It's funny how anglers can get so geeked up about an upcoming fishing trip that we play it out in our minds as to how we're going to catch them. When I'm headed out on a fun fishing trip to a place I haven't been for awhile, I have an idea of how I think — and hope — I'm going to catch them. But it doesn't always work out that way. That's what happened last week when I headed into northern Michigan to be a guest on the season premier of Zona's Awesome Fishing Show with Mark Zona, a fellow Michigander. The show will air Dec. 31 on the Outdoor Channel. We knew going in that conditions were right — water temperatures in the mid-50s and the smallmouth were starting to prowl the shallows.
Because I'm a power fisherman, I believed I would catch them on spinnerbaits, the Red Eye Shad, crankbaits or the King Shad — my favorite lures for this time of year. There's always a short period during the fall when the smallmouths go nuts. It's a magical moment, like that short window during deer season when the big bucks are frenzied. I really anticipated that to happen on this fishing trip, but it didn't. Don't get me wrong — we caught the fire out of the smallmouths, and Zona's crew filmed a great show. We boated multiple 4s and 5s and had doubles on occasionally.
But we had to work harder for them than we expected, as the fish were scattered. It wasn't one of those deals where you pull up on every point and immediately begin catching them. We found that the majority of fish wanted bottom bouncing lures, so we caught most of them on tubes jigs, finesse jigs and the Strike King 3-inch rodent, which is a beaver-style creature bait. We visited five lakes in a day and a half and caught them good on three of them. We made the cardinal sin of leaving fish that are biting to go to another lake where we thought we'd catch them better.
That's one of the interesting things about fishing northern Michigan for smallmouths. There are so many good lakes and they offer such variety in depth and cover. The shallower lakes cool down faster and the deeper lakes are slower to change, so you can go where you think they might bite better. Weather changes didn't help. We fished the first day in 60-degree air temperatures, but they dropped into the 30s the next day, and the wind blew to 30 mph. It also went from overcast to bright sunny skies, so we had to adjust accordingly. As good as fishing is in the northern part of my state, you have to prepare for all types of weather during the fall. Even so, you know there is always the chance that the next cast will produce a giant smallmouth and that's what keeps us coming back. Remember, it's all about the attitude.