The fall colors were in full effect, dotting the shoreline on a crisp, October morning. I was fishing for deep-water smallmouth around rocks and boulders in 20- to 30 feet of water.
I jiggled my tube jig along, paused, and then felt a slight tick. I set the hook and the fight began. The 3-pound “smallie” bulldogged for a few minutes, but eventually got in net range and was landed. After the hook was popped out, the chunky specimen was released.
Find Fall Transition Areas
It’s no secret that come fall and cool water temperatures, smallmouth move deeper. Often in concentrated numbers, smallies can be found on transition areas close to the main basin. These bronzeback bruisers are feeding in preparation for the winter, so look for rock and boulder areas, wood, and sometimes sand on reefs, points, and spines. These areas provide a mix of good spots for smallies to corner and ambush baitfish, but will also often hold crayfish. Use a hydrographic map or GPS unit to quickly locate these off shore areas. With reliable sonar, you should easily be able to mark smallies as you pass over these spots.
When aggressively feeding, smallies will hammer many different types of baits. An excellent choice for deep water are jigging spoons. You can cast these out or vertical jig them. Either way, rip these baits to rise them off the bottom and then let them drop. When smallies are wound up and feeding, the strikes are phenomenal.
For a more subtle approach, consider natural-colored grubs and tube jigs. Work these baits along the lake bottom, crawling them in and around boulders. I prefer a vertical jigging approach as opposed to casting to cover deep water. With the bait directly below me, I rely on my trolling motor to slowly move the boat so I can methodically pick apart the underwater structure. I have found that raising the bait, quivering it, and then pausing before letting it fall to the bottom can be an excellent trigger for reluctant smallmouth when vertical jigging.
Of course, another excellent tactic is drop-shotting. Finesse tubes, minnows, or stick baits will all take smallies on a drop-shot rig in the fall. Remember that when working these baits, less is more. The key is picking a plastic that will still look lively when you lightly shake the line, without moving the sinker along the bottom. Often, these minute vibrations are hard for fish to ignore.
If you are fishing with monofilament in deep water, you’re at a major disadvantage, as you need sensitivity in deep water to jig effectively. You want to use low-stretch line and this is where superbraids reign supreme. I tie a 2- to 3-foot leader of fluorocarbon to braid, and use a blood knot. With the leader, I can easily break it off if I get snagged.
That said, if you’re finesse fishing and slowly covering water, you shouldn’t snag too often. The key to avoiding snags is not setting the hook when you get hung up. It takes some time to get a feel for it, but after a few hours deep-water jigging you’ll learn to discern between strikes versus underwater obstacles.
When you do find yourself snagged, try using the “bow and arrow” method to get off. This is done by pulling, grabbing the line just above the reel, pulling it out (to bend the rod) and then letting it snap back. The quick snap of the rod tip can often cause baits to pop out of snags.
Use A Sensitive Rod
For deep-water jigging, I prefer a spinning rod. Critical to feeling deep-water strikes are sensitive rods that are properly balanced with a high-quality reel. I like a fast-action rod with a sensitive tip. Don’t confuse sensitivity with too flexible a tip. These flimsy ends are not meant for sensing light strikes. Yes as much as strikes can be subtle, the fight can be furious, and this is where a reel with a quality drag is critical to landing fish.
Catching fat, smallmouth bass on a crisp, autumn day is one of my favorite fishing experiences. It can take some time to find smallies on an unfamiliar lake, but once you do the action is often worth the wait.
Give this approach a try this fall and get a few more weeks of open-water fishing in before the ice fishing season starts.
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