Late Fall is the sweet spot for smallmouth bass fishing in the Northeast. Water temperatures are cool enough to drive smallies to concentrate over offshore humps and ridges, but not so cold as to curb their appetites.
If you’re like most bass fishermen, you probably have a couple of blade baits you bought years ago, fished once or twice with little or no success, and tossed in a forgotten corner of the basement. Now is the time to dust them off!
Vertical jigging with blade baits is one of the most fun and effective ways to catch late-fall smallies. These baits mimic the death throes of the cold-killed alewives that create a feast for smallies this time of year. Even in lakes without alewives, blades are still effective, as they can imitate juvenile perch, sunfish, and even crayfish.
The trick to catching on blade baits is not to overwork them. An angler who is new to fishing blades tends to fish them with big sweeps of the rod, causing the bait to jump 4 to 6 feet off the bottom. The most successful blade fishermen lift their rods just enough to feel the blade kick a couple of times. Making this adjustment will improve your blade bait success ten-fold.
Keeping regular contact with the bottom is crucial, so when targeting deep smallies, you’ll need blade baits from ½ to 1 ounce. There are a number of excellent blade baits on the market, including the Bass Pro Shops XPS Lazer Blade, Binsky Vibrating Blade, and the Johnson Thinfisher. In lakes with alewives, use silver blades. In lakes without alewives, gold or perch-colored blades will be your best bet.
You won’t always be able to mark the smallmouth on your fishfinder. In fact, marking fish is the exception, not the rule. Most of the time, late-fall smallies sit with their bellies on the bottom, so don’t let a blank screen discourage you. Drift over the structure, making sure to mark the places where you hook up. Sometimes the fish are scattered over a large area and you can make long drifts; other times, the bass are concentrated in one spot, and you’ll benefit by using your trolling motor to stay over them. If you find a big concentration of smallies, toss over a marker buoy to help you stay on the spot in case a gust of November wind blows you off course.
The vertical jigging bite is best in the morning and again in the late afternoon. At midday, the bass may turn off the blades, but switching to a finesse presentation like a drop-shot rig will keep the bite going.