Fall is probably my favorite time of the year for many reasons. It marks the start to hunting season, the leaves and shrubs begin to morph into many beautiful colors, and it’s a great time to be enjoying the outdoors. Most of all when I think about fall, I think of hungry Smallmouth Bass.
Throughout the year we take mental notes and try to remember any spawning areas we passed by, as well as where we found groups of Bass in the summer. We use this information to try and pinpoint where we think they will be headed next, during the later part of the season. In spring, Bass swim up into the shallows after a long winter where they slowly start to feed and prepare for spawning. The fishing during this time period can be on and off depending on water temperatures, weather conditions, your location, and the body of water you are angling in. During summer, once Smallmouth Bass have finished spawning, they begin to spread out in small groups in search of warm water, structure, and most importantly their food. Much like us, Bass spend their summer hanging out in the sun, relaxing and eating. In the middle of summer they can be hard to catch and you might have days where it’s tough to get them to bite. When summer transitions to fall it’s almost as if the feeding switch flips on. Smallmouth will start to group up on rock structures outside weed beds and on points leading out to deep water to begin feeding heavily in preparation for our long winter. They are on the move but if you can locate these large schools of hungry Bass you are in for a real treat, it could be the best action of the open-water season.
Search baits are proven to be productive during many time periods, but they can be especially great to use late season when Bass are on a feeding pattern. They will be aggressive and this allows you to cast and retrieve your lure quickly, which in turns helps you cover more water. The more spots you try, the better chance you have of locating fish. Make small moves often in a place you believe is holding a good population. If you move through it and didn’t catch as many as you hoped maybe try a different section of the lake or river system you are on. This year we noticed something about “areas of Bass”. While pre-fishing for a tournament, one section of the lake was absolutely on fire and when we moved in the afternoon to check a few key spots in an area which we know was holding fish (we know because we seen them a few days prior) well we were hard-pressed to even get a bite or a follower. The fish we were trying for were not aggressive at all and wanted nothing to do with us, so we moved on very quickly. There are always groups of fish that are hungry and feeding, you just need to cover water and you will find the ones that want to bite.
Hard baits are hard to beat this time of year. Choose jerkbaits that sink or run deep and work them fast to trigger the bite. Lipless crankbaits can be great to cast and very easy to use as well. Another lure I don’t personally use enough is the spinnerbait. I always have one tied on when I’m targeting Largemouth Bass, but they work equally as good for Smallmouth too. One thing that’s great about all these baits is that they can be used when it’s calm or in windy conditions; it doesn’t matter what the weather brings they will be productive once you dial in the size and color the fish want that particular day. My number one favorite lure to use on a windy day is the Rapala X Rap jerkbait. I prefer bright colors in stained water and natural colors in clear water conditions. If your preferred presentation style is finesse and using lures that require a slow retrieve, try to switch it up during late season. Using a slow presentation gives those big fish a chance to follow and investigate your bait before they fully commit, which can sometimes work against you. If you notice a few followers, try adjusting your speed, the size of your lure, or even the color.
Soft baits bring great success as well. They are easy to use and great to experiment with in the fall. A four or five inch swimbait or minnow paired up with a 1/4 oz or 5/16 oz jig is really all you need to get started. When casting on deep edges let your jig sink down for a few seconds, then begin to reel it in. The Bass will be wherever their food is. If they are foraging on minnows you can find them hunkered on the bottom waiting to ambush their prey or up near the surface, suspended and chasing them around. Experimenting with different presentations, retrieves, depths and speed can be key to your success during the late season Smallmouth feeding frenzy.