By Nick Simonson
Fall brings a disjointed weather pattern and longer nights and cooler days to the upper Midwest which can often set the fishing on fire when a warm conditions stay put for a spell. In those times of stability, no fish provides greater fun that the smallmouth bass. As they binge for what is a near dormant winter season, where they stage on steep breaks in deeper water and barely move, smallies can turn downright aggressive as they sack whatever source of food is available ahead of the leaner months to come. Now is the time to cash in on their hunger and hard charging nature and connect with fast autumn fishing.
In fall, smallmouth bass will start making their moves toward their wintering areas and locating the steeper breaks on a lake or river where they reside will provide the first clues as to the perfect intercept point for bronze behemoths on the feed. Look for those steeper turns, cuts and saddle areas that quickly connect the summertime shallows that they’ve hunted in all year with those deeper portions of a water body where they’ll likely winter until late April of next spring. There, once found, smallies will often congregate in groups that provide fast action.
On warmer days in September and October, particularly in those rarer two- or three-day stretches of calm, sunny weather, brown bass can be found up shallower and often at their most aggressive in the autumn openwater season. If a cold front moves through or chilly temperatures slow them down some before things warm up later in the day, look to the deeper edge of the break to find fish. Much like they react to temperature swings and weather patterns in spring, the fall behaviors of smallmouth give their autumn hiding places away. If you can find pieces of structure on either side of that break, such as a sunken deadfall or a larger boulder or two forming a safe haven, chances are your mission for fast fishing will be a success.
Once those productive spots are isolated on a flow, getting fall smallies to bite can sometimes be a challenge. Other times, it may be as easy as any summer fishing opportunity. In those warmer stretches, aggressive lures like jerkbaits and spinnerbaits will trigger powerful strikes. When things are cooler and frontal or post-frontal lockjaw has set in, slow things down. Soft plastic sticks and Texas-rigged tubes worked slowly over an area, or even into the open water around the break can get fussy bronzebacks to bite and decreasing the size of those offerings often pays big dividends when things get tough under the cloudy, windswept skies of autumn.
Consider too the subtle presentation of a small bucktail jig, hackle jig, or krystal flash jig suspended around a target area beneath a slip float. This traditional “float-n-fly” combination gets its subtle action from the dressing on the 1/8- or 1/16-ounce jig, while slight wave motion on the surface gently moves it up and down, bringing fish in for a look. Keep an eye on the float and watch for a slight pop and set the hook, as the fish has likely inhaled the bait.
Have a couple options handy for those days that start cold and warm up in the afternoon. It isn’t uncommon to switch from tube at dawn, to a slow-rolled spinnerbait by mid-morning, to one that’s burned quickly back to the boat in the warmth of the afternoon, to another slowly-worked plastic at the end of a fall day on the water. Be adaptable to the situation and how fish are behaving hour-by-hour in the shortened daylight of the season.
By identifying prime autumn real estate for smallmouth and knowing which side of the break they’ll be on based on prevailing conditions and what’s come before, it’s easier to pick them off as they satiate their autumn appetite. Go fast as warmer conditions dictate with baits in confidence colors and those that match local forage, or slow things down with a bit smaller offering when the weather shifts. Put the pieces of the puzzle together to finish off the openwater season strong for one of the mightiest fish that swims.
Featured Photo: Locating smallmouth along breaklines as they transition between summer and winter locations may come down to weather and wind. Utilize faster baits on warmer days, and slow things down with a tube or plastic on cooler days. Simonson Photo.
Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.