As water temperatures drop into the low 50°F range, smallmouths everywhere start playing with footballs. Football jigs, that is. Reservoirs, rivers, lakes. Everywhere they swim.
Rich Zaleski, longtime correspondent to In-Fisherman on matters micropterus, sent me a photo today of a maw. Imbedded deep within it was a Lunker City Football Head adorned with a 5-inch Lunker City SwimFish. He calls it "grinding a swimbait." A 1/2-ounce football can keep a plastic bait that size grinding on bottom at a pretty good clip, covering water fast. I like to keep it moving quick — as fast as I can maintain bottom contact.
I tend to do better with craws, spider grubs, and twin tails when I play football with bass around here, but let's discuss speed. As that water temperature drops, I find bass respond to an ever decreasing lure speed. In fall I catch a lot of bass early on 3/8- to 1/2-ounce Lunker City heads as well as the Gamakatsu 24, Owner Football Head, and several others.
But as temperatures drop, I lighten up to 1/4-ounce and finally 1/8-ounce sizes. That forces me to slow down. I drop from 5-inch Yamamoto Hula Grubs and Kalin's Twin Tails to smaller 4-inch versions, or sometimes just a single-tail grub from those same sources. When the water drops below 40°F, most people have stopped bass fishing altogether, but the biggest fish of the year are biting. But it's not fast and furious by any means. Some days the best retrieve will take 7 minutes when the water registers 38°F.
Down South, fall movements may just be starting by mid October, and the crankbait and topwater assault is just getting underway. Up here in the Northwoods, an extended warming trend has kept water temperatures in the mid 50°F range, but smallmouths are half way through the normal fall migration cycle. Football season. It's headed your way down on Kentucky Lake and further south.
I like to pitch footballs on a St. Croix AVS70MF spinning rod with a Pflueger Patriarch 9430 reel spooled up with 10-pound test Maxima Ultragreen, Sufix Seige, or some other tough-yet-manageable mono. The larger diameter 9430 creates longer casts. I'm searching clay flats. Clay and wintering smallmouths are inseparable. I would assume crayfish can burrow in clay and concentrate there when the water turns cold. I always seem to find clay substrates where smallmouths winter in this part of the country. Find a clay playing field and it's game time. Noon kickoff. Smallies are seldom interested in breakfast when the water's dropping into the 40s. Fall football is a pretty civilized game, after all. Especially the way smallmouths play it.