It’s been quite warm over the last week, but alas, not warm enough for tubing behind a boat, unless of course you enjoy a swim in 42ºF water. However, it is warm enough to get out after some fat fall smallies with 3″ tube jigs providing you dress for it. I’ve always heard and read that late fall fishing is often the best the year has to offer. On Sunday I witnessed first-hand why that is the case and also learned why I sometimes struggled to find fish in the fall in years passed; which is mainly because I am trained to look too deep. When water cools off in the fall, fish will move shallow to feed. This is particularly true if you can find a shallow area where the water clarity isn’t too high, which can be easier said than done in our zebra mussel infested waters. We caught all our fish that morning in under 14 feet of water. Many were caught in about 6-9 feet of water, including 3 walleyes.
I was lucky enough to receive an invite from tournament fisherman Simon Lavictoire on board his 20′ 2007 Nitro powered by a 225 Merc Optimax, which he is looking to sell incidentally. It’s a dual console bass boat, 20’9″ length, 98″ beam with two huge casting decks in the front and rear and about 90hrs of use. It’s fully loaded with an 80lb-thrust bow-mount trolling motor, two GPS sonars and is in mint condition. If anyone is interested in the boat simply leave a comment and I’ll get you in touch with Simon.
Simon fishes the Renegade Circuit and Quebec Bass Masters Tour and, as he says, when he gets involved with something he goes in full-steam. The man is equipped with a seemingly endless arsenal of rods, reels and tackle. The boat ride in itself was an intense enough experience. The bonus was the many limits of smallmouth and 3 walleye we put in the boat in a few short hours on that crisp sunny morning. What impressed me most was the average size of the fish. I have never seen so many big smallmouth in such a short time period. I also have never seen that many large fish concentrated so tightly in a specific feeding area. I’ve seen schools of 25-30 fish while snorkelling but most of the fish were between 2 and 3 pounds. These were monsters. I would say the average fish was in the 3-pound range with many over 4 and a couple pushing 5 if not slightly over 5 pounds; and boy were they in the mood. At one point I could barely set the net down as Simon kept repeating “there’s another one”; boating about 8 or 9 fish on consecutive casts. You can tell he’s a tournament fisherman when you barely have time to grab your rod while he’s catching, unhooking and releasing fish like the Flash.
The areas we focussed on were flats composed of a mixture of small rubble, sand and isolated tall weed patches near the main seaway channel. The water was surprisingly murky (coffee coloured) and the fish were quite shallow, at least by my standards. They were packed in that area fairly tightly and they were on the feed. We presumed they were targeting gobies, which are now plentiful in the area.
The Round Goby – Image courtesy of www.utm.utoronto.ca
The Round Goby was first introduced to North America in the 80s after, as is the case for many other invasive species, being transported to the Niagara River by ballast water of European ships. They have since spread to the entire St-Lawrence River system and Great Lakes with potentially negative impacts on native fish species such as predation on fray and eggs of walleye and other game fish. Gobies also feed on Zebra Mussels which contain high concentrations of contaminants. The concern is that these will accumulate in higher and higher concentrations as they move up the food chain to fish like walleye and bass who now feed on gobies, a phenomenon known as bioaccumulation. Although it is still too early to tell exactly what kind of impact they will have, it is also believed they are reducing numbers of other small, native, bottom-dwelling species. If you’d like to find out more about these small, feisty invaders visit the OFAH’s Invading Species Awareness Program.
If you’ve ever seen gobies swim you’ll know that a 3″ tube jig slowly dragged on bottom will mimic them perfectly. Based on my observations while snorkelling, I’ve found gobies to be an extremely bottom-oriented fish that often lies motionless using its natural camouflage as cover until a predator (or a snorkeler) gets too close. They are rather difficult to spot on the bottom when they aren’t moving. In fact you probably won’t notice them while snorkelling unless you get up close to the bottom. It’s then that you notice just how many of them there are. They are literally everywhere. I’ve caught them in 80feet of water and have seen them in 3feet of water. When we pull spinners on huge, deep flats in August they steal bait and are a constant nuisance. When ambushed, they dart off in short but vigorous bursts yet rarely move more than 3 to 5feet away only to resume their immobile position flat on the bottom.
I’ve never seen gobies up-close in 42ºF water, but I have to assume that they, as do other fish, slow down considerably in colder water. With all of this taken into consideration, we found out pretty quickly that what worked best that day was a “do-nothing” technique; quite literally. We made short casts and let the jig sit on bottom, with an occasional slow drag back to the boat. Most of the fish I caught hit the jig while it sat motionless on the bottom. The drag would get the fish’s attention, but it was the slow movement of the tentacles on the jig that really did the damage on those big smallies.
Bass weren’t the only predators lurking on those flats that morning. The more I fish the more I realize all game-fish are often found within the same general areas at a given time. I was bit off by a pike or musky and we also put 3 walleye in the boat. Believe it or not, I caught my very first tube-jig walleye that day, barely moving the jig along bottom. I’ve caught walleye on 3” twister tails and grubs or minnow imitations many times, but strangely enough never on a tube. Simon caught and released this decent one which gave him a pretty good fight. We also kept two smaller ‘eyes for dinner.
So if you want to try catching these huge fall smallmouth, put on your favourite tuque, grab a few tube jigs and give it a try. Spinning tackle with medium action rods worked really well. I used a 6’1” Quantum PT Tour Edition Medium action rod as I like the shorter rods for jigging while Simon used a slightly longer Quantum rod. Both our reels were spooled with no-stretch braided lines with fluorocarbon leaders. This provided maximum sensitivity because the bites are often very subtle.
Don’t be afraid to look in shallow water, especially murky or stained shallow water. As the thermocline dissipates and the water temp evens out from surface to bottom, the larger specimens of predatory species will move in to specific areas to feed. If I can provide any advice from that day it’s that if you think you’re moving your tube jig too slowly, move it even slower. The fish were keying in on the baits as they sat on bottom. Another thing to keep in mind is that the bite can be fast and furious one minute and quite sluggish the next, as we found out that day when the bite suddenly stopped. The fish were on for about 2hrs and then the bite tapered off. While it lasted however, it was the most intense bass fishing experience I’ve had and I can guarantee I’m now sold on dragging late fall tubes for monster smallies.
Stay outside! Jigger.