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Spring into Fall Smallmouth

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Spring into Fall Smallmouth

Enjoy the phenomenal fall bass fishing that Northern Ontario has to offer, snap a few quick images of a great day on the water and then carefully release the fish so they can raise even more giant bass next year. • Credit: Gord Pyzer

North Bay to Kenora and Everywhere in Between



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September is unquestionably my favourite month of the year to fish in Northern Ontario because the scenery is growing more spectacular each day as the leaves change colour and begin to fall. The days are still typically warm and pleasant; while the evenings are perfect for sitting around a crackling campfire with a cup of shot coffee before you retreat to your cabin, pull up the blankets and fall fast to sleep.

Oh, yes, and the fishing, from North Bay to Sault Ste. Marie to Kenora and everywhere in between, is out of this world.

Especially fishing for smallmouth bass which do something remarkably fascinating in the fall. Many of the male bass return to the shallows where they spawned earlier in the spring, sweep out and clean the nests they used to raised this year's brood and then protect it.

Now, you may be thinking that they're male bass and generally smaller than females, so what is the big deal? But it is not the case with northern range smallmouth where the physical size advantage goes not to the female, so that she can grow bigger and produce more eggs, but rather to the male because, unlike most other species, he guards and defends the nest.

Smallmouth offers some of the most exciting fall fishing because the bass are fit and fat from a summer spent gorging on crayfish, ciscoes and smelts
Smallmouth offers some of the most exciting fall fishing because the bass are fit and fat from a summer spent gorging on crayfish, ciscoes and smelts. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Indeed, good friend Dr. Mark Ridgway, who heads up the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources Harkness Research Laboratory in Algonquin Provincial Park is one of the world's foremost bass authorities. The two biggest smallmouth Mark ever examined, bruisers approaching 7 pounds in weight were both males.

But, why would the fish predictably return to the same shallow spring spawning areas in late summer and early fall and guard a nest that has no eggs in it?

Well, the reality is that they're not spawning at all. Rather, they're laying claim to the nests they will be re-occupying next spring and telling any would-be claim jumpers to stand down or fight.

Another part of the fascinating behaviour is the fact that northern strain smallmouth are faithful for life to the sites where they were born. Indeed, they are so staunchly devoted to the spot that once they mature, they will often sweep out a nest and raise their young beside the very same boulder where they themselves hatched from an egg several years earlier.

Talk about homebodies.

For bass anglers fishing in Northern Ontario, however, this fall phenomenon offers some of the most exciting fishing of the season because the bass, typically fat and fit from a summer spent gorging on crayfish, ciscoes and smelts, are spoiling for a fight.

Indeed, cast out a top water lure or swim grub past their nests and they'll pounce on it, which is another reason this fall bonanza is so exciting. With waters temperatures registering perfect bass readings, there is rarely a need to tip toe around and be super stealthy. It doesn't hurt either that you rarely see another boat on the water at this time of the year, so you often "own the entire lake", and the Northern Ontario bass world is at ease.

Talk about tailor-made trophy bass fishing conditions.

If the morning dawns bright and calm, I almost always start the day fishing with a topwater lure like a Rapala Skitter Pop or Skitter Walk, the latter being a fall favourite when the smallmouth are particularly big and aggressive.

Water temperatures are perfect for bass right now, so you rarely need to be super stealthy.  It doesn’t hurt, either, that you often won’t see another boat
Water temperatures are perfect for bass right now, so you rarely need to be super stealthy. It doesn’t hurt, either, that you often won’t see another boat. (Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

If the wind is riffling the water and negating a surface bait bite, on the other hand, I'll throw a jerkbait like the Lucky Craft Pointer Minnow or Rapala X-Rap. The key with these baits is to make a long cast and then rip them with plenty of slack line. When you "jerk with slack" the lure slashes excitedly one way, then darts in the opposite direction. When you do the same thing with a tight line, however, the lure travels nonchalantly straight ahead.

Imparting plenty of pauses is important, too, because smallmouth typically strike after following the lure and it suddenly stops and suspends in front of its nose. 

Finally, I never leave a area where I've caught several nice fish on surface baits or jerkbaits without mopping up and catching a few extra bonus bass with a 4-inch twister tail grub, swimbait or tube jig pinned to a 1/4 ounce jig.

It is a pretty simple game plan but when you find the fish up shallow, in spring-like conditions in the fall, there is no need to complicate things.

Indeed, if there is any need for caution when fishing for fall smallmouth staking claim to next year's nesting sites, it is that these males represent a small part of the overall bass population but a huge proportion of the spawning cohort.  Indeed, as Dr. Ridgway points out, they have been preordained to raise next year's crop of fish, and if they're removed in the fall, nothing will come in to replace them in the spring.

So, enjoy the phenomenal fishing, snap a few quick images of another great day on the water in Northern Ontario and then carefully release the fish so they can raise even more giant bass next year.

Talk about a Northern Ontario win/win.

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