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Spring into Ontario Fall Smallmouth

Trophy smallmouth bass caught in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country. • Credit: Gord Pyzer
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Spring into Ontario Fall Smallmouth

A September Bass Fishing Bonanza in Sunset Country



If September is any indication, it looks as though it is payback time for the outrageously hot summer weather we enjoyed this past June, July and August.

At least, that is what it seems like around here, in Northwestern Ontario's Sunset Country, where the air temperature the past couple of weeks has been running consistently below normal and we've experienced more wet, windy conditions than we endured all summer.

Still, I am not complaining because it has sped up the arrival of my favourite time of year -- spring smallmouth bass fishing in September.

(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

If that sounds like a contradiction or a play on words, let me assure you, it is not.  For the past several years now, we've been enjoying an outrageous, late summer and early fall, bass fishing bonanza that, to be totally honest, we have been reluctant to discuss. I mean, let's be honest, some things are just too good to share.

Still, if you promise not to tell anyone, I'll fill you in on the details.

(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

The next time you launch the boat on your favourite Northern Ontario bass lake, go to the same spots you would fish on opening day in the spring. It is an uncanny pattern because you'll find the bass back.

Better still, instead of concerning themselves with spawning and nest protection, you'll find the fish fat and fit -- often the biggest bass in the lake ready to rip the rod from your hands -- as they feed heavily to gain the nourishment that will tide them over the upcoming winter starvation period.

(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

As a consequence, there is no need to scale down your baits and throw tiny, light, finesse presentations. Instead, the big brown bass will punish you dearly if you burn spinnerbaits quickly just under the surface, rip jerkbaits aggressively through the middle of the water column and ricochet crankbaits forcefully off the rocks and logs on the bottom.

As a matter of fact, the more convincingly you present your lures, the more belligerent the fish will respond. It is like taking the wrong turn down a dark alley late at night; only the consequences are much more enjoyable.

(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

Why the bass behaves this way, returning to their shallow spring spawning areas in the fall, is still a mystery.  Indeed, the first time I alerted a friend and former Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) colleague, Dr. Mark Ridgway to the pattern, he was skeptical.

Mark, by the way, is one of North America's foremost bass scientists, and he heads up the research at the OMNR's Harkness Research Laboratory on the shore of Lake Opeongo, in Ontario's famous Algonquin Provincial Park.

Mark subsequently became a convert to the intriguing spring/fall bass fishing pattern, however, when one of his assistants discovered bass behaving the same way in the giant park's research waters.

"Lightning strike!" said Mark. "One of my students recently spotted a male bass near a nest at the outlet of Lake Opeongo.

When I asked the good doctor why he thought the smallmouth might be responding in this manner, he said, "Given the strong tendency towards nest site fidelity in the spring, perhaps the males are investing in a spawning site late in the season that will be utilized the following spring. It is an investment in protection and site tenure that currently, and in the future, will be for their offspring. Doing this suggests a social structure that is more geographically arranged than previously thought, meaning the males are letting it be known that, "this site is owned", so to speak. This site preparation work now is an investment for the following spring. Late season protection of spawning sites may be an indication of the male's own assessment of his energetic state to make such a gamble."

Whatever the reason for the bass behaving this way, it is remarkably fascinating stuff. And more ground leading research will be needed to solve the riddle.

But, that is work for the scientists.

(Photo credit: Gord Pyzer)

In the meantime, Ontario bass anglers can enjoy a fantastic fall fishing pattern, casting large, flashy, in-your-face presentations to the biggest, baddest, bass in the lake.

And, it is why I love spring bass fishing in the fall, in Ontario!

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