Lake James smallies crank up as water temperature drops

When October temperatures get nippy, guide Colt Bass of Colt Bass Fishing knows the impending cool-down will prompt the smallmouth at North Carolina’s picturesque Lake James to move from their deep, summer holes into shallower water to begin feeding up for the winter.

“The fishing starts getting really good when the water temperature dips to 73 degrees, and it keeps getting better and better as the water temperature drops into the lower 60s,” said Bass ( “The fishing slows when the water temperature plunges to 59 degrees or lower.”

Shallow is a relative term when it comes to smallmouth, as  these brown fish typically favor deeper water than largemouth bass, even when they move into lesser depths.

“As far as depth, it varies,” said Bass. “The fish can be anywhere from the surface to 30 feet of water.”

To make fishing more challenging, smallmouth bass are everywhere at James, which covers 6,500 acres.

Historically, smallmouth fishermen targeted the Linville River arm of the lake with its clearer, cooler water, over the turbid Catawba River arm. But fish are now distributed throughout the lake, so past history can no longer be trusted.

“There’s no specific area on the lake that I fish for smallmouth,” Bass said.

What Bass does fish is underwater structure, especially any rocky irregularities along channels, ledges, points and the lake bottom. Brush piles along the structure are a bonus.

“I start out every trip fishing the surface with live bait using Trophy Ridge Original clear planer boards,” Bass said. “The clear boards are very important on Lake James because James is very clear.”

He uses the crappie model of the planer boards to match the smaller baits he uses, usually shiners. He complements the planer boards with several down lines in deeper water.

His outfits consist of 7-foot, medium action Ugly Stik rods and Abu Garcia 6500 reels spooled with 14-pound line. The main line is connected to a 12-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to a No. 3/0 circle hook. His egg sinkers weigh from 1/2-ounce to 2 ounces, depending upon the depths sampled and the wind.

“All baits are hooked through the nose,” Bass said.

As the day progresses, Bass adjusts his rigs to match depths he’s getting bites.

While the majority of the smallmouth bass at James weigh under 2 pounds, the lake holds some chunks in the 4- to 5-pound range.

Whatever their weight, smallmouth bass provide a bigger fight than their size would indicate.

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