Outdoors: Reservoir smallmouth fishing now at its best

By Lee McClellan/Ky. Afield Published:

We reservoir smallmouth anglers are a weird lot. We dangle tiny little hair jigs under bobbers in air so cold ice forms in the guides of our rods. We think the best late fall fishing days feature leaden, low skies, light rain and highs in the 40s.

When Halloween passes, most anglers stow their gear for the year. For reservoir smallmouth anglers, the season is just beginning on lakes such as Lake Cumberland, Laurel River Lake and the home of the world record smallmouth bass, Dale Hollow Lake.

“I like now through spring, if you can stand the weather,” said John Williams, southeastern fishery district biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Late fall through winter is a really good time as smallmouth bass are in great body condition. They are fat and sassy. These lakes are in good shape with their smallmouth populations: they are pretty consistent year to year.”

Water temperatures at these lakes range from the mid to high 60s, the beginning of perfect temperatures for smallmouth bass. “You can catch smallmouths right now, no matter what time of day,” said Chad Miles, an expert smallmouth angler who fishes Dale Hollow Lake regularly from late fall through spring. “You have a good chance to catch them on topwaters as well as jigs. We are still a little ahead of the peak for smallmouths, but it is on the way.”

On some early fall days, smallmouths herd baitfish against the surface of the lake and rip through them. Their churn looks like the top of an old school coffee percolator.

“I actively look for jumps in early fall,” said Hank Patton, director of law enforcement for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “They may be smallmouth bass, spotted bass or even white bass. You never know.”

A silver-casting spoon is one of the best lures for jump fishing because you can cast it into the next county. Blade baits such as the Silver Buddy also work well in this situation. Cast these lures into the jump and let them flutter down. The smallmouths usually hit the lure immediately.

Bright, shimmering fall days are the best to enjoy a football game, but make for lousy reservoir smallmouth fishing. Skies so low they seem to bump into the hills are the best days to fish these highland impoundments for smallmouths. A gentle rain is a bonus.

“Right now, they can be caught fairly shallow, especially on overcast days” Williams explained. “Knowing whether to fish shallow or deep is one of the things I struggle with in smallmouth fishing.”

Williams recalled a late October trip on Laurel River Lake a few years ago. He caught two smallmouths over 20 inches long in just a few minutes by swimming a 4-inch white curly-tailed grub across a channel drop in about 15 feet of water. This depth is fairly shallow on this air-clear lake.

“It was misty and overcast in the morning when I caught those nice smallmouths,” Williams said. “Later in the day, the mist burned off and it cleared up. We didn’t catch another fish.”

Grubs rigged on plain old ball-shaped leadheads still work remarkably well for reservoir smallmouth bass. White, pumpkinseed, green pumpkin and black grubs all produce at this time of year. Smallmouth jigs with smaller heads and with shorter, less dense silicone skirts or 1/4-ounce hair jigs in combinations of green, brown and orange work well. A smallmouth angler would rarely make a mistake by choosing a black jig.

Fish these lures across or along channel drops and down the sides of points in a rhythmic retrieve.

“I fish secondary points in the creeks at this time of year,” Patton said. “I also like underwater humps as well.”

Jigs and grubs are good lure choices to fish these areas, but faster moving baits also score.

“I fish a tailspinner often in late October and early November on points,” Miles explained. “When the water gets colder, I use heavy football jigs fished really slowly.”

Fluorocarbon lines in 6- to 8-pound test work really well for fall reservoir fishing. These lakes possess some of the clearest water in Kentucky and the stealth offered by fluorocarbon line produces results. Fluorocarbon lines also stretch less, allowing for better hook sets, and their density increases sensitivity.

Serenity, especially on weekdays, is an added benefit of fall and winter smallmouth fishing. “It is a peaceful time of year for fishing,” Williams said. “You rarely see other boats and that makes it all the better.”

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