The cold air hit me as I opened the front door, the air was crisp but welcome.
With sunrise still an hour away, I could hear the leaves rustling in the trees. Most are still hanging, but a few more mornings like this and the ground (and the river) will be loaded with them. I fought the urge to dig in my gear for gloves. It is early yet, and my hands need conditioned if I am going to fish the remainder of fall and early winter until ice closes the river. Winter is six to seven weeks out, and I know what is coming… and so do river smallmouth. Autumn is a special time of year for outdoorsmen and women, this is especially true for smallmouth bass anglers.
As air and water temperatures drop, many are laying down their rods and picking up bows and rifles. Docks on the lakes are pulled and a good many fishing boats are winterized. But for me, this is the time to gear up for what has become my favorite time to fish. By now, I have logged nearly 200 days on the water and look forward to a big finish.
All nature reacts to the cold. Most every animal feeds heavily to build up the fat reserves they need for winter. Smallmouth are no different. On rivers they slowly migrate into wintering areas, some are miles away and will take weeks to reach. While on this journey, bass will feed and gain weight. Along the way in areas where forage is abundant bass will group up and hold for days, even weeks before entering a wintering pool. Locate these areas and you strike gold, or in this case bronze.
Tactics during this time of year should be more aggressive. I prefer moving baits such as swims, swim-jigs, jerkbaits, crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Yes, tubes and finesse baits work, but if there ever was a time to power fish, autumn is it. Never underestimate the rate of current bass will feed in, even down to 40 degrees, bass can be in fairly swift water. Bass are going to go where the forage is. If there is minnow forage in the current, the bass will be there also. This time of year, they are willing to chase and eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths.
The autumn spinnerbait bite is really something special. The water is generally clearer, and bass will chase spinnerbaits for longer distances than they do in the spring when water is at a similar temperature. This chase visually adds to the presentation and makes them very effective. I prefer to target current areas, moderate to even fast current that flows over chunk rocks in and around banks, ledges, and islands. Transition areas such tail-outs or any mid-river structure that changes the direction of the water.
The question I get most often when selecting a spinnerbait is what weight, profile, and color works best. Honestly, I wish there was one “fit all” solution, but some daily experimenting will be needed, especially for color. My preference for size is a slightly smaller profile spinnerbait in 3/8oz or 1/2oz depending on river levels. For years War Eagle and Nichols filled this bill, but about two years ago my friend Glenn introduced me to Sick Custom Spinnerbaits and hands down they are the best river spinnerbait I have used yet.
Sick Customs offer four wire forms to choose from along with dozens of color patterns in each of their four frames. From their Litewire finesse up to Wizard Wire Titanium, Sick Custom has spinnerbaits to fit any situation. Beyond that, they were designed especially for smallmouth.
While I am amazed with the durability of the Wizard Wire Titanium spinnerbaits, my go-to is their .028
Litewire spinnerbait. The blades on the .028 start spinning the moment they hit the water. That is a huge need when working shallow current or small strike zones behind structure. Having the blades spin the moment it lands makes catching easy. We have put Sick Customs through the ringer on my boat.
We have fished in all manner of water. Lakes and rivers, deep and shallow, from burning them in current to slow rolling them on the bottom, these spinnerbaits work.
Skirt color and blade combinations can get confusing, and I am sure every seasoned angler has a favorite “must have” color. Over the years, I have too, but believe me there is rarely a best color. So let me share a few favorites and why. Again, I could probably list a dozen if there were time and page space.
The age-old white skirt has been one of my favorites. Some prefer silver blades, but my choice is gold or a combination of a forward gold and trailing silver blade. The white skirt and gold blades make for a great everyday choice. I will add that silver blades on some bodies of water will outperform gold. For example, on the Delaware River when shad fry are returning to the ocean, silver blades are a must.
A clear water choice would be Gold Digger or Susky Dream. The Susquehanna has a large crayfish population along with chub suckers and stone roller minnows. While it is just a guess, the combination of gold, black and brown on Gold Digger matches these quite well. The skirt pattern on Susky Dream has light almost translucent silicon over a muted purple. When in the water on a sunny day, it looks just like some of the minnow forage I see.
For water with stain, I am going to turn old school and just suggest “anything with chartreuse”. While White-N-Chartreuse or Rotten Banana fit the bill nicely, you can go crazy here experimenting. Mouse and chartreuse, orange and chartreuse, purple and chartreuse, have fun with it. Adding a chartreuse or black blade is a nice touch but gold works just fine. Oh, and did I mention some chartreuse in the skirt?
Muddy water recommendations are fairly simple. Go single Colorado and go dark. Black blade and darker skirts are always my choice. Toss in a little red, blue, orange or purple accent, but the main skirt color should be dark. Sick Customs has a whole series of Nighttime Spinnerbaits to choose from.
These are just a sample and sadly we have just begun to scratch the surface on fishing spinnerbaits. If you do not throw them, give it a try. Target current, small eddy pockets, rocky areas, grass and shorelines. Fish fast and slow and find out how versatile and addicting blades can be.