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Cooler weather: what happens now?


Tim Smith
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I have been dying to fish and I noticed this front coming through today. If I had a free afternoon I would have taken it. As it is I have to think about doing what I can in its' aftermath.

 

I've noticed more than one post indicating that smallmouth here in the central region have been hanging out in current during the day. It also seems the bite has been stronger in the morning than mid-day.

 

With the passage of the front and the temperatures taking a dip (with minimal rain in most places) with highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s. ...

 

...what will the smallies do?

 

1) Continue to feed early and late in current?

 

2) Move toward deeper, slower water?

 

3) Feed more later in the day?

 

4) Reduce feeding for a few days since a front is passing through?

 

5) Feed more right away because the cooler temperatures are more ideal for growth?

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I don't think the front will affect them much initially, though with the smaller rivers, the water temps will raise and drop a lot quicker with air temp fluctuations, which may in turn have some effect. Even with the warmer than normal air and water temps, the bass know that fall is approaching due to the shorter days. Don R and I were just talking about this a week ago while trying to pattern and predict some fall bass movements.

 

I say don't let the front affect you, just get out and fish when you can. You'll figure it out I'm sure, or read about it when Jim catches another beast! ;)

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Tim ,

 

On my flow some smallies have eased toward wintering spots and some are still in summer spots . With the increased water clarity some of the fish have shifted to low light feeding , while others have moved to deeper and/or faster water . In areas with heavy moss buildup there has been a tendency for them to feed up and chase fish more than crawdads , prolly due to the fact that the moss interferes with thier ability to forage effectively on the bottom .

 

Depending on the options availible to the fish in your flow and the size of the flow , I would start with the deepest water in the small flows and tend toward the faster water in the larger flows and make adjustments in location from there .

 

Fast shallow , slow shallow , fast deep , slow deep , with a check of the midsection of the flow for fish feeding up . Of course if the water comes way up than it's checking the highwater spots with big spinnerbaits and bulky plastics that push the water .

 

If the fish in your flow are currently in thier summer haunts the first cold snap won't move all of them at once . I would still check but prolly with a fast and very agressive approach and then a slow subtle approach in the highest percentage spots . After that I would tend to start fishing the cold water areas throughly .

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In areas with heavy moss buildup there has been a tendency for them to feed up and chase fish more than crawdads , prolly due to the fact that the moss interferes with thier ability to forage effectively on the bottom

That is right on, Norm.

Exactly what I've been finding.

The rest of that post hits the mark as well 'round here.

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Tim ,

 

On my flow some smallies have eased toward wintering spots and some are still in summer spots . With the increased water clarity some of the fish have shifted to low light feeding , while others have moved to deeper and/or faster water . In areas with heavy moss buildup there has been a tendency for them to feed up and chase fish more than crawdads , prolly due to the fact that the moss interferes with thier ability to forage effectively on the bottom .

 

Depending on the options availible to the fish in your flow and the size of the flow , I would start with the deepest water in the small flows and tend toward the faster water in the larger flows and make adjustments in location from there .

 

Fast shallow , slow shallow , fast deep , slow deep , with a check of the midsection of the flow for fish feeding up . Of course if the water comes way up than it's checking the highwater spots with big spinnerbaits and bulky plastics that push the water .

 

If the fish in your flow are currently in thier summer haunts the first cold snap won't move all of them at once . I would still check but prolly with a fast and very agressive approach and then a slow subtle approach in the highest percentage spots . After that I would tend to start fishing the cold water areas throughly .

 

Now that's a much more intelligent post than mine! I guess in short what I wanted to say was don't expect the pending cool front to change things too much in the short term.

 

Last weekend, 49 degrees air temp (didn't know the water temp), and some bass were still aggressively hitting topwaters. After a cool rain and very windy conditions, the bite did slow down, though a few aggressive fish were still present. I am thinking that we will need an extended cooling period to dramatically change things from where we stand today.

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Steve ,

 

I think the photoperiod has more to do with it than the water temps . The biggest smallies are the ones leading the move toward the wintering areas . The smaller and medium sized fish[more than I expected] are the ones still hanging toward the summer areas .

 

Today was a good example of that . All of the quality fish I caught were in or near wintering areas . Some of them were feeding on cobblestone/ boulder flats in a little faster water that was close to the spot where I get them in coldwater . All of the smallies I got in the more traditional summer spots were not as large . It was interesting that the crankbait/rattlebait bite was nonexistant today in all areas . The only thing that worked was a weighted keeper hook with a 5 inch twister retrieved very slowly with long pauses . All of the bites were extremely light and you had to drop the rod and give them time to fully commit . Fast water , slow water deep or shallow , big fish , small fish all wanted the same thing .

 

So much for a feeding frenzy of highly aggressive fish . It just goes to show , we will prolly never completely understand everything about these fish . You know though , I really don't think I would want to know all there is to know , kinda take the joy out of it .

