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Mastering BIG Fall Smallmouth Bass

Expert instruction on how to find and catch heavyweight smallmouth bass on the Great Lakes and other big-water destinations during autumn.

Great Lakes Finesse Smallmouth BassGreat Lakes Finesse Smallmouth Bass

“They’re just smarter,” Dan Miguel said about the extra-large Great Lakes smallmouth bass that are the fish he’s truly targeting any time he has a rod in hand. The context was the value of a long rod for an extra-long cast because the biggest fish typically hit the furthest from the boat. However, that core truth backs his entire approach, as a smallmouth bass angler and as brand manager of Great Lakes Finesse.

Fall brings outstanding opportunities to catch big smallmouth bass from big-water destinations like Lake Ontario, which is Miguel’s “home lake.” However, success requires an understanding of the season and the fish’s behavior and an approach built from that understanding. Success fooling the largest fish demands attention to fine details with baits and presentations. We spoke with Miguel about his fall approach for big smallmouth bass, because it’s the sort of stuff that consumes his thoughts – all day, every day.

Fall Smallmouth Behavior

Smallmouth on Great Lakes Finesse Drop MinnowSmallmouth on Great Lakes Finesse Drop Minnow

Miguel noted that because of the vastness of the Great Lakes and variance in character in different areas, conditions and consequential fish movements and behavior won’t be the same everywhere. Currently, shallower areas that have more islands are cooling faster, leading to more panfish and minnows moving shallower and the smallmouth following and relating to that kind of forage.

As fall sets in, many anglers opt to stay with the deep fish they have been catching, figuring out how to adjust as the fish’s moods change. Largely overlooked, from Miguel’s observation, is an excellent opportunity to catch smallmouth shallow this time of year.

“If the water is clear, look around at the launch. If you see minnows and a lot of life at the launch, that means there will be a shallow bite,” Miguel said.

An important characteristic about fall and shallow fish – and probably one that dissuades many anglers from persisting long enough – is that they really congregate. That means a lot of good seeming areas don’t hold many fish, sometimes making it seem like the fish aren’t shallow. Days often begin with search time.

Finding the Shallow Smallmouth Bite

Fall weather is fickle. It can be cold or hot, and swings can happen daily or extend several days. Baitfish and predators move up and down in the water column with changing conditions and therefore favor points and other sloping features that allow them to find a comfortable zone without traveling far.

Miguel focuses on points and other structures that bridge shallow and deep water and banks adjacent to those structures. He also considers areas the fish use during spring. He recalls learning from an In-Fisherman graphic many years ago that many fish spend the summer deep and return to the same shallow areas where they spawned in the spring to feed during fall, and he has found that to be true through the years.

Most importantly, he searches a LOT of areas, staying on the move, because of the way fish congregate at this time. He watches for life in the water and continually searches with his electronics. However, his primary search tool is his bait – which is a Great Lakes Finesse Sneaky Underspin rigged with a GLF Drop Minnow.

“They really key in on little young-of-the-year minnows at that time, and the Sneaky Underspin is perfect for mimicking those,” Miguel said. If there are feeding smallmouth in a spot, he is confident in finding them with the Sneaky Underspin.

The presentation is simple. He makes as long a cast as possible and just reels back slowly and steadily. Miguel is mostly fishing in less than 10 feet with this approach and wanting to keep the presentation slow, so the 3/16-ounce Sneaky Underspin is his go-to. If he wants to move the bait a bit faster or work deeper, he’ll switch to the 5/16-ouce size.

Dissecting an Area

trophy smallmouth bass in nettrophy smallmouth bass in net

For the same reason Miguel stays on the move until he finds fish, when he starts catching them, he slows w-a-y down. It would be easy to catch one and keep moving and go right past what would have been a goldmine. After catching even a single good fish, he’ll make several casts to that structure or bank from different angles before moving, and if he catches more, which he often will, it’s time to set up shop!

Earlier this week, Miguel had a couple of hours to fish and fortunately found the bass quickly. He caught numerous big smallmouth and never moved outside a 150-yard-long area.

“I spend a lot of time just fan casting with the trolling motor on Spot-Lock this time of year,” he said. “You want to really dissect an area, working everything from different angles and using different presentations.

If the water is calm, Miguel often will turn to a Cindy rig, which is an ultra-finesse soft plastic (usually a Drop Minnow) on a GLF Stealth Ball Jig Head, cast and reeled slowly, with zero added action with the rod, and kept above the smallmouth. No matter how fussy the fish might be any given day, if they are feeding on small baitfish, they have a hard time resisting a Cindy rig.

As Miguel works an area, he’ll mix it some drop shot presentations to fish closer to the bottom, slow things even more, and work very specific spots. His key drop shot baits are GLF Drop Worm and Flat Cat. Keeping both a Cindy rig or Sneaky Underspin and a drop shot handy and mixing things up allows Miguel to appeal to different fish in the same area and more fully dissect that area.

Finally, if the bottom is mostly clear of vegetation or other snags, Miguel will pull out one more trick when the bite slows. He’ll rig a Snack Craw on a Stealth Ball Jig Head and drag it slowly along the bottom letting it find every contour in the rocks. Often, that will yield more fish after the bite at that spot had seemed to be done!

Finesse Smallmouth Gear for Fall

Cindy rig with Great Lakes Finesse Drop MinnowCindy rig with Great Lakes Finesse Drop Minnow