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Reading and Triggering Fall Smallmouths on Northern Natural Lakes

Reading and Triggering Fall Smallmouths on Northern Natural Lakes

After crisscrossing the country to fish a full slate of nine Bassmaster Opens, and experiencing some extreme highs and lows along the way, rookie pro Kyle Patrick needed to get back to his comfort zone for some home cooking. In his case, that means the Finger Lakes of New York, where fierce smallmouths make the most of a compressed growing season.

Unfortunately, while the smallmouths will at times make life easy by gorging themselves, in the fall they’re often on the move—here today, gone tomorrow—and that makes finding schools a day-to-day process. Finding schools that will eat readily is even more challenging. For Patrick, the hunt is fun, but he’s found several ways to cut down the time that it takes.

He’s experimented heavily with an Aqua-Vu camera to find not only active fish, but also the isolated places that haven’t been absolutely pounded by tournament and recreational pressure during the busy summertime period.

“Very few people take the time to use it,” he said. “The fish can get absolutely loaded on points, but sometimes they’re just on tiny rock humps. Sometimes the best of all is when you can find three or four boulders in a 500-yard stretch.”

Fall smallies often swim in schools and can be very aggressive when the right schools are located.

Once he finds those spots, and drops the camera down, he still needs to gauge the interest of the fish. A quick drop of a football jig can get a bite, but often the bass are “more curious than anything,” and he must figure out whether it’s worth staying.

“If I throw a moving bait and a dropshot and they don’t bite in 25 or 30 minutes, I leave. There are too many fish on these lakes to sit on a school that won’t bite. Of course, if you only have two spots you can’t always do that, but no matter what I will cycle back.”

He also takes cues from the other anglers out fishing. Since there are comparatively few secrets anymore, especially on these heavily fished waters, “If people are on your stuff, you need to go in opposite directions. That typically means either ‘a little deeper or a little shallower.’ It also dictates that he look to less-optimal structure and cover.

“Sometimes you’ll find five or six smallmouths up on a little sand stuff, stupid stuff that you normally wouldn’t look at.”

He's heavily reliant on his Garmin Livescope and it’s forward-facing sonar capabilities. It even has picture clarity in the submerged aquatic grass, where a bass will look like “a bit more of a light spot suspended in grass.” Again, it’s a simple way to find fish that others cannot target, and that often means that they’re more aggressive than their open-water counterparts.

“On the graph those fish will often be represented as streaks that come shooting over to your bait.”

Even with that technological advantage, Patrick wants to eliminate variables. He noted that “if you can’t see your graph for even a split second, you can miss that little dot or that little clue that’ll give you an advantage over your competition. Depending on the angle of the sun, it can be hard to see what’s on the screen. With my Redfin Wassaw polarized glasses, I can see my screens perfectly. I have zero issues with glare, even when the sun is directly on them.”

Most of his fall fishing involves a spinning rod, often dropshotting a Missile Baits 4.5 Quiver Worm.


Patrick knows that putting to use all of the technology at his fingertips makes the searching process easier.

“I like to nose hook it even in the grass because 80% of the smallmouths hit it on the fall,” he explained. If the grass is thick enough to make nose hooking a struggle, he’ll switch to a cover shotted Missile Magic Worm. Both get fished on spinning gear. The lighter dropshots get fished on a Douglas DXS 6-foot, 10-inch extra-fast rod, while the cover shot demands the 7-foot medium-fast model. Both get paired with a Shimano Vanford spinning reel spooled with a main line of 15-pound test Seaguar Smackdown braid married to a leader consisting of 10- or 12-pound test Seaguar Tatsu. Many other anglers swear by 8- or even 6-pound test leader material, but Patrick said that he “sets the hook hard” so he feels that the benefits of the heavier fluorocarbon outweigh its downsides, especially since “even 8 can be sketchy around grass.”

When the first meaningful cold snap hits, he’ll switch to a jerkbait, once again on spinning gear, revising and refining his cadence until he finds the one that they’ll commit to. Once again, forward-facing sonar helps him dial this process in more quickly. The one place where he will switch to baitcasting gear is when the grass is too thick for a jerkbait, but the best way to trigger fish is with a moving lure.

“Sometimes they need a shock of energy before you can even start catching them with the dropshot,” he explained. That’s when he pulls out a vibrating jig, either the original Chatterbait when he wants a tight wobble, or the Z-Man Jack Hammer when they want “more water movement and a little bit more of a ruckus.”

In either instance he typically relies on natural baitfish colors like white and silver. He’ll fish these vibrating jigs on a Douglass 744F in open water, and a 745F when he needs to rip it through heavy grass to generate reaction strikes. In either instance, his reel of choice is a Shimano Curado DC spooled with 16- to 20-pound fluorocarbon, depending on the depth he’s fishing.

As Kyle Patrick prepares for year two of his Elite Series qualifying quest, the smallmouths of New York will always be his bread and butter, the best means of honing his skills and his hook set. The fall is his time to load up on bronze.

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