Fall has always been a time for big bites, and with the recent falling temperatures, many lakes and rivers are experiencing very good fishing for pan- and bigger gamefish.
Let’s take a look at several of the more popular fish and what you have to do to get one on the hook.
One of the favorites this time of the year is the feisty smallmouth bass. Pound-for-pound, these are the best fighting fish in fresh water. Once they realize they’ve been hooked, they’ll tail-walk their way across the surface, then dive to the bottom — making catching them really enjoyable. Although most anglers prefer the morning bite, I’ve had an equal amount of action throughout the day.
If there’s no wind, start out with a Pop-R or any of the floating hard or soft jerk baits in firetiger, clown or silver/black finishes. If the wind picks up, as it often does this time of the year, switch to suspended stick baits. Make long casts with these baits, let them sit motionless on the water a few seconds, then begin a five- or six-time twitch, then a stop-and-go retrieve.
It’s a good idea to scan the nearby water in smallmouth territory.
Often throughout the day, schools of minnows can be seen breaking the surface, generally because they’re being chased by smallies. Try to get close enough to cast into the middle of the school. Chances of getting a smallmouth or two on one lure are good. Hooking two at once is definitely exciting.
Jigging for smallmouths in the fall can also work where there’s deep structure and/or weed growth. Tie on a quarter-ounce jig head with a four- to five-inch skirted spider jig. Cast the lure into the shallows and jig it back to the boat with short five- to six-inch lift and drops. Most often, the bite will come on the drop. Color choices are many, but crawdad, smoke and green pumpkin should work.
Use this spider jig setup around prominent points dropping into deep water, bridge abutments and on both ends of river islands. Good smallmouth action can be found on the Great Sacandaga and Schroon lakes, Lake George and the upper Hudson River.
That old saying “find the bait, and you’ll find the fish” is definitely the way to plan a fall largemouth fishing day. Right now, the largemouths are beginning to actively feed to fatten up for the winter. They’ve already begun to move in from their deeper warm-weather haunts to the shallows so this is where to be concentrating a search.
Listen to Bassmaster Classic winner, Kevin Van Dam. He believes one of the crucial factors to finding fall bass is watching the weather, or specifically, the rain. Considering he’s also the leading bass fishing money leader with well over $5 million in earnings, he obviously knows what he’s saying. According to Van Dam, rain cools the water and starts bait moving into creeks, and one thing we’ve had is rain. But he also said, “Don’t be afraid to move around, especially if the weather changes.”
He likes green weeds in fall because they maintain a good oxygen level that attracts bait, followed by largemouths.
Docks are among my fall favorites. It’s amazing what a dock with very little water around it can hold. Surprisingly, some of my biggest fall bass have come from beneath shallow-water docks.
As for lure selections, there are many. In the crankbait category, I like to run a Rat-L-Trap (silver or gold) along the edge of a weed bed varying the depth of each cast until I get a bite. For jigs, I prefer a blue-black, three-eighths-ounce, living rubber, rattling jig, tipped with matching colored Zoom Bait’s Brush Hog. This works well both outside and in weeds. And last, but never least, my go-to Stik-O-Worm, rigged wacky-style. This bait works in every season. My favorite color is red shad, but I’ve caught bass on all colors.
WHERE TO GO
For good largemouth fishing right now, Lake Champlain between South Bay and Ticonderoga is hard to beat. Schuylerville angler Mike Galcik recently spent a day in that area and caught at least 25 keeper-largemouths in the two- to five-pound class, fishing in weedy water no deeper than five feet. And he used a variety of lures.
The Southern Basin of Lake George also offers the fall largemouth angler some big surprises in most of the bays. Dunham’s and Northwest bays are just a couple of the weedy bays that also have incoming creeks. And don’t forget this lake also has a great smallmouth bass population.
Saratoga Lake anglers are catching largemouths along the edges of weeds right now. Areas to try include are the edge of the sandbar in front of the Kayaderosseras Creek, Manning’s Cove and definitely Fish Creek.
The upper Hudson River largemouths are quite active now all along the various types of shoreline structure north of Stillwater. This area is producing nice three-pound-plus largemouths. And while you’re out there, don’t overlook the creek leading to Coveville’s Marina on the eastern side of the river.
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