September 26, 2012
By Matt Straw
This time of year, fall smallmouths begin crowding the elevators heading for the lower floors. In lakes, it's not unusual in northern states to find them stacking up on main-lake, off-shore humps, bumps, and rises by late September.
Fall spots for smallmouths can be hard to find on big water because they're often nondescript. A rise of less than a foot on an otherwise featureless flat can indicate the presence of clay surrounded by softer stuff. Clay, for whatever reason, is a pretty accurate indicator for the presence of fall smallmouths—probably because crayfish can burrow into it without having to dig their way back out.
I find clay on my anchor on most spots smallmouths frequent in both rivers and lakes this time of year, another good reason to just drop the hook and enjoy yourself sometimes, rather than waste electricity to operate a motor that communicates things to fish you may not want to say. If bass can't begin to associate that whirring noise above with being hooked in the face, then I'm wrong about this. But I doubt it, since laboratory experiments prove they can immediately learn to associate the color of one target with small electric shocks and the color of another target with food. Everybody knows you can still hook bass with the trolling motor on. What a select few realize is that, when you turn it off for a while, the catch rate sometimes improves dramatically.
I digress. Smallmouths around here also use the base of the tips of main-lake, shoreline-connected points and attenuating reefs and humps. Those humps and reefs, quite typically, top out at 17 to 24 feet. If it's really snaggy on top—which actually seems quite rare around here—I slowly swim Kalin's grubs, Mojo Reefer Tails, Castaic Jerky Js, and other soft swimbaits just off bottom with 1/4- to 3/8-ounce Gopher Tackle Mushroom Heads. If it's not very snaggy, I roll Yamamoto Hula Grubs on 3/8- to 1/2-ounce Gamakatsu Football 24 heads. Most of this is done with 10-pound braid with 10-pound fluorocarbon leaders or straight 10-pound monofilament—depending on weather and conditions. Early on, I find I really don't need the added sensitiviy of braid to feel smallmouths hit something in depths of 20 feet or so, and I don't need the lack of stretch to set hooks when using the jigs I've mentioned. Those hooks are exceedingly sharp.
The traditional method is to hover over a group you've marked on sonar while vertically jigging with a Cotton Cordell CC Spoon or Hopkins Shorty. I've had great success in past seasons with the PK Lures Flutterfish—with a unique hourglass shape that turns the spoon on its side to flutter down horizontally on the drop (also a great ice-fishing lure for walleyes, crappies, and bass). This year I'm trying it with the new PK Lures Panic Spoon—an articulated spoon with two flickering Colorado blades attached between segments. I'll have a report on that any day now, if I can squeeze in a little time between all these writing assignments...