by Jason Holmer
5 in the Well Guide Service
Has it really happened again? Has another summer slipped by? September is here, marking the first unofficial month of fall. The familiar drone of the school buses driving through the neighborhood in the morning echo on as we reminisce on which stick-impaled food was our favorite at the state fair. Are we really heading into another harsh Minnesota winter again? Already?
Fear not my fellow open water anglers! As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Why focus on the waning days of summer when some of the best bass fishing of the season is about to come on like a wave of hot summer heat? Each year I have a love/hate relationship with fall. I donít look forward to the ice season, but fall fishing is probably my favorite time of the year!
Fall is a great time to target trophy fish of all sorts, but my favorite target in the fall is the smallmouth bass. The decreasing temperatures and shorter daylight periods result in falling water temps, which in turn brings the bronze backs up from their deep water summer areas into shallower, easier to target areas as they put on the feed bags in preparation for the winter.
What sort of baits the fish are eating will not only change from day-to-day, but at times, hour-to-hour, so be ready to make the appropriate adjustments as needed. I like to search fish out throwing top water baits such as prop style, spook baits, or slash baits like the Rapala X-Rap, but be ready with a smaller ďfollow upĒ bait such as a tube jigs or stick worm. Often times smallmouth will follow a bait to the boat and will appear to turn around. When this happens simply drop the follow up bait over the side of the boat and hang on! Other effective baits at this time of year are standard crank baits, lipless cranks, and spinnerbaits.
Fishing jerk baits, or slash baits, can lead to some of the most exciting and knee buckling strikes you will get while fishing bass. For my money, the Rapala X Rap is the best in itís class when it comes to slash baits. The X Rap can be fished in a number of different ways. The key, howver, is to find the right cadence for your retrieve. Somedays a jerk-pause, jerk-pause works. Other days, jerk-jerk-pause, jerk-jerk-jerk-pause is the key. The point is to play around with your cadence until you zero in on a speed and method that triggers the fish to bite, and boy do they hammer it! Smallmouth will often hit a bait fish twice: first to stun it, then to eat it. Usually that strike you get on that X Rap is the ďstun hitĒ. Quite literally the bass is trying to deliver the knock out blow to your bait!
When fishing a spinnerbait be sure to use a trailer hook and work the bait very aggressively back to the boat by using a fast retrieve combined with a jerk/pause. I like to turn my trailer hook over and run it opposite of the baitís standard hook. Generally the areas that smallmouth are found donít have much in the way of weed cover, so hanging the trailer hook in the weeds really isnít an issue. By having the hook facing down your chances of hooking up with a fish increases should they take a half hearted swipe, or try to knock the bait to stun it and hit only the skirt.
The structure bass will relate to can be unpredictable as well, but I always start with shallow rocky areas, especially reefs. A mid-lake reef can be a very popular hang out for large numbers of smallmouth bass. Look for fish to move up on the reefs and off the sides as they feed. Another good bet is a rocky shore line or point. Similar to their larger-mouthed cousins, smallmouth love eating crawdads and can often be seen moving from rock to rock in search of their next meal.
So as the lemons of winter start showing signs of making their annual appearance, start looking for your chance to make lemonade. Take advantage of the changing conditions to capitalize on what just might be the best fishing of the year! I know Iíll be out there every chance I get!