Finding Fall Smallies

Article By Tate Brown (Max Montana)

 As a young angler growing up in the Northern part of Utah I fished for trout.  Until I found out there were bass that is.  Many of us smallmouth anglers started this way (as converted cold water species fishermen).  Once our addiction took over and we started to catch more than just a few we started to feel pretty good.  Then, suddenly just steady-retrieving a big bass plug didn’t do the job anymore.  Where did they go?  Well my friends the conditions changed and the bass moved.

As growing, adapting, and obsessed anglers we realized there was much more to this elusive fish.  We took to our resources and we continue to do so to this day.  We read articles, get online to research, and become subscribers to bass enthusiast magazines.  Even with all this information we find ourselves just a bit left out.  Most of these articles are, after all, geared toward the southern largemouth angler who catches five pounders on a weekly if not daily basis.

As you do your research take it all in and learn all you can, but keep in mind we are different.  Not only are we smallmouth fisherman but many of us live in areas where a four pound smallmouth is a rarity.  The mountain lakes that surround us may have little to no grass, little timber, and inconsistent water levels due to droughts.  Our growing seasons are short, our fish take longer to get big, our waters are clear, and they are generally highly pressured.

Most of the time we can use information from those resources and there are many parallels to our type of fishing.  Other times they couldn’t have put us farther from the fish, or they’re just not applicable to us altogether.  When fishing this late fall season on your home lakes be ready for anything.  This is a time of year fish can be bunched up, spread out, deep, shallow, fished fast, or slow.

Finding Fall Smallies

While many resources say that bass are all schooled in certain areas, for example up shallow in the creek mouths looking for shad, our lakes here don’t have shad so this leaves them feeding on sunfish, perch, and the last soft shelled crawfish.  When the water turns over I have found those pesky little 3” smallmouth in depths of forty feet and more.  No longer are all the little guys hanging around the safety of the bank.  The larger fish may now find this forage at any depth.

On my last few outings I have been amazed at where I have found smallmouth putting on their feedbags for winter.    This may make finding fish seem like a daunting task but just remember a bass is still a bass and a bluegill (or other baitfish) is still a bluegill.  They would rather be near structure and/or the bottom.  Narrow your search quickly by finding an area that can be fished from one to fifty feet in a single cast.  I’m talking about a steep bank with chunk rock, cliffs, or anywhere with a good change in bottom materials.  Look for a steep bank with something different than the rest of the steep banks.  Often the lake levels are lower this time of year so the banks will give you hints as to what difference they offer below the water.

Baits For Fall Bronzebacks

One of my favorite baits to employ while fishing this type of structure is a jig.  Make it compact by trimming your skirt down and using a smaller trailer.  This makes it tough for a wary bass to resist the tasty, easy to catch morsel.  From a boat cast toward the bank to the water’s edge and slowly drag or bump the jig down the slope keeping as much contact as possible with the rocky bottom.  Fish it until vertical with the boat.  Many times they will hold where the slope of the bank turns to flat bottom and you can catch them with a lift and fall action.  If you have electronics you may find them quick but if you don’t there is nothing to worry about.  This is one of the fastest ways to find fish without a graph!  If you mark fish or get bites but aren’t hooking up downsize and experiment with action.

I like to fish the extreme ends of the fishing spectrum when trying to locate these cold finicky bass in the late fall.  First, a steep slope leading to deep water as mentioned, then taking things to the shallows and working quick.  This may seem a bit backwards but I have found there are usually fish on the steep slopes whether they are at ten feet on the rocks or forty feet in the transition.   This can save you time while also giving you confidence in the flats if the fish aren’t biting on the slope.  When fishing a flat try a rattle trap or spinnerbait.  Experiment with cadence especially here.  Start with a fast retrieve then slow it down.  Sometimes a pause will draw a strike from a following smally. As winter approaches experiment more with slowing and adding longer pauses in your cadence.

Don’t Limit Yourself

Keep an open mind and don’t let too many big bass articles limit where you fish this season.  Go out and enjoy catching smallies in places you’ve never caught them before!  Remember at this time of year the smallmouth and forage are comfortable at many depths because the changes in temperatures and oxygen levels throughout the lake range less.  Don’t spend too much time in one area until you pull a fish out.  When you do, throw the anchor down because you may be in for one of your best fishing days of the season.   If you catch more than a few and the bite slows there are likely more fish to be caught.  Change baits and keep on catching them!

Tate is an avid smallmouth angler.  Here is a link to his club’s Facebook page.

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