The phrase “ridin’ and lookin’” shows up repeatedly in Billy Westmorland’s Them Ol’ Brown Fish. He, like many of the river smallmouth guides I have fished with, understood the value of letting your eyes dissect the water before launching the first cast.
Fall float trips on the Mid-Atlantic rivers I teach on can make me look like a smallmouth genius. They can also humiliate me, making me feel guilty about taking money at the end of a humbling day of guiding.
I’ve learned over the years to drift motionless through the first few pools before launching the first cast. I’m visually searching for the tall black tails cruising around.
Smallmouth remind me of the alien in the movie Predator. When sitting up in a tree motionless, that nasty slobbering alien was tough to spot. But when it would leap from branch to branch, it could be seen even though it correctly matched the background colors. When smallmouth cruise, they can be seen. When they stop, they disappear.
The fact that they’re in motion tells you that they’re receptive to a bait they would need to chase. If you can spot them, they are cruising. If they are cruising, they are looking for the baitfish that have recently found themselves without the grass beds that hid them all summer.
Early in the autumn, buzzbaits retrieved just fast enough to stay on the surface make my ears throb in silent anticipation. A thinner baitfish profile can be made by replacing the skirt with a dark colored grub.
If I notice smallmouth blowing up on a buzzbait without connecting, I ask my students to target the middle of the water column with spinnerbaits. Utilizing a variety of blade configurations, I’ll throw a spinnerbait that swims either faster or slower than my clients’ spinnnerbaits. Experimentation allows us to fine tune the preferred speed of retrieve.
When I fail to see those black tails cruising, I have faith that they are right there in front of me, not moving an inch. My presentations match this level of inactivity. Deadsticking three-inch soft plastic sticks nose hooked on a #6 octopus hook can coax these temperature-sedated smallmouth into a nibble. Smaller jigs can also salvage the day while most anglers stick with the aggressive pattern that worked last weekend.
Jeff Little is the author of In Pursuit of Trophy Smallmouth: My Life In A Kayak. He teaches kayak fishing skills on the Potomac, Rappahannock, Susquehanna, and their many tributaries. Visit www.blueridgekayakfishing.com for weekly trip reports and book sales TO READ MORE CLICK HERE
Feeding the Moods of Fall River Bronzeback
Story and photo by Jeff Little