Monsters of the Fall
By: Simon Frost – as written for Canada’s Tournament Angler News 2006
After the summer months many things are predictable. Most anglers put their boats away, the weather gets colder, the days get shorter and the Smallmouth Bass get bigger.
Every fall Smallmouth will start to feed heavily to fatten up for the winter months. Not only do they feed heavily in October right up until closing day they also school up. Going out and catching 50 to 100 fish a day per person is very possible but also catching 5lb+ fish is more common than a rarity on Lake Erie in these last few months of the season.
Patterning these giants is not as difficult in the fall as the rest of the year. Several things you will need are a quality graph, GPS and a map. The most common type of structure for fall Smallmouth are steep breaks in around 35ft of water. This is not the rule but it is a good starting point. Depending on water temperature you can sometimes find these fish as deep as 55ft.
Using your electronics, drive the area you have chosen until you start to mark fish and/or bait. Don’t just check the bottom of the break but also the top rim. At this time of year these schools can be big but they will be in tight groups. Using a maker buoy can help in staying on top of the school. During early October the fish are just starting to school up. If you only mark 1 or 2 hooks stop and fish the area. Odds are that these are the early arrivals to the area and there should be more fish there than you are marking. As the season gets into late October to early November that is when these schools really tighten up.
Start with a vertical presentation. If conditions allow use your trolling motor to stay on the school. The fish are deep enough that your boat will not spook them. One of my favorite baits for numbers and big fish is a 3/4oz Tungsten jigging spoon. It is extremely heavy for its size and the smaller profile which reduces lift helps in keeping it below the boat. If there is any wind the use of a drift sock or sea anchor is a must. Position your boat up wind of your marker and deploy your drift sock. This will slow your boats movement to a minimum which will allow you to present your baits properly. Let the fish tell you what they want. Start with a snap presentation in which you let the spoon hit bottom snap it up about 2 ft then let it free fall back down then start again. If there are no takers start letting the spoon sit on the bottom. Begin with letting the spoon sit for one second and then lengthen the duration. Even though this bait is made of tungsten and it is very hard the bass will pick it up off of the bottom and hold on to it. When one of these big brutes picks it up and you go to snap the jig up it’s like setting on a freight train. Even though you do loose a few fish with this technique this can be one of the most exciting ways to catch these deep water fish.
The biggest mistake anglers make in the fall is that they move too quickly with their presentations. They know the fish are feeding heavily so they make the assumption that they will chase fast moving baits when the opposite is the truth. The water temperature is dropping and the water is becoming far denser. The fish’s metabolisms are slowing and these fish are trying to fatten up for the winter so they will not burn excess energy chasing baits. This also it true for the bait that is in the water. The bait is slowing down for the winter months so slow your presentation down. Just how slow? Again let the fish tell you that.
So you’ve found a school of fish and gone through it with your jigging spoon and now there are no more takers. Your graph is showing you that the school has broken up a bit but there are still fish down there. It is time to change your bait and presentation. The next bait I would go to if the water is fairly calm is a 31/2” salted tube on a 3/8 oz. jig head in 35 ft water & 40+ feet a 1/2oz is the norm. Start again with a vertical presentation. Slowly lift your bait up off the bottom and drop it back down. You do not have to snap it up just lift it about six inches off the bottom. Again play with the pause time. Most bites will not be a big hit but will have a spongy feel to it. As soon as you feel the pick up you need to set the hook straight away. These fish are lazy so any resistance too the line and bait and they will drop it. Remember if you are not sure: SET THE HOOK!
A very important tool that most anglers neglect in deep water is a good pair of polarized sunglasses. My favorite make is the one by Solar Bat with the mossback lenses. When the fish are biting very lightly sometimes even with braid all there is to indicate a bite is a slight line movement so watching your line can improve your catch rate immensely.
After going through your vertical presentation and the fish once again are not biting, it is time to change. Using the same bait, change from a vertical presentation to a horizontal presentation. Make a long cast on top the break and let the bait sink to the bottom. Slowly bring the bait back down the break. The key to this presentation is that the bait should never leave the bottom. Let it tumble its way along the bottom as you slowly reel it in. You will lose a lot of baits but the end result is with out a question worth it
Productive breaks can hold several different schools so once you have fished one school slowly work your way around the break until you locate another school then start all over.
The one thing that is also predictable about the fall is once you have located a productive break it should hold fish right up until closing day and it will keep replenishing itself. These fish will not move far so if your school has moved they won’t be too hard to locate.
The equipment that I would recommend for fall Erie Smallmouth is:
7ft medium action spinning rod (for Jigging spoons & Tubes)
Shimmano 2500 stradic spinning reel (for Jigging spoons & Tubes)
Braded line with a fluorocarbon leader (for jigging spoons & Tubes)
Straight 10lb Bass Pro XPS fluorocarbon (for tubes)
31/2 Schubert’s salted tubes
3/4oz Bass Pro XPS Tungsten jigging spoons
Digital Camera for photo’s
One other thing to remember is you are out there in cold weather so always wear a float suit. Even if the air temperature is over 50+ that water can be in the upper 30’s to low 40’s.