Secrets of Bronzeback Migration: Bring On The Slaunches

As we’re sailing into the heart of fall, it’s time to demystify the wandering ways of our beloved smallmouth.

Why Fall Is The Best

Why is autumn my favorite time of year for smallmouth bass fishing?

  • Smallies go on a feeding frenzy to fatten up for the winter.
  • The air temps cool, making the fishing more enjoyable and productive.
  • The variety of effective baits expands so that you can catch them on most anything if you find them
  • The fall foliage and scenery are like heaven to me.

The Science Behind the Move

Before we set our hooks into the “where,” let’s delve deeper into the “why.” That drop in temperatures? It does more than just send chills up our spines. It send signals to our bronze buddies too. Fish, especially smallmouth bass, are ectothermic, meaning their body temperature changes with the water around them.

When it gets colder, their metabolism slows. They need to pack on the pounds before winter sends the whole food chain into slow mode. For anglers, this is our golden ticket. They’re biting, and it’s our job to serve the feast!

The Tale of Two Waters: River Systems vs. Lakes

River Systems: Here’s a cool fact—bass are quite the energy savers. In rivers, rather than battling the current, they search for cozy spots. Places like deeper pools, back eddies, and slack waters become their hangout zones. And if you stumble upon an area where there’s a combination of submerged logs and rocks? You’ve hit the jackpot! Those areas often shelter crayfish, a smallmouth’s favorite fall snack.

Lakes: Now, for those of us drifting on lakes, the game’s a tad different. Clear lakes see our bronzebacks diving deep. Think of it as their annual retreat—less light, stable temperatures, and fewer anglers. But here’s a tip: focus on transition zones where shallow regions taper off into the depths. These are your bass highways!

Photo Courtesy of Mike Liberati

Lures to Love in the Fall

Now, let’s talk tackle, shall we?

  • Jerkbaits: In cooler water, a suspending jerkbait can be irresistible to a smallmouth. Those erratic movements mimic wounded baitfish, which bass see as an easy meal. Tip: Go for natural, shad-colored patterns! My favorites are Rapala X Raps, Lucky Craft Pointers and Duo Realis jerkbaits.
  • Soft Plastics: Rig them Texas or wacky style, and you’ve got a versatile tool. Their slow descent can often trigger bites when other lures fail. I’ve had days when a green pumpkin worm was all they wanted. In rivers where crayfish are the favored meal, tubes can crush.
  • Lipless Crankbaits: These are perfect for those shallow flats next to deeper waters. Their vibrations and flashy presentations can entice even the most stubborn smallmouth. My favorite is the KVD Red Eye Shad in Orange Craw, but the Sexy Shad can bring the slaunches to the boat too.
  • Solid Body Swimbaits: Depending on where and how you fish these, rigging can be different. The simplest way is with a ball head jig and retrieving it at various speeds. If you are in rocks and cover, rigging with a weighted swimbait hook can help reduce snags. I love the Berkley Fusion19 Weighted Swimbait Hook for this.

Hotspots & Hints

Rocky Points & Drop-offs: An interesting observation – during fall, baitfish, especially shad, migrate to shallows, and rocky points often become their buffet table. Smallmouths? They’re always close by, eyeing their plate.

Flats Adjacent to Deep Water: If you find baitfish here, work your lures thoroughly. Smallies often corral baitfish onto these flats for an ambush.

Mouths of Tributaries: One memorable day on the Susky, right at a creek mouth, I landed two 19-inch and one 20-inch, chunky smallmouth in under twenty minutes. Why? They were waiting for the minnows moving in with the cooling waters.

One Last Cast

Alright, folks, while the air might be cooler, the fishing’s still hot. With every cast, remember: it’s a blend of science, observation, and a sprinkle of old-fashioned angler’s gut feeling. And when that line tugs, and the reel screams, there’s no better feeling. The tug is the drug!

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