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5 Best Smallmouth Destinations

5 Best Smallmouth Destinations
Joe Holland nets a bruiser smallmouth for co-angler Kirk Sims.

Fall is the time of year to treat yourself to one last fishing excursion before the snowflakes start to fall. And if you’re going to take a fishing road trip amid a backdrop of autumn’s colorful foliage, it might as well be for fat, angry brown bass, right?

Traditionally, fall is the season for busting big smallmouths and lots of them, so we put together a list of five of the best destinations, along with a quick guide on where to go and what to see while you’re there. So do yourself a favor and put down the bow, turn off the football, pack your rain gear and head off to one of these five great autumn smallmouth bass destinations.

Seriously, go right now, before it’s too late.

 

Dale Hollow Lake

Where to stay: Byrdstown, Tenn.

Best timeframe: late October through January

What to take: swimbaits, small casting jigs, drop-shots, jerkbaits and hair jigs.

Good eats: Check out Anchor Down Bar and Grille for a great casual dining experience located right in Byrdstown.

Don’t miss: Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park in Burkesville, Ky., offers golf, horseback riding, caving and many other activities.

There have probably been more smallmouths topping 8 pounds caught from Tennessee’s famed Dale Hollow Lake than from all the waterways in the rest of the country combined. From the mid-1960s through the ’90s, the Tennessee impoundment pumped out giant brown fish at an unprecedented rate.

Six of the 10 largest smallmouths on record came out of Dale Hollow, including the 11-pound, 15-ounce world record caught by David Hayes. The reservoir also provided the setting where a host of legendary anglers such as Billy Westmoreland, Fred McClintock, and Jim Duckworth made their names chasing massive smallies.

After undergoing a period of reduced productivity due to low water levels and decreased angler pressure, Dale Hollow is back in a big way, and late fall is one of the best times to fish it. Brian Wilson, Walmart FLW Tour co-angler and owner of Cumberland Pro Lures, has a lot of experience fishing Dale Hollow in the fall, and says that the key to success is staying with the bass as they head toward their winter haunts.

“In early fall, they set up on shallow sloped points, and as the water cools they move to steeper and steeper banks, culminating in the vertical bluff banks they occupy in the winter,” advises Wilson. “Fish a bunch of points with different slopes until you find fish, and then run that pattern all around the lake.”

 

Chequamegon Bay

Where to stay: Ashland, Wis.

Best timeframe: right now through ice-up (early December)

What to take: drop-shots, football jigs, blade baits and tubes

Good eats: South Shore Brewery and Deep Water Grille serves awesome beer and pub fare.

Don’t miss: The Ashland Ore Dock is a massive 1,800-foot-long, 80-foot-high ore-loading dock built in 1925 to serve the local taconite mines. Check out the River Rock Inn and Bait Shop as well. It’s got a great selection of tackle and gear for local applications.

When discussing bass-fishing bucket lists, you probably won’t find many anglers who haven’t added at least one trip to chase Great Lakes smallmouths. Famed destinations such as Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and Sturgeon Bay have reputations built on years of spectacular fishing. For fall angling, though – and as great as those places are – it’s a lesser-known big-water smallmouth destination that shines brightest.

Chequamegon Bay is a shallow inlet off the southwest shore of Lake Superior that encompasses more than 40 square miles. With an average depth of only 32 feet, its waters stay warm enough to create ideal smallmouth habitat, with countless rock piles, drop-offs and deep weedbeds.

“In the bay, mid-October through ice-up is probably one of the absolute best times to chase big smallmouths there,” says guide Nate Baron of Up North Guide Service (facebook.com/upnorthguideservice), one of the top local sticks and an expert at catching jumbo brown bass. “In the fall, the numbers can be really good, but it’s also the best time to catch a legal fish. That might sound weird, but we’ve got a 22-inch size limit here, so when I say legal fish, it means one that is almost always over 6 pounds.”

According to Baron, 50-fish days with a 4-pound average are commonplace, and you’ve got a real shot at a true trophy. Make sure to come prepared for serious weather, though. Lake Superior isn’t to be taken lightly, and raging northerly winds, frigid temperatures and snow can come early. The good news is that the smallmouths are used to it, so they generally bite consistently.

 

Rainy Lake

Where to stay: International Falls, Minn.

Best timeframe: now through ice-up (mid-November)

What to take: tubes, swimbaits, soft jerkbaits, blade baits and football jigs

Good eats: Almost Lindy’s Swill and Grill offers great BBQ in the North Country.

Don’t miss: Voyageurs National Park is a wildlife enthusiast’s dream. The park is home to grey wolves and moose and contains some of the largest tracts of boreal forest remaining in the lower 48 states.

