Recent record smallmouth bass catches in Michigan and New York have drawn our attention to this feisty member of the black bass clan. Bronzebacks of 8-plus-pounds are hard to come by, but heavy pre-winter feeding makes right now a great time to look for your personal best.
Lacking the size potential of their largemouth kin, smallies make up for their lesser stature with that spicy blend of appetite and attitude. Scenarios vary with geography, but throughout much of the nation’s prime smallmouth waters, a handful of tips will help you dial in your brown-fish game.
Smallmouth are a gluttonous lot and fall only magnifies their gorging tendencies. However, Minnesota’s Bassmaster Elite pro Seth Feider knows that these fish like to watch their six while keeping themselves in areas where small moves yield big gains in either their feeding opportunities or their safety/comfort.
“In the fall, I like areas where they have close access between deep and shallow water because they move up and down when they get warmer days and colder days,” Feider said. “The ideal scenario would be a hump that came up to at least 8 or 10 feet on top, but broke really sharply into at least 20 feet.
“That would provide somewhere they could (retreat to) if the weather turned really bad.”
Fall temperatures in the 45- to 55-degree range find a soft plastic swimbait on a 1/4- to 3/8-ounce lead head highly productive for fish that are gorging on baitfish higher in the water column. As late fall sees water temps decline, he can better emulate deeper holding baitfish by dropping lower with a vibrating blade bait like the Silver Buddy.
Temperature preferences and depth ranges will vary from deep northern stongholds to southern river systems, but the logic of staying with the forage and targeting fish will bait that reach the strike zone holds consistent.
Feider minces no words in noting that bigger baits will get you bigger bites, especially during the fall feeding frenzy. Local forage has a strong bearing on productive profiles, but across the board, the largest smallmouth will typically forgo chasing thousands of smaller baits, in favor of targeting heftier meals.
Tullibees, big blueback herring, yellow perch — expect the jumbo brownies to keep their noses pointed at the fat-making meals.
“I’ve had 3- 4-pound smallmouth puke up 8- to 9-inch tullibee,” he said. “It’s all about protein and packing on as much weight as they can for the winter.”
Feider’s fellow Elite pro Mike Iaconelli agrees and when he reaches for a jerkbait — a classic fall offering — he’s reaching right past the standard size baits and opting instead for a real toad choker like a size 12 Rapala XRap.
Remember, smaller fish will fall for just about anything they can catch, but the big brownies are more discerning and, therefore, require strategic approach and meals worth their effort.