The cold water seasons of late fall and winter produce high percentages of big fish with the right techniques.
Certainly big smallmouth can be caught all year long. However, if you really want to up your odds of hooking the largest specimens, fish during the late fall or winter periods. Strangely, most river anglers don’t pursue smallies after September. However, even in the northernmost parts of the fish’s range, they can be caught into the November freeze up. Farther south, where rivers stay open all winter, fishing doesn’t have to end at all. This gives you a lot of additional angling hours, and those who learn something about cold water smallmouthing have a very good chance of hooking their biggest fish of the year.
Naturally, there are biological reasons why the big boys bite better than the small fry in extra cold water (below 48 degrees). But what a smallie fan really needs to know is where to find them and best techniques to use during the cold seasons. In northern rivers in the fall, fish can migrate long distances downstream to wintering pools (“hibernaculms” in biologist’s lingo). Farther south, smallmouth might only shift their locations a short distance. Everywhere, the fish are moving out of faster-flowing riffles and runs and into slack or slow current zones.
Besides shifting your angling locations, adapting your techniques to the fish’s slowing metabolism is key. Fishing down along the bottom, using ultra-slow retrieves is the best when water dips into the 40s. Bigger-than-normal lures and flies will often pay off, too. Fish aren’t eating very often when it’s cold, so a large offering seems to appeal to them more than small stuff. Sure, you’ll probably need to bundle up with fingerless gloves, a warm hat and multiple pairs of socks. But to me, it’s definitely worth it. The number of bronzebacks I’ve caught over 20 inches per hour of fishing in the cold seasons far surpasses my big fish catch rates during warm months.
Editor’s Note :
The “Float n Fly” technique, adapted to river fishing, is Tim’s favorite way of catching cold water smallies. The technique is shown on the video: “Smallmouth Fly Fishing– Revealed,” in the “Cold Water Smallmouth” chapter.
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