Rainy Lake sprawls across the U.S.-Canada border like a 227,000-acre inkblot. With more than 1,500 miles of shoreline and more than 2,000 islands, it’s got enough phenomenal smallmouth habitat to occupy a die-hard fisherman for several lifetimes.

FLW Tour pro Jim Moynagh hails from Carver, Minn., and has been fishing Rainy Lake for a long time.

“I really don’t have words to describe how good the smallmouth fishing is on Rainy,” Moynagh says. “Whatever cover or structure you want to fish, it’s there in abundance and usually covered in bass.”

For fall fishing, Moynagh recommends keying on areas where the fish winter and working over the nearby transition areas.

“Deep structure and vertical banks are classic smallmouth wintering locations,” Moynagh adds. “If you find places like that, the fish will be close by, and once you find them wadded up, it can be one after another to a scary degree.”

Moynagh notes that a football jig and a tube are his primary search baits in the fall. Once he locates a group of fish, he’ll work them over with a blade bait, soft jerkbait or swimbait.

“Fall on Rainy can produce some really big fish too, so make sure you have a camera ready,” says Moynagh. “You never know when that 5-pounder will bite.”

 

New River

Where to stay: Beckley, West Va.

Best timeframe: mid-October through mid-November

What to take: tubes, Yamamoto Senkos, Rapala DT-6 crankbaits, swimbaits and finesse jigs

Good eats: The Market on Courthouse Square in nearby Hinton, West Va., offers great sandwiches, salads and an excellent atmosphere.

Don’t miss: The New River Gorge Bridge is the longest steel arch bridge in the United States, and at 827 feet above the ground, is the third-highest bridge in the country.

Considered by many anglers to be the smallmouth gem of the mid-Atlantic, the New River is unique in that its source is east of the Appalachian divide, but it runs across the mountains until emptying into the Ohio River.

Historically, the New River has been known more for its legendary vistas and whitewater rafting than fishing. However, Troy Stiffler, owner and head guide at New River Trophy Outfitters (newrivertrophyoutfitters.com), says the great fishing has been there all along.

“The New River has always been a premier smallmouth destination,” he says. “It’s just taken awhile to get the word out.”

Although the fishing is excellent all year on the New, Stiffler is especially fond of the fall, when decreasing water temperatures combined with generally consistent river levels create a combination of numbers and size that is borderline unbelievable.

“Once the water temperatures start decreasing, the fishing can just get crazy,” Stiffler says. “Our clients can expect 50- to 100-fish days, and we’ve had them much better than that. Early in the fall, 2- to 3-pound fish are common, and 4- and 5-pounders make regular trips into our landing nets. Later into October and November, 4- and 5-pound fish become regulars, and anglers will have a real shot at a 6-pounder.”

Although the fishing is phenomenal, access can be difficult since most of the New is boiling whitewater. Outfitters such as Stiffler fish out of whitewater-style rafts customized for fishing. They afford access to the greatest concentration of fish, although there are stretches of the New River deep enough to float a boat.

 

1,000 Islands

Where to stay: Watertown, N.Y.

Best timeframe: right now

What to take: spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, swimbaits, football jigs and drop-shots

Good eats: Head to Alexandria Bay, a tourist town on the St. Lawrence River. The waterfront district offers a number of excellent dining options.

Don’t miss: The Boldt Castle and Yacht House is a 120-room Rhineland-style castle built on an island at the turn of the century. You can boat up to it or hop on a shuttle from the shore.

The name “1,000 Islands” conjures up images of unnumbered rocky islands of varying sizes surrounded by smallmouth-infested waters. That’s an apt description. Sandwiched between Canada and the U.S., the 1,000 Islands area encompasses the 100 square miles around the confluence of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

In actuality, there are 1,864 islands in the area, and as far as pro angler Dave Wolak is concerned, they provide unmatched smallmouth fishing.

“The 1,000 Islands area is one of those places that offers absolutely endless opportunity for smallmouth anglers,” he explains. “It’s the kind of place where you can usually catch them however you want, and in the fall the fishing can actually get so awesome it’s hard to explain.”

As the temperature falls, Wolak recommends that anglers focus on current and transition points to intersect schools of giant smallmouths feeding up for the winter.

“I say it offers endless possibilities in the fall, and that’s true,” says Wolak. “You can catch them doing a lot of different things, but my favorite way to fish in the fall is to cover water with big moving baits and target the biggest fish in the system – those up shallow feeding hard before the coming winter.”

Tags: tj-maglio  article 

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