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Fish here are destroying buzzbaits in summer areas with slow wintering pools being nearly empty. The 20.25 I hit today was in a summer area not far from a riffle.

 

That kind of cooldown, I would expect some lockjaw.

 

 

 

Tim, fish tommorrow if that avoids the front. You won't be sorry.

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Steve ,

 

Outside of the time of year when spawning overrides all else , the availibility of forage is a major factor .

 

One of the guiding principles in my approach is find the food and you will find the predator .

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Good points all around.

 

I'm sitting here torn over whether or not to give it a try this morning (I can't stay more than 2 or 3 hours) or try later in the week after the transition has settled in completely. I think I'm leaning toward a trip this afternoon when it's warmer or perhaps later in the week when temps have stabilized a bit.

 

That's an interesting point about predators following prey, especially in the context of a lower fall temperatures. I've always assumed that smallmouth tended to move out of smaller streams in fall due to declining temperatures, and to avoid being trapped in a low oxygen or frozen solid stream. It is true though that in the very smallest streams the smaller fish will also tend to move downstream. It seems to me that this happens much later in the fall. I've observed this on the upper Embarrass in late November and December well after the first freeze.

 

When we shocked in Northwestern Illinois two weeks ago, Dan Sallee felt the smallmouth had already moved out of the small stream we sampled due to lowering temperatures. It sure seemed to me there was plenty of depth refuge in that creek, but he knows those streams awfully well so I would tend to believe him. Certainly there was still plenty of forage still available (as Gordon can attest, we worked up quite a sweat trying to dip all the stonerollers).

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The fall smallmouth movements have always been tough for me to predict. My theories are based mostly on practice, common sense or conventional wisdom, but still there are things that go against the grain so to speak, and many I can't figure out. I guess the challenge of it all is what keeps me coming back.

 

A couple of weekends ago, Don and I were fishing "up north" in an area that should be at least a few weeks ahead of us in the fall movements. We found a decent number of bass, but what was amazing was how one stretch of what appeared to be decent water was seemingly devoid of just about all gamefish and forage. I had encountered this before even earlier in the season (Labor Day) a little farther north in the "skinnier" sections of the river.

 

I am a firm believer that if you can find the forage, you will find the bass. As a side note, several of the bass we caught were coughing up small panfish. I identified only one, which was a small crappie.

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Steve ,

 

I think the photoperiod has more to do with it than the water temps

 

I was thinking that too as I saw all the big fish posted up recently even though the weather has been warm. One day I may understand this stuff!

 

 

Now if I could just get out more

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Do smallmouth "move out" of creeks and streams into bigger water? I'd guess they do when they are pretty close to a larger river. I'd think the eddie alone created by the confluence would be a pretty good potential wintering hole.

 

I have my doubts when we start talking about this in terms of miles traveled. How do you explain the same fish on the same log year after year? I think most stream fish are homebodies.

 

Cold water fish in my experience, are concentrated more than any other time. In winter/early spring you see no signs of life and wonder where it went. One could assume the stream was deserted (migrate to somewhere deep that we can't see them). Clear water seems to reinforce the emptiness. All that life goes somewhere. This is a fascinating subject. It all appears empty. The fish are located in a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of the actual water. You might have one hole per mile. further a wintering hole for a creek chub school, need not be large. It could be as simple as an undercut rootwad to hold to in times of flood.

 

I only got into winter SMB fishing last year, but it was eye opening. I feel like I learned a lot about seasonal smallie behaviour because of it. I know it impacted my ability to trace bass in the early spring.

 

Now I look for potential wintering holes in the low water summer periods so I might see what will actually attract fish. What they think a wintering hole is vs what I think a wintering hole is. Hopefully, I'll have the time and weather to research this winter :) .

 

Find that winter rest home for big fish. If you can do that, you can then trace them throughout the year and study their behaviour. Bass are like a Yo-Yo.

 

Brenden

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Do smallmouth "move out" of creeks and streams into bigger water? I'd guess they do when they are pretty close to a larger river.

 

I've heard that when they have this option, they will take it if they need to, and migrate many miles to do so. They then return to their spawning and summer haunts the following season. This is from an old In-Fisherman video I have. They also stated that tracking studies indicate if suitable year round habitat is all in close proximity, then the bass will pretty much stay put.

 

Locating cold water smallmouth in smaller rivers just baffles me, knowing there is many miles of river and barriers before the bass could enter a larger confluence. Somewhere along the way, they find their wintering holes and reappear the next year for the spawn and summer months. Just think of a section of river you know between two dams. The fish will be there somewhere, right?

 

Some rivers, like the Wisconsin, are a network of dams and flowages. The flowages seem to offer the best wintering habitat for the bass. Then it's a matter of becoming a good lake fisherman again, something I have not been for awhile (if ever).

