The kids went back to school last week, and Michigan's cooler weather has leaves starting to turn colors. That means good things are about to happen for northern anglers — the smallmouth bass action is about to fire up.
As much as I love spring fishing, nothing compares to fishing the northern Michigan lakes during the fall. It is truly trophy time for big smallies! Two weeks ago, our family joined Mark Zona's for a vacation in the Traverse City area. We spent most of the time just kicking back and spending time with the kids. Like Sherry and me, Mark and Karin have twin boys (Hunter and Jakob) and our kids (Jackson and Nicholas) have a ball with them. The boys caught some good smallies on that trip even though the bass hadn't made the move to shallow water. The fish were scattered, yet we managed to catch a fair number between 2 and 5 pounds. The weather made a drastic change the week we came home. Nights got cooler — into the 40s — and that's what triggers those smallmouth to move shallower for the fall feed.
Once water temperatures get into the 60s, it's game on! That movement happens quicker than most anglers realize and can happen overnight. When it does, hungry smallmouth roam across the shallows in wolf packs and oftentimes by size. During the summer you might catch 12 inchers mixed with 4- and 5-pounders, but during fall you may catch four or five big smallies on consecutive casts! You'll find them on the biggest flats adjacent to main lake structure. Wind makes it better; smallies love the wind.
Oddly enough, sunny days help, too, because sun positions fish tighter to subtle dropoffs or on weed patches and dark spots of a sandy bottom. During cloudy days, they tend to scatter over the flats, making it more difficult to locate them. Smallmouth are very nomadic and constantly on the move. You may have to fish a lot of areas to find them, but when you do it's awesome. On a good day, it's not unusual to catch 30 and have your five best weigh over 20 pounds. Another reason this time of year excites me is power tactics — spinnerbaits and crankbaits — are in play.
My favorite fall spinnerbait is a 3/4-ounce KVD Scorcher that allows me to make long casts, fish fast over shallows yet deeper along the drops. Chartreuse and white is a tough color to beat. If the bass are holding on deeper edges, I'll use a Series 5 crankbait. If they're shallow, a crawfish Red Eye Shad is a killer. While they will chase baitfish in the fall, crawfish are their primary focus. What happens in Michigan happens across the Great Lakes region where you'll see some fabulous scenery. The lakes are void of pleasure boaters which makes it even more enjoyable. The weather can be raw at times, but smallmouth don't mind. And if you're catching big ones, neither will you! Remember, it's all about the attitude.