In a few weeks, the mountains of western North Carolina will be crawling with leaf watchers who will look up at the beauty and most likely miss the action going on down below at Lake Fontana. Guide James McManus of 153 Charters Fishing spends most of the fall trolling the depths of Fontana and tempting a number of species.

“This time of year you can find a lot of spotted bass schooling at or near the surface, so I want to make sure that I have at least one or two baits in my trolling spread in the upper column,” said McManus (828-421-8125). “The shad spawned late this year so a lot of the baitfish the bass are keying on are in the 1½- to 2-inch range.”

Smallmouth bass typically hold at the same depth level through October. While smallies can be quite aggressive, it usually takes a little more finesse to hook up with a smallmouth than their cousins the spotted bass.

“We target the spots and smallmouth about the same way, using side planers and freelines. A small umbrella rig trolled behind a side planer can tear up the spots and smallmouth,” said McManus. “They see that small pod of bait skipping along and it’s more than they can resist.”

White bass tend to hold deeper than the black bass but are readily caught using either trolled baits behind downriggers or lead core line fished at the  60- to 70-foot depths. White bass are a notorious schooling fish, so where you find one, there will always be more close by.

“White bass sort of hold the middle ground between the spots and smallmouth and the walleye down below,” said McManus. “They are great fighters and you can catch numbers of them when you find the right school.”

Lurking in the depths during the late summer and early fall, walleye are a favorite of McManus’ and he uses two depth controlled downrigger balls to target the light sensitive fish.

“You typically find walleye in the 80- to 100-foot depth range this time of year,” said McManus. “They like to hold on the drop at the very end of long points and deep humps. The good thing about this lake and fishing for walleye is there is very little structure, no trees like you’ll find in other lakes to hang up your downriggers.”

“Catching fish is just a matter of putting out baits at all levels, cranking up the motor and start trolling,” he said. “What more could you want on a nice fall day, beautiful scenery and fish willing to bite.”

View McManus’ trolling tactics on this video.