This is Mike Karempelis, premier Great Lakes guide and part of the Fish Door County TV team. Talking to Mike on the phone yesterday, he tells me big smallmouths are lingering shallow in the Sturgeon Bay area of Green Bay, making them vulnerable to the rare but wonderful late-season spinner-bait assault.
“When targeting fall smallmouths with spinnerbaits on big water, there are a couple of keys to consider to ensure a successful day on the water,” Mike said.
“Location, as always, is the most important part of the equation. This time of the year, I like to look for steep, hard breaking shorelines adjacent to deep water. Those areas are always prime during just before the cold-water period sets in. The sharper the drop, the better. It allows smallmouths to slip a little deeper when they’re inactive or neutral. Then they have quick access to shallow flats when wind, passing cold fronts, and other factors trigger an optimal window for feeding. A typical approach finds me keeping the boat in 12-to 15 feet of water and casting both up toward the shallow flats as well as occasionally casting along the deep breakline and slow rolling the spinnerbait through deeper water.”
Those neutral fish can be triggered on a reactionary basis. Working the deep side of the break slow with a heavy bait—up to 1 ounce—can pay big dividends. Most of the time, Mike’s using 3/4-ounce baits. But he tries them all.
“Another key is the type of spinnerbait you choose,” he adds. “I prefer double willow-leaf designs in late fall like this, and I usually choose a painted blade design in in the clear water we have around here, either in all white, chartreuse, or a combination of the two. The size of the spinnerbait is another critical deal. I always choose a bait in the ¾- to 1-ounce size, as opposed to the typical 3/8- t 1/-ouncers traditionally used for smallmouths during spring and summer.
“The larger size offers two main advantages,” Mike added. “First, it presents a larger profile and displaces a bit more water than those smaller counterparts, which is often exactly what big smallmouths are looking for this time of the year as they put on as much weight as possible for the upcoming winter season. Secondly, the extra weight allows me to fish the spinnerbait fast in the shallow water without getting too much lift on the bait, while it enables me to slow-roll the deeper edge without changing rods if fish aren’t responding up on the shallow flats. Some of the biggest bass I catch each fall are caught casting that deeper edge, and the bigger bait enables me to cover that range much more effectively.”
Spinnerbaits are way overlooked for smallies in fall. They’re looking for food. Any indication brings them vectoring in your direction, and spinnerbaits send flash, thump, and vibration way out there in clear water. Mike effectively uses spinnerbaits to put some of his biggest bass of the year in the boat in late October and early November every year.