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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It's a holy day on the river

September 22nd is the Fall Equinox, the single most important day of the year for river bass fishing...

The thing I probably get the most questions about in all of my fishing is how I locate bass in the fall. Fishermen say that they constantly hear how good smallmouth bass fishing is in the fall but that they just can't catch them or they are only catching dinks. Well here's how I locate smallies in the fall. Smallmouth migrate to the best possible places they can find to spend the winter. This may only be hundreds of yards or it might be ten miles or more. This is triggered by length of day. Dr. Mark Ridgeway, a research scientist for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources found that a smallmouth migration away from classic summer habitat begins, each year, within a week to 10 days of the autumnal equinox in September. This means that day length, not water temperature is the reason for smallmouth bass fall movements. I think we are right at the point where some smallmouth in our streams migrate and some "concentrate". In small streams there just isn't the big holes or deeper backwaters that allow smallmouth protection from high water events in cold weather. These fish have to migrate, sometimes all the way out of that little creek and into the river. Some rivers like the Little Miami or Brush Creek probably have fish doing both, migrating from shallow sections like in much of the upper river and just concentrating in the sections that have enough good wintering holes like say the lower middle section of the river. Bigger rivers like the Great Miami or the Scioto and even some of the long riffle-less sections of smaller streams like Scioto Brush Creek have more "concentrating" fish. That is the fish concentrate in big slackwater eddies and pools. Either way you are looking for the same habitat. Which is, to paint it with a broad brush, somewhere that protects a smallmouth from current in all flows. It cannot be somewhere that protects a fish most of the time but really blows out in a flood and it can't be somewhere so shallow that the fish is too exposed in frigid weather either. Most of the time this is the deepest hole in that river section but not always, I know of two spots that give up big winter smallmouth that are only eight or nine feet deep most of the time, but they always have at least a portion of them out of the current all the time. 
But there are two parts to the puzzle, just as you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink, whether or not they then bite is related to water temperature. When the water temperature sinks to 60 degrees and below that seems to be a trigger point. From then till the river hits 50 degrees the smallmouth are in overdrive feeding the strongest they do all year. So the great fishing lasts as long as the water stays above about 52. If that's a week, its a week if its a month then the fishing is great for a month. 
So between the smallmouth migration and water temps you need a couple things you might have not used all year. The number one tool for finding smallmouth bass wintering holes in the LMR is a good online satellite mapping site like Google Maps. Your looking for big bends and deep eddies with complex structure nearby. The deepest biggest holes you can find. Some of these can be places in town "fished out" during the summer, it doesn't matter your fishing for fish that might have came from miles away. Sometimes you just have to make a list of possibilities and head out to check them in person. Like I said the bass will migrate as far as it takes so you can't think well maybe this is good enough. Now until the water actually hits 50 to 53 the bass might not be right in that wintering hole, more than likely they will not be. They will instead be somewhere on the first two or three riffles either upstream or down feeding like gangbusters. The two best places I know have both the deep complex structure and a really good hard bottomed riffle with a hard bottom and no silt between the feeding area and the hole even though in one case its 150 yards between the two. So obviously a thermometer is a great tool is seeing where things are at. Above 60 you can expect bass to be in transition between summer and fall patterns. While the September equinox usually occurs on September 22 or 23, it can very rarely fall on September 21 or September 24. A September 21 equinox has not occurred since 1000 CE, but will happen twice in the 21st century –in 2092 and 2096 in. The last September 24 equinox occurred in 1931. It will next take place in 2303.On any other day of the year, the Earth's axis tilts a little away from or towards the Sun. But on the equinox the Earth's axis tilts neither away from nor towards the Sun. That's when the sun will be shining directly on the Earth's equator, bringing almost the same exact amount of daylight and darkness all around the world on that day, which is known as the autumn equinox in the northern hemisphere and the spring equinox in the southern hemisphere. So sometime within a week of that expect them to come pouring into those fall feeding riffles depending on temps. Not every smallmouth migrates at exactly the same time so you can still catch bass elsewhere in the river as they stop to feed while migrating but the real action will be in those good riffles close to wintering holes starting about the second week in September and getting better and better if the weather cooperates until the water cools below 50 to 53 degrees. After that you have to fish slooow down in the deep wintering holes to get much action. Sometimes a warm day will warm things a degree or two and you can sometimes catch a smallmouth or two on a hair jig fished almost motionless under a float. Just let the current swirl it around the hole and try to impart as little movement to the lure as you can. This can result in some of the best fish of the year but it also results in a big number of fishless days too.

Another thing to keep in mind when fishing thru the fall is that as the water cools crayfish become less and less active. So as the smallmouth feed heavily preparing for winter their favorite meal becomes less and less available. Because of this the bass begin to transition to more of a "minnow" bite that a "crayfish" bite in the fall. Personally I think the very biggest smallmouth in southern Ohio are always on a bit more of a minnow bite all year round. Research has shown the the biggest bass select smaller crayfish over larger ones every time. Smaller less experienced bass are not as picky and will fight a bigger crayfish. So that 20 incher we are after has to catch three or four small crayfish to get the same amount of food as she will get with one big shiner. So not only does she have to put out more effort by catching 3 things instead of 1 but those 3 things fight back. And an ounce of crayfish has less calories than an ounce of an oily baitfish and it takes more calories to digest because of the crayfishes exoskeleton. Given the choice I think a trophy bass prefers sushi. Obviously some sections of rivers and a lot of our creeks are crawling with tons of crayfish and everything revolves around them but a lot of our streams have considerably less crayfish and ton and tons of minnows. Think about the streams where you wade and see nothing but scads of crayfish and others where you spook huge schools of minnows out of the shallows as you wade. Next summer think about fishing the two differently. And in the fall use more minnow baits like spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, minnow plugs, and soft plastics that swim like curly tailed grubs, curly shads and paddletails. 

Btw since tomorrow is the official start of the yearly quest for a big smallie and something I never tire of jabbering about I will be on 980 am WONE Outdoor Connection tomorrow night in the 8 o'clock hour talking smallmouth. Here is a link to listen online if you are so inclined...http://wone.iheart.com/onair/outdoor-connection-418/

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