River Fishing with Sam Scott: Fall Musky and Smallmouth

by Sam Scott

Undoubtedly October and early November are the prettiest time of the year to be on the water and by that I mean the upper James and New Rivers where I spend most of my time guiding. When you’re catching five-pound smallmouth or 50” muskies against a backdrop of bright red and orange leaves, life doesn’t get much better!

Cooler temperatures mean the fish are starting to feed up before the winter sets in. Similar to a buck in the rut, these fish tend to make more mistakes while they are focused on filling their bellies. Now is the time to go on a lunker hunt.

When fishing for smallmouth in late fall or the month of November, sometimes the hardest part is just finding the larger fish. They are on the move for the fall transition and heading to their wintering holes.

Once you find the fish, its usually not too hard to get the strikes.
Start with your winter holes, those long slow deep pools, and work your way up to the tails end of the shoals above. Usually, you will find the smallmouth somewhere in between those areas this time of year.

You can catch smallies on just about anything in the fall, but my go-to is a black and silver Rapala suspending jerkbait. Often you are seeing these larger fish cruising in the low clear fall water and casting a jerkbait several feet ahead of their path will almost always get their attention. But if that doesn’t do it for you, pull out the trusty Ned rigs.

While sometimes I don’t like to admit it, Ned rigs dominate the fall bite here in the rivers of Virginia. Fish them slow and make good contact with the bottom of the river. Strikes won’t be far behind.

Now the muskies are also on the move and can be found near their wintering holes. And they too are putting the feed bag on, hunting down every sucker in sight. The fall transition for them means a different line up of baits in my boat.

I like to throw a lot of crank baits this time of year. The water is usually low and clear and the fish are often found in the deep channels out in the middle of the river. My most productive tactic is running Shallow Invaders or Super Believers down the main channels. Already this fall we have had countless fish in the boat using this tactic. Be sure your figure-eighting after every cast as boat side strikes are very common in the fall.

Glide baits are also coming into their own this time of year. The colder that water gets, the better that glider bite will get. Fish them over cover such as lay downs or boulders and ledges. A few quick twitches and then a pause. Often times that strike will come on the pause when you get the glider sideways and they come up to t-bone it! 

If you don’t get out for the rest of the year, make sure you get out there this fall and early winter. You won’t be disappointed in the scenery, and landing a giant smallmouth or musky is just a bonus.

Have a question or comment for the author? You can reach Sam at BlueRidgeMusky@gmail.com

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