Turtlenecks, wool socks & long johns

I’m up on Lake Champlain in New York chasing smallmouth. It’s a great time of the year to do that. The water’s cooling and they’re feeding like crazy. But, in order to enjoy the action, you have to be ready for any kind of weather.

My preference is to wear turtleneck sweaters on top. They keep my upper chest warm and keep the air from blowing down my neck. The wool socks are obvious as are the long johns. The problem is, though, that by noon or so I usually want to switch to shorts and a tee shirt, at least until the sun starts going down.

The fish act the same way. It doesn’t take many cool nights and short days to start the baitfish moving. That, of course, starts the smallies moving. My experience at the Open on Lake Erie illustrates that quite well.

On the second day, I was on the trolling motor when we lost our bite. I told my partner to watch the graph and tell me when we'd moved one contour line shallower. He did that, and I found our bass within a few minutes. I ended up with a really good sack, not good enough to make the Saturday cut but pretty good nonetheless.

That move was around 5 feet. That might not sound like much when the bass are at 25 feet but it’s enough to keep you from finding and catching them. Keep that in mind if you’re smallmouth fishing this fall. If the fish seem to have moved, go shallower not deeper. You’re more likely to have success.

There’s another thing about smallmouth fishing up north, especially if you’re fishing big water. Respect the weather. When the wind starts blowing up here it can get nasty in a very short period of time. Nasty in this context means life-threatening. Mother Nature doesn’t feel sorry for anyone.

Modern bass boats are marvels of engineering and technology. They’re also made out of fiberglass and have very little freeboard. That gunwale that rides right along the water’s surface is nice when you’re bass fishing but not so nice if you get caught crossways in heavy rollers.

Whenever I start to think I’ve got one of these lakes, I take a moment to think about the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. She sank in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, during a massive winter storm. All 29 hands were lost. It happened so quick she didn’t even make a distress call. They found an oil slick and a few pieces of debris.

True, it’s not winter. Nevertheless, if 29 professional sailors couldn’t keep a 729 foot ship afloat how can we expect to keep a bass boat afloat by ourselves even if fall storms aren’t as bad as winter storms, and even if all lakes aren’t as dangerous as Superior. Tell people you’re a “heavy weather sailor” from the dock.

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