There’s a chill in the air this week at Lake James, not too many boats on the lake, and plenty of smallmouth bass that are biting. Those three factors add up to some great fishing, according to guide Colt Bass of Colt Bass Fishing.

“The fishing is going to be good until we get a hard, hard cold front and winter weather,” said Bass, who lives in Collettsville. “That’s when they’ll go a little deeper on the main body of the lake.”

This past Monday, Bass started at daylight in the Canal Bridge area, the man-made canal that joins the Catawba River and Linville River arms of the 6,812-acre reservoir at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, 1,200 feet above sea level at its twin dam, which were finished in 1923.

“Canal Bridge is a natural funnel; I like to fish in here for a couple of hours every morning because the smallmouth bass move in here to feed before spreading back out,” he said. “The bottom is just like a hog back in here – up and down, up and down.”

Bass struck gold about an hour after putting our four live gizzard shad, easing around the south side of Canal Bridge, crossing back and forth and up and down the narrow ditch. A 4 ½-pound smallmouth grabbed one of the shad and put on a show, clearing the water several times before Bass was able to slide him into the net.

That event repeated itself several times before Bass cleared out of the canal, with bronzebacks in the 2- to 2 ½-pound range latching on to his live baits. After that, Bass headed to the deeper, clearer Linville arm of the lake to troll No. 6 Shad Raps, Sutton spoons and Luhr-Jensen Loco spoons for smallmouths and white perch, adding several more to the day’s catch.

“This is really striper fishing for smallmouth bass,” said Bass, who guides for stripers on Lake Hickory, Lake Rhodhiss and Lake Norman. “There are a lot of techniques for catching stripers that work on this lake. Fish are fish, no matter what they are and where they are.”

In the Canal Bridge area, Bass (828-381-3426) fished live baits behind Original Clear Board planer boards and on down lines, spacing his baits at different depths behind his center-console on Ugly Stick striper rods with ABU Garcia 6500 reels. He trolled using downriggers and leadcore line, fishing four rods at a time. Two lines got double rigs with Shad Raps and spoons on 12- and 18-inch leaders tied to a three-way swivel; one of the other lines got a Shad Rap and the last line got a spoon.

“Some days all your bites will come on the Shad Raps and some days, all of them will come on the spoons,” said Bass, who likes bright colors like chartreuse, orange and pink. “This lake is so deep and so clear; I think the fish get so deep that natural colors don’t show up as well.”

-For a different take on North Carolina smallmouth fishing, click here.