JEFF KNAPP: Autumn fishing features big smallies, less pressure
Late-fall smallmouth bass can be taken with relative consistency well into autumn. On busy lakes like Crawford County’s Conneaut, fall fishing can provide not only a chance at catching oversized smallies, but also a welcome relief from the crowds.
Dave Lehman and Chad Templin ply the clear water of Conneaut Lake well into fall, typically fishing together. At anytime from September through December I can expect to receive a text message that includes an image of a big smallmouth bass. They don’t usually catch a bunch, but each trip seems to yield at least one smallmouth bass, a good one in the 4 to 5-pound-plus category.
Though Templin and Lehman often share a boat, presentation-wise, their approaches differ, likely based on personal confidence in bait-style selection.
Templin is a crankbait angler throughout the year and doesn’t stop using them for smallies when the water takes on a chill.
“I’ve taken fall smallmouth on crankbaits in water approaching the 40-degree mark,” Templin noted. “You just need to slow down your retrieve the colder the water gets.”
For fall fishing on clear-water lakes like Conneaut — which features deep weedbeds that extend out into 12 to 15 feet of water — Templin employs deep-diving crankbaits like Mann’s DD22 and Lucky Craft’s 3.5DD. He likes working this area of the lake, feeling that groups of bass (in Conneaut’s case both smallmouth and largemouth) are grouped up, pushed to the outside edge as shallower weeds experience their annual die-off.
“Crankbaits don’t usually achieve the depths the makers claim, but ones in the 20-foot category will touch bottom in depths of 15 feet or more,” he added.
Templin holds a boat position that allows him to make casts that more or less parallel the outside edges of submerged weed cover.
“If you cast parallel to the weedline, you can keep your lure in the strike zone much longer,” Templin explained. “You can fan-cast at various intervals, hitting zones of 10, 15 and 20 feet. When you cast more directly in toward the cover, you lose a level of control and are more apt to pick up weeds.”
Templin experiments with various retrieves throughout the day, with one common factor: He keeps things slow. Some days, though, the smallies prefer a slow, steady retrieve; with others a stop-and-go cadence is productive. He uses a long casting rod in the 7 1/2 - to 7-foot, 10-inch range to make long casts. Reels are spooled with fairly light line — either 10- or 12-pound test — for the same reason. Long casts allow the lure to attain maximum diving depth for the longest time, and to make occasional bottom contact, which is another significant trigger.
While Templin is casting a deep-diving crankbait, Lehman often opts for a soft-bodied swimbait, a pre-rigged model like Storm’s Wild-eye. Lehman is an exceptional jig fisherman, so it’s no surprise he fishes a soft swimbait in a manner similar to a jig, playing to his strengths.
“I also like to target the deep weeds, concentrating on deep weed points in particular,” Lehman stated. “I make a long cast and allow the swimbait to flutter to the bottom, just like a jig. A slight line twitch likely means a smallie has intercepted the bait during the initial fall.”
Once the bait has hit bottom, Lehman begins working it back to the boat in a manner that’s a cross between a jig and a crankbait, similar to slow-rolling a spinnerbait. He’ll sometime allow the bait to touch bottom, and then he’ll slow swim it freely for a while.