Fall Feeding Frenzy
This is my favorite time of year for smallmouth bass fishing. I have always enjoyed the cooler temperatures, and fresher air fall brings. I refer to this time of year, as the "fall feeding frenzy." No other time in the season is the smallmouth so predacious. Bass instinctively know that their feeding ability is about to end with the cooling waters, and they are determined to "get their fill" before the blistering cold winds of fall ushers in winter.
by Dennis P. Udlinek
After the first freeze, about mid-September, the declining water temperature spells an urgency that fills every waking thought of the smallmouth. They begin to seek prey constantly, eating two to three times their normal diet; building a layer a fat to help them get through the slim months of winter. Through late October, smallmouth gorge themselves for the long winter's layover. Once "Jack Frost" has gone his merry way, and "Old Man Winter" takes over, bass in northern climates depend mostly on their fall harvest to get them through until the warming waters of spring.
Bass are a warm-water species that requires a warm-water environment to keep an active metabolism. The warmer temperature enables them to actively pursue food. Inversely, when the water temperature drops below 45 degree's, bass become unable to move about freely because of their lowered metabolism. This increases the difficulty they have feeding. For this reason, when fall's cooler weather comes, and the water temperature begins to drop, bass instinctively begin their "fall feeding frenzy." They know that their survival depends on them preparing for the long winter with a "full belly."
The fall feeding habits of the smallmouth make it a gamy sport fish, and catching them this time of year requires little preparation. Many artificial lures are effective during this time of year because Mr. Smallmouth is obsessed with feeding, and anything even closely resembling forage will likely be in danger of being eaten. Moving frequently, the smallmouth will range with his feeding habits from shallow to deep depths to locate food. With that in mind I like to use baits that cover a lot of area.
Shallow diving crankbaits are good lures for initially finding the fish. By imitating injured bait fish these lures help me locate where there may be a school of actively feeding bass. Once I find a school, I will either use a light jig, tube-bait or Carolina-rigged leach to probe the depths. I usually use lighter rigged plastics in the thirty second to quarter ounce size. Remember, the reason for the lighter baits is the water temperature. As the temperature begins to drop along with the metabolism of the fish, the feeding activity of the bass will be decided by the most opportune feed. A slow falling morsel is hard to resist for a sluggish but hungry smallmouth. The most effective bait depends mostly on locating the bass.
Presentation is also important in fall bass fishing. When the water temperature first begins to decline, bass become more interested in easy prey. The top-water bait is probably the most vulnerable lure there is to a stalking smallmouth. When bass are extremely shallow, I enjoy fishing top-water with shallow diving plugs called "jerkbaits or stickbaits." I prefer to use these because they float on the surface like a top-water, but when retrieved dive like a crankbait. The lure allows for a top-water presentation, and by twitching the bait on the surface in staggered motions, will often entice a strike.
If that technique does not work, slowly retrieve the lure occasionally stopping it's shallow diving in a "jerking motion" then hesitate before continuing with the retrieve. This method will sometimes lure in a surface weary smallmouth often getting a strike when the bait is stationary. If you have a short strike (miss by the swipe of the fish), continue to work the lure slowly back towards you, keeping in mind where there is one lurking smallmouth, there are usually more.
Once you have discovered some feeding bass, remain in the area, because bass tend to school in fall and winter months so where there is one ravaging smallmouth there could be many. Sometimes, even in a feeding frenzy, smallmouth get lure shy, so it helps to change your lure presentation, and bait when the bass feeding begins to slow.
Often encouraged by something different, bass regain interest when they think something else has availed itself to their growing hunger. Fall is a premier time for fishing. There is also no better time to appreciate the changing of the season than while you're out on your favorite lake, pond, or river. Watching geese, and ducks as they pass on their way south to a warmer climate. Observing all of natures many wonders as they begin their own seasonal rituals only adds to the beauty of smallmouth fishing during the "fall feeding frenzy."