by Juan Veruete Kayak Fish PA, LLC
Fall is time when smallmouth are feeding veraciously preparing for the long lean winter. It’s also a time of rapidly changing weather that effects smallmouth location and feeding behavior. This means anglers will need to be ready to fish a lot of different types of water and depths. Here’s a quick run down of baits that will enable you to fish in a variety of depths and water conditions. During the fall, it is particularly important for river smallmouth anglers to have the ability to cover the top,middle, and bottom of the water column.
#1 Soft Jerkbaits (middle of the water column)
Soft jerkbaits are extremely versatile and therefore are one of my favorite fall baits. You can use soft jerkbaits to catch smallmouth that are chasing and attacking baitfish aggressively by skittering it across the top of the water or using fast jerks with a low rod tip. When smallmouth are in a more neutral feeding mood, the bait can be deadsticked with excellent results. Bottom line, this bait can be fished extremely fast, at medium speeds, at variable speeds or with no movement at all. That’s why it gets the number one spot!
Some common soft jerkbaits are the Slug-go, Zoom Flukes, and my favorite Winco’s Darter series of soft jerkbaits. The weight of the Darter series baits makes them easy to cast. Long casts are critical in the clear waters that typically comes with fall fishing.
#2 Tube Baits (bottom of the water column)
Sometimes fall smallmouth will move into deep ledge trenches and go into a more neutral feeding mood. When this happens anglers need a presentation that can get down deeper and be fished very slow. Enter the tube baits. There are a variety of rigs you can use but I usually keep it simple and rig mine on a 1/8 oz. internal tube jig head. The bait can be crawled along the bottom mimicking a crayfish. No self respecting smallmouth will pass up this presentation!
Many soft bait companies make tube baits. Companies like Venom, Strike King, Yum, and Winco’s Custom Lures offer some great tubes. Winco’s new Tasty Tube Jr. is worth a look. It has thinner profile than most tubes on the market and is great when a more finesse style presentation is needed.
#3 Walk-The-Dog Baits (top of the water column)
I was never a big fan of walk-the-dog lures for smallmouth until four years ago when I started using what I call “hybrid” walk-the-dog lures. This is really my terminology but it refers to baits that have a slightly concave face similar to a popper. The concave design makes a subtle splash during the w-t-d presentation that drives smallmouth crazy.
Remember to try varying retrieves when using these baits. Sometimes a constant w-t-d presentation is the ticket. Other times a few walks and letting the bait sit will draw vicious strikes. Very few companies make ‘hybrid” walk-the-dog baits. Two of my favorites are Storm’s Chug Bug and Winco’s Wink’s Walker.
Of course, I take a few more baits along with me when I fish. I jokingly call my kayak the “floating tackle shop”. One thing is for sure, I always make certain these three baits are tied on or within quick reaching distance when I hit the river in fall!