We need to talk a little about how forage moves and how we’ll marry it with fish movements. The first thing to consider is water levels. Other than water temperature — which has been covered in a previous column — it’s the most important factor.
Sometimes in the fall, water levels move up. When they do, it’s almost always caused by rain. That means you’re dealing with two things that really enhance each other. First, high water levels move the forage shallow. Exactly why is a mystery, though I think it’s probably because there’s more plankton and tiny vegetation available shallow. That pushes the baitfish shallow. Of course, the smallmouth move shallow, too. They want to be where the food is.
The other thing that rain does is put color in the water. That offers the smallmouth some measure of protection which encourages them to hunt where it’s easier to trap and kill prey.
Low fall water levels do just the opposite. They pull the baitfish and other forage out, off the bank, where there’s more depth. We humans like to think that’s because the fish are afraid of running out of water. I’d say it has more to do with the food chain I talked about just a minute ago, but you never know.
Low water levels also have a tendency to clear the water. That makes it harder for the smallmouth to hunt and makes them more visible to the creatures that want to eat them. Clear water lets sunlight penetrate deeper, and we all know smallmouth bass do not like sunlight. Heck, most of the time they don’t even like moonlight. That’s as close to a universal rule as exists.
What’s happening is that the forge is either moving shallow or deep depending upon conditions. That affects how the fish will move. They’ll still stay on one bank, and the big ones will still move more than the little ones. But they’ll find water that puts them near their forage. It’s all they know to do.
If there’s a channel running alongside their bank they might stay to the shallow side or to the deep side of it. They won’t cross the lake but they won’t move haphazardly, either. They will always follow the forage and move in relation to the same bank. That’s why you always have to look at the big picture.
Think about what the forage is doing and then try to marry it with what you know about how the fish are moving. It isn’t as hard as it sounds. Start with the bank and then look at the forage. After that give some thought as to how and why the fish will move. Do that and you should be able to find some pretty good ones before winter sets in.
This process is universal. It’ll work wherever you fish for smallmouth. Brown bass don’t know where they live. They only know what Mother Nature gave them to survive. Take advantage of that.