As the first cool nights of Fall descend on the east and midwest, smallmouth bass are beginning to feel the chill and go on the feed to fatten themselves up for the long winter. This can be one of the best times to catch a truly large smallmouth as they begin to chase baitfish around with reckless abandon. It’s not uncommon to come upon them harassing bait in the shallows. So, we thought we would share some of the tips we have learned over the years that have helped make fall smallmouth bass some of our favorite fishing of the year!
Focus on the Pools and Flats
During the fall, water temperature controls much of the smallmouth bass’ life. They prefer warmer water when they are on the hunt and will tend to seek out areas where they can conserve energy between feeding to congregate. At the beginning of the day, we often find them holding in the deeper pools of the river, and as the day progresses, they begin to spread out and feed in the flats and shallows. These two types of water should be where you spend most of your time on the water.
Low and Slow
Smallmouth can get sluggish in the late fall, but so is their prey! As water temperatures cool, fish begin to take on their lethargic cold-weather habits and seek out the safety of deep pools and structure to wait out the winter lows. Smallies will often be holding near the bottom of the water when its cool out, and a slowly retrieved fly, bouncing along the bottom is exactly what they’re looking for. We recommend using crayfish or heavy leech patterns for maximum fishiness.
Use Different Line Types
It’s easy to get caught up using only one type of fly line when targeting smallmouth, that usually being a weight-forward floating line. But if you’re needing to fool spooky bass in the shallows as they feed, or just want a break from throwing heavy flies, we recommend giving a sinking or intermediate line a try. You’ll be able to throw lighter flies, and still achieve the sink rate you need to get your flies down into the target zone!
Baitfish, Baitfish, Baitfish
In the fall, it’s not uncommon to find packs of smallies blitzing bait like their striped cousins in the saltwater. They’re on a mission to fatten up before the winter, and baitfish provide easy targets. We’d recommend throwing clousers, deceivers and EP baitfish flies in the shallows, and be sure to keep an eye out for groups of fish cruising in skinnier water than you would expect them to normally be in.
Dan Zazworsky’s passion is sharing his love of fly fishing with anyone that will listen, read or watch. You can find him exploring new waters every day while chasing any fish that will eat a fly!