finding success with this method and the Tru Tungsten Ikey Head Ball Buster is extremely effective for the job. The Beaver, I texas rig with a 4/0 Mihatchii Hook and a pegged Tru Tungsten Sinker, size ranging from a 1/8 oz. to a 1/2 oz.
The rod and reel I feel are critical to your success in that once the schools are located, it’s important not to miss hook ups or drop fish during the fight. Just as a fighting smallmouth can fire up the school, a spooked smallmouth can turn them off in a second. To better combat this I use a G Loomis 843 casting rod with a Shimano Core 100MG lined with 12-16 lb. Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon for the beaver and the tube I go with a G Loomis SMR822 GLX spinning rod paired with a Shimano Stella 2500S and 8 lb. Gamma Touch Fluorocarbon.
Lastly, not all ledges are created equal, in fact some never hold fish. This time of year I stick to the main river channel. If I was on a big river with larger creek channels than those may prove productive, however the rivers I’ve been fishing are northern rivers that are not that wide and don’t offer much for creeks. I look for turns in the river where current has made these ledges over time, then the key to really dialing them in is the bottom content. I look for rocky areas on these main river turns, in my opinion the more snags the better. This is where tungsten comes into play, it’s smaller diameter allows it to be worked through the rocks and snags without getting hung up. When the sun is shining, any emerged wood in these areas can be especially productive, for this I like to pitch a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver with a 1/4 – 3/8 oz. Tru Tungsten Sinker. I use 16 – 20 lb. Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon for this to assure I get the fish out of the laydown, and there’s not a stronger line on the market than Gamma Edge.
With the next week showing a very favorable weather forecast, try taking a break from raking leaves and try these tips on your favorite river. Maybe, just maybe, when you mix football, brats and trophy smallmouth together you’ll see why fall has become my favorite time of year.
See you on the water!