Fall brings a reawakening to smallmouth bass
Fishing at North Carolina’s Lake James this month can be “one of the best of the year,” according to guide Colt Bass of Colt Bass Fishing. “After being so hot all summer, everything starts to cool again. As that happens, the smallmouth bass come back to life.”
When the water temperature falls into the lower 70s, good things begin to happen. Fish that were once 30 to 40 feet deep move into the shallows to feed before the coming of winter. The fishing continues to improve until the water temperature drops below 59 degrees.
Topwater action can be explosive but short-lived. Surprisingly, it often occurs during mid-day after the sun has warmed the water, activating the shad.
Long casts with a Spook Jr. or Pop-R are needed to reach the fish and to avoid spooking them. Anglers should have these baits already tied on so they can cast immediately into the schooling fish.
If Bass has clients with limited casting skills, he fishes the surface with live bait using clear planer boards. The clear boards are critical because of the mountain lake’s clear water.
For non-schooling fish, Bass slow-trolls, using live shad on a Carolina rig. He fishes several rods paired with Ambassadeur 6500 reels housing 10- to 12-pound line. Shad are impaled upon No. 2/0 circle hooks to do as little damage to the fish as possible for a good release.
Try different depths until you have them dialed in
“I fish a few rods at different depths until I find a pattern to key in on,” Bass said. “Then, I will usually fine-tune the rods to a specific depth that’s working on that particular day.”
Bass said he focuses upon bait and structure in his search for October bass.
“As far as structure goes, I’ll be looking for ledges, humps and shoals that offer a quick shallow- to deep-water access,” he said. “Throw some big pods of forage into any of these, and you’ve got one heck of a day of fishing.”
Bass said current has little effect on his approach to fishing.
“Occasionally, a wind will set up fish on one side of a point or shoal. But other than that, current has little effect,” said Bass.
Fishermen once favored the Linville River arm with its clearer, cooler water over the turbid Catawba River arm. But smallmouth bass have become about evenly distributed throughout the lake’s 6,500 acres.
“Fish will be everywhere on the lake,” Bass said.
While most of the smallmouth bass at James weigh under 2 pounds, the lake holds some hefty bronzebacks weighing 4 to 5 pounds.