The bite is picking up in the river. Smallmouth are starting to get the idea that fall is here. They will be a little easier to catch as the fishing pressure slows down, since many anglers are now in hunting mode.
A variety of things will catch bass now. A plain old spinner in size 2 or 3, silver or gold, is often as good as anything, and don’t be surprised if you catch some walleyes on the spinner, too. A little-known walleye tactic is to add a half of a nightcrawler to the treble hook of a spinner. Walleyes can be enthusiastic for this set-up at times.
If the water is fairly clear, senkos work well into the fall. Rigged wacky or Texas-style, dead drift them with the current and pay attention because they will swallow them. Set the hook at the first sign of a take.
Senkos, spiders and tubes work well throughout the year, but after a summer of dipping around with soft plastics, I like to get aggressive and throw more hardware.
Spinnerbaits and buzzbaits will get some aggressive strikes in the fall, especially if the water is a little off-color, which it will be at some point.
Sometimes you have to play around with details like blade and skirt color, but when you get the combination right, fall smallies will try to tear your spinnerbait rod out of your hands.
A good starting point with spinnerbaits is silver and gold blades with a white skirt. Some days they may want silver blades more than gold or visa versa. The white skirt is universal, but with cloudier water they may want some chartreuse in it. If the water is clear, they may want a smoke or shad-colored skirt.
The same goes for buzzbaits. I’ve always had good luck with a buzzbait with a white skirt, but I know many who fish only black or chartreuse skirts on their buzzbaits. Buzzbaits may not catch a lot of fish, but when a big one commits to eating it, you’ll know it. You won’t have to worry about if you had a bite or not.
One of my favorite ways to fish after the water starts to cool is with jerkbaits. You can “jerk” any minnow-shaped plug, but the one that work best are suspending, minnow baits like x-raps, lucky crafts, jackals and husky jerks. I like to use a fairly stiff rod and give the lure a couple of hard jerks, then let it drift motionless.
The fun of this is how hard a smallie will hit it, usually on the drift. Color and speed usually play into having a successful day with jerkbaits. Try different colors, sizes and retrieve speeds until you zone in on them.
A black-and-silver or black-and-gold xrap is a good place to start, and I’ve had many days where I didn’t have to change from those 2 lures. As the water gets colder, it often works to give the lure longer pauses between jerks.
Walleyes like jerkbaits, too, and I often target walleye with them. Walleyes tend to be picky when it comes to color, so if you are after walleyes, try different color schemes until you find what they want for that day. Walleyes are notorious for killing something one day, then wanting something entirely different the next.
Don’t put your fishing rods away, the best fishing of the year is about to happen.
Ken Maurer, Herndon, is a licensed fishing guide and a regular contributor to the outdoors page. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.