Smallmouth bass are on a great bite at Lake James this month

Smallmouth bass will bite a variety of lures presented in a variety of ways at Lake James this month. (Picture by Colt Bass Fishing)

North Carolina fishermen don’t have to fantasize about leaping smallmouth bass from northern waters or distant Canadian lakes.

They can catch quality smallmouth up to 5 pounds at 6,800-acre Lake James in the Foothills west of Morganton.

Better yet, locating smallmouth haunts at James is less daunting than searching for smallmouth hangouts in massive waters like 107-mile-long Lake Champlain or 241-mile-long Lake Erie.

Guide Colt Bass of Colt Bass Fishing said another boon is that in October, one of the best months for smallies, there’s really not much you can’t do to catch fish; they’ll strike a variety of baits and lures fished in a variety of ways.

“It will vary each day, from throwing crankbaits, casting spoons, jigging spoons and Flukes to fishing with live bait,” said Bass (, who selects artificial baits in more natural colors because of James’ clear water but occasionally opts for lures in crazy, bright colors to trigger bites.

Bass said his October strategy involves employing his electronics to look for ledges and humps in water as deep as 60 to 70 feet — but with shallow water close by. These deep, mid-lake humps and ledges are readily exposed to fishermen with side-scan units.

“I’ll sit in the deep water and fan-cast a variety of baits into water as shallow as 2 to 3 feet,” he said. “There’s a lot of new shad in the water this month, and the smallmouth love to push them out of deeper water up into the shallow water to eat them.”

Bass uses a 7-foot, medium-action rod and a reel spooled with 12- to 14-pound clear monofilament. If fan-casting doesn’t produce, Bass searches for smallies suspended in 20 to 49 feet of water and tries for them with a small jigging spoon.

If all else fails, he switches to live bait.

“I may drop a 3- to 4-inch live bait on a Carolina rig with a 1/0 circle hook a few feet above the school I’m marking,” said Bass, whose typical October trips will produce five to 10 smallmouths.

Smallmouth fishing has remained stable at James with no observable changes in the past 5 years, he said. Years ago, the Catawba River arm of the lake harbored more largemouth bass and the Linville River arm, more smallmouth bass. Now both species have become distributed throughout James.

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