The obvious signs of fall are upon us. The stores are loaded with Halloween candy and costumes and the neighbor down the road has those obnoxious decorations up again this year. You have exchanged your short sleeve shirt for a hooded sweatshirt to beat the chill in the air. The changing of the season means one thing to a die-hard fisherman and that is the chance for some fast action from a hard fighting smallmouth bass.
The local rivers and lakes are starting to cool and the weeds are beginning to die off. This cooling triggers an instinct in most fish that winter is coming and that it is time to feed up for the long cold winter months. The smallmouth is no exception to this and their instinct is to feed heavily on the present forage.
Cooling water and lack of daylight are the two triggers that affect these fish. The natural instinct is to eat and eat they will. It is your challenge to hook into some of these giants and the perfect part of the puzzle for you is going to be the use of live bait.
Live bait often has a stigma of being for “cheaters” or the inexperienced. How wrong and untrue this is. Live bait, just like any other bait, has its place and time. With the cooling fall temps, that time is now. Whether you are using small minnows, large suckers, or perch (where legal) you are going to be at a large advantage to others at your chance for a big fish.
The bass are chasing schools of minnows and shad and the big fish are coming out of their weedy hiding places in search of an easy meal. Working live bait along the areas that these bass are cruising in search of an easy meal can pay off big. It can offer a fisherman an opportunity to hook into fish that are well above the average they encounter in the summer months.
Lindy rigging is a rather easy technique that requires a bit of patience and boat control, but it is certainly a deadly way to present live bait. In deeper lakes a more vertical presentation is key. Work your boat over the structure you are fishing and keep that bait in the strike zone much longer. Use enough weight on your rig to feel bottom and keep that contact with the bottom. Typically a 3/4oz weight has proven to be a good starting point. Use a good fluorocarbon leader to your hook as this is key in clear water situations.
When the water cools, a little tip is to find the small perch that tend to be up in the shallows. With a small rod and ice jig go out catch a dozen or so of the smaller ones. These then end up on a large 1/0 circle hook on a lindy rig. One quick tip to use is; with a pair of scissors, cut the dorsal fin off of the perch. By doing so the perch cannot spine the inside of the bass’s mouth thus the fish will hold on much longer. This is deadly for late season smallmouth in and around the deep breaklines.
In a river situation a simple technique is to bounce a minnow along the current seams as well as through the eddies created by underwater structure. Small fathead minnows rigged on a single Gamakatsu Octopus hook are deadly. Put enough split shot about 12” above the hook to get the bait down to the bottom to allow it to tick the rocks as it moves down stream. This technique is easy, yet very effective for finding hungry smallies.
The river fish are much more aggressive and you can expect some great fights as well as some hard and aggressive strikes. Work an area thoroughly and find both the underwater and above water structure. Key in on the eddies and seams and it will payoff big.
Other methods of using live bait can be as easy as a simple float and a hook, or you can mix things up by working a bottom bouncer and structure fishing. The key to any live bait presentation is to get the bait to where the fish are going to be. It sounds obvious, but it is often overlooked. You can’t catch the fish that are cruising the breaklines if your bait is up on the flat. Boat positioning and bait presentation are key points to using live bait.
With the cooling air temps and water it is key to remain flexible with your presentations and don’t rule out using live bait to increase your odds at catching more bass. Not only will you catch more fish, but also you will be surprised at the size of the fish you will catch. It is the time of year for the fish to fatten up and the big girls are coming out to feed. Don’t miss the opportunity for a fish of a lifetime. Live bait isn’t just for kids anymore.