Strategies for late Fall Bronzebacks
Rick Lawrence, October 10, 2020
One of my favorite things to do in the late fall is chase Smallies. Here on the P.O. River in N. Idaho that means falling water and current flow, as well as fairly clear water. One key to fishing Smallies in the fall is to find and fish current breaks. This may be a boulder field or and current line on an eddy in the river. Look for some kind of current break in 8 to 20 ft of water. Smallies in general will stack up just outside of the main current flow or behind a big boulder looking to ambush any stray perch or other smaller fish that swims by. My go to methods for fall are a finesse drop shot, a TuRD worm “A.K.A Ned rig” and jerkbaits. Sometimes you can still get in on a good topwater bite, but most of the time it’s a slow finesse presentation that will put fish in the boat. Since we are able to fish with 2 poles here in Idaho with the 2 pole permit license, I almost always have my dropshot rod in the water doing my drag the dropshot routine. I tie my dropshot rig with a Gammy finesse hook or circle hook in about a 1 or 1/0. I use a heavier than normal weights made from 3/16 hallow core pencil lead. I cut a piece about 2 in. long and slide it on my line and pinch it in place with my pliers. You bend a slight hook to the bottom of the weight so it slides across the rocks easier. I use quite a few different baits but in general anything that looks like a minnow will get bit. So this in my go to rig with one rod, as I can float down the bank in my favorite stretch of river, put it in the rod holder and it will fish itself. It will bounce along the bottom and be fairly hang up free. I fish this on the same side of the boat as I’m throwing a crank or jerkbait so I can keep on eye on the bait.
With my other rod I like to fish more active baits, like a jerkbait or crankbait if they are in a mood to hit them. My go to jerkbaits for fall smallies is the KVD 300 in the chrome sexy shad, the Rapala X-rap in white or the hothead color, or the Shadow-rap in a few different colors. I fish these baits fairly fast with a snap of the rod to move the bait not the reel. If you move the bait by jerking the lure on a slack line it really makes the bait jump and dart around in a way Smallies like it. Use your reel to take up your slack between your jerks. I try different patterns of jerks and pauses to see what works. Most of the time a few quick jerks with a 2 or 3 second pause will get them. In general the warmer the water the faster you won’t to work the bait. I fish jerkbaits even in the dead of winter for Smallies you just have to slow it way down.
Sometime you will find them willing to chase crankbaits and then they do I only have a few that I really like. My #1 of all time has to be the Rebel deep wee craw. In moss green or ditch brown. I have caught so many big fall smallies on this bait. Another bait that I have been using a lot more lately is the DT6 in the red craw and blue craw color. This is pretty much a cast it out and retrieve kind of bait, but they do work really well at times. Some other baits I like are the live Target deep diver craw and the Berkley Frenzy crankbaits.
Most fall evening you can get into a good topwater bite if the water temps are still in the 60 deg. or above range. The best topwater bait for Smallies hands down is a good popper. I like the Pop R as they spit water like crazy and the Brownies love them. As with a jerkbait you need to figure out the cadence the fish want between pauses and twitches. Most of the time a will twitch the bait twice let it sit for a few seconds, than twitch it 3 times let it sit. Sometimes you have to let it sit for up to 10 seconds for them to make up their minds to hit it. Let the fish tell you what they want by seeing what works.
If they won’t hit top water or a jerkbait, I use my fall back finesse presentation the Turd worm with “My SECRET” lift and drop technique. Smallies reallllly love this, especially when the bite is tough. I don’t cast this rig very far as they snag very easily, and the P.O. is full of hazards. I make short cast or drop it straight under the boat if the water is a little on the deeper side. I let the bait free fall to the bottom and as soon as you see you line stop lift the bait up about 3 to 4 feet and let it drop again. Smallies will hit it as it falls and the next time to go to lift it will be heavy and most of the time that will be a fish. You can also fish tubes and dropshots this way and find success when you couldn’t get many fish keeping the bait on the bottom.
So give this method a try the next time you’re out on the water.