The mashed potatoes were still warm on my plate when I asked for a show of hands from those seated around the table as to whether they favored mayonnaise or Miracle Whip on their turkey sandwiches.
The annual meal of thanks I treasure during my favorite holiday of the year hadn’t even reached pumpkin pie, and yet there I sat, a smallmouth addict thinking about how good the next day’s sandwiches would taste on a sunny post-Thanksgiving day that would surely have them chewin’.
Sure enough, as I made my way down the first rocky shoreline the next morning talking about an old episode of Mark Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show in which his special guest Bob Cobb caught a nice smallie on that very same bank – magic happened! A 4-pound Smallmouth slammed my crankbait and jumped like a porpoise out of the 60-degree water within feet of where Mr. Cobb landed his fish that day several years ago for Zona’s cameras.
Don’t get in a Hurry
There’s no need to launch in the dark of 6:30 a.m. and risk freezing your fingers off to catch a big smallie this time of year. They’ll bite all day in late November – so nobody’s gonna take your man card if you wait until it warms up later in the morning to launch and make your day more enjoyable.
And here’s one I stress most – much like we want the bird to hurry up and finish baking in anticipation of the annual feast – typically speaking, until water surface temps finally fall to about 60-degrees, experience has taught me the big ones simply aren’t ready to bite.
Chicken or the Egg – Shad or the Smallmouth
I don’t know who comes first. I don’t know if the shad are already shallow, and then the bigger smallmouth go to the bank to eat them. Or … are the smallmouth sent shallow by the cooler water temps and simply gorging on any shad in the vicinity?
I’m not sure it matters. Just know they’re eating shad, and if you can find a shoreline with evidence of shad present, then buckle your chinstrap because you’re definitely in the game.Hint: Gulls will often circle and dive on shad this time of year to tip off the presence of shallow shad.
There’s No Wrong Lure as Long as It’s a Crankbait
I’m kidding. Late autumn smallmouth can certainly be caught by dragging a jig, and much the opposite – with a topwater. But for once, let’s not make it complicated. Tie on a variety of shallow to medium-running crankbaits you have the most confidence in, and know with a high degree of certainty, that one of them is sure to get eaten.
My favorites include a crawfish colored Wiggle Wart, a lipless rattling bait like the classic Rat-L-Trap or Strike King’s Red Eye Shad, a tough-to-beat Bandit 200 series, and Rapala’s DT series ranging from their DT6 to their DT14.
As my lure arsenal indicates, post Thanksgiving cranking for smallmouth is a full contact sport played out in mostly shallow water. I’m targeting depths ranging from a foot of water against the rocky shorelines, to a maximum depth of about 10-feet.
At times it’s a secondary point, and on other occasions I’m simply going down the bank making 45-degree casts. But I’ll say this, I’m never in one spot for long – running as much water as I can, sorting through fairly plentiful 14-inchers, with hopes of finding fish in that 4- to 6-pound class that make lasting memories for years to come.
Try Two Gear Ratios
Kevin VanDam insists on a 5.3:1 reel for all of his crankbait fishing. And when “The Man” speaks – you listen. So with the larger baits like the Rapala DT14, I certainly use the new large spooled Quantum Smoke HD in a 5.3:1 for making longer casts across the slightly deeper points with the larger lures.
However, I will mix in a slightly faster 6.6:1 when working the smaller lures like the Bandit 200 shallower. I swear that little increase in speed triggers reaction bites when the Smallmouth are hammering shad around shallow rocks.
I use ‘old skool’ very affordable Berkley Big Game in 12-pound test on all my cranking reels. It’s highly abrasion resistant around gnarly rocks, it stretches in a healthy way when a bronze brute eats, and it behaves well on a spool.