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This is also a fascinating subject to me with lots of cool biology embeded in it. Let me throw in a couple of things:

 

1) Smallmouth apparently have spawning site fidelity. They come back to the same place to spawn where they were spawned, just like a salmon (and some have asserted that the males only survive one breeding season, but I'm not convinced that's true everywhere). So yes, for at least part of the year, you know they're coming back to a certain "range". How far they wander from that spot during the year seems to differ.

 

2) Even salmon and sea-run trout like steelhead that we think of as having predictable seasonal movements don't all do the same thing. Some of these fish never migrate out of the spots where they are spawned...they just skip the spawning run and wait for the females to come back in the spring. There may be a genetic component to this behavior but there are also probably environmental cues that determine whether or not a fish leaves an area seasonally.

 

3) During high water, fish generally have no a problem getting around migration barriers (unless you have a big enough dam).

 

4) The ability to forage during the winter strongly affects overwinter survival and spring condition of fish. Where a fish overwinters matters from the perspective of both temperature and forage.

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In late fall, I have kayaked through wintering holes with crystal clear water and seen hundreds of fish hanging out. That is their home base, they spread out when their metabolism can manage it. They swim a few hundred yards at best. One of two such holes I found in 3+ miles.

 

Steve, once you know what you're looking for, you'll spot them all the time. Go for a float trip in late fall when the water is crystal clear.

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Go for a float trip in late fall when the water is crystal clear.

 

Yea, been wanting to for quite awhile. I have zero storage where I live, so nothing to float in. Got to do something about that one of these days.

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Just back, Steve.

 

I only had 2 hours to fish but...

 

I hit a pool Jeff D and I fished two weeks ago and it was DEAD, DEAD, DEAD. Water clarity was good. Water temps were still warm. I managed nothing more than a rock bass after cycling through cranks, tubes, yum crayfish, rattle traps and in-line spinners. Hmph. I found myself wondering why I bother with this stupid sport, why my kids are so rotten and how the hell I ever ended up in a stupid state like Illinois anyway.

 

The sun was already down and heading toward twilight when I decided to try the riffle at the top of the pool. It was a long paddle but when I got there, I caught a dink on my first cast, and got struck on the second. "Ok.", I though, "That's more like it." I parked the kayak and started fan casting the foam at the bottom of the riffle. I got two more dinks and a 14 incher, then I lost something that made a trash can lid-sized boil. Every other cast was catching fish and when they hit they were blasting the #2 Mepps. One of the dinks did that little buzz-saw shake they do and spit the spinner back at me. All of these fish were beside current in less than 2 feet of water.

 

The sun was virtually gone by then and it was so dark I had to hold my spinner up to the sky to see it and check it for attached debris. If I was going to fish the boulders at the head of the riffle, now was my only chance. I crunched my way up the gravel bar to a point 20 feet downstream from the head of the riffle. The cast was closer to shore than I intended but it didn't matter. The 15 incher hit the spinner in less than a foot of water, took to the air and almost landed on the bank. After landing and releasing him, the next cast brought in another fish the same size. I hooked and lost another substantial fish before I finally decided was too dark to continue...mostly because the fish had stopped biting.

 

On the paddle back, I found myself thinking what a great sport this is, how my kids are perfect angels and what a wonderful place Illinois is to live. I managed to paddle through a riffle in complete darkness...and then on the north bank on the downstream side of the riffle, there it was...the perfect capper for the evening. All along the water line were tiny green points of light, like little green stars set in the blackness of the bank. I've seen this before this time of year, but it has been a long time. They were bioluminescent invertebrates, I'm not sure but I think they were isopods. After a few fumbling attempts to photograph them in the dark I give up and finished the paddle back to the truck.

 

Not a bad way to finish the day...

 

...oh, and yeah, the fish haven't moved out of the shallow water and current. :)

 

That 15 minutes was some of the fastest action I've had all year.

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Great report Tim. Glad to hear that the fish started cooperating, and that you aren't ready to pack your bags just yet!

 

If I see shiney green things in the water around here, I think I'd be walking on top of the water to get outta there fast! :blink:

 

Temps tomorrow aren't supposed to reach 60. That and the heavy north winds should drop the water temp a couple degrees, I'd think!

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Good job! Now go tommorrow and see how bad the fishing will be.

 

We're going Friday. Hopefully giving the fish a few days to adjust to the cooler temps will get them started again. Come along if you like, Brenden!

 

Nice report Tim! It's funny how a few nice fish can change your perspective on life.

 

Yep. They're like Prozac with fins.

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Ok, time for the next round of bets. Here's the air temperature pattern for the last few days:

 

 

 

We're going again tomorrow. Weather calls for high in the low 60s with partly cloudy skies and wind out of the NNW less than 10mph. What will we find?

 

1. Total lockjaw?

 

2. Mid-afternoon bite?

 

3. Same heavy feeding in current early and late?

 

I'm betting #2. I think a big fish is out there for us tomorrow too.

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