This is the time of year that separates the average fisherman from the handful who will fish in almost any condition short of frozen water. This is also the time of year when fishermen and –women who can handle the conditions can catch a lot of large smallmouth bass and walleyes. The change in the weather, air temperature, amount of sunlight and cold fronts all impact the location of favorite fish. The smallmouth start looking for the warmest water as the temperatures drop. This has changed some in the last decade. There used to be predictable fall patterns for smallmouth on most lakes with fish locating in prime spots year after year, but with the global climate changes those patterns no longer apply.

The normal range for smallmouth during the year on lakes and rivers could be several miles during the prime season, but as winter approaches that range could shrink to several hundred yards of prime water so that this time of year it really is “location, location, location.” It’s also important to remember that warmer water now is deep, near the bottom, because of lake turnovers, so feeding will be on larger baits.

In a lake like Lake Geneva in late October and early November the big schools of smallmouth will be located in 40-foot-plus feet of water. Preferred bait is live, like a five-inch or six-inch chub. The weather may not be the best; it’s usually cold, windy and overcast but the fishing can be the best of the year once the schools of big smallmouth are located. Catching numbers of fish in the five-pound range makes everything worthwhile.

Walleyes will move out to main lake points and reefs as the winter approaches and will be really aggressive right up to ice over especially on big lakes like Lake Michigan. The big lakes are great for night fishing, with trolling rigs over the main lake reefs in 20 to 30 feet of water. Those who venture out there should be prepared for big fish to slam the baits even in cold water. Those fishing small inland lakes may find the best approach to be crank baits or swim baits fished erratically, changing pace and color to find the right combination. The best locations will be lake points with rocks and/or weeds or main lake humps. Weather should not deter anyone you from trying for some late in the fishing.

Just remember to dress for the weather and don’t forget that life jacket. In cold water, survival time is measured in minutes. Until next time, keep a tight line.

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