Pull your big­gest top­wa­ter small­mouth of the sea­son out of the Septem­ber dark­ness

Field and Stream - - FRONT PAGE - By Joe Cer­mele

SCHOOL-AGE KIDS hate Septem­ber. Even if you’re a grown-up, it’s still kind of an end-of-sum­mer bum­mer. And it can be worse if you love to fish. Those 30 days of­ten leave an an­gler stuck in be­tween wan­ing sum­mer pat­terns and fall bites that won’t de­velop for weeks. I’m in limbo—miss­ing mayfly hatches and dream­ing about Hal­loween stripers. False al­ba­core can take the edge off if the run is good, or I may pen­cil in a Great Lakes salmon trip. Iron­i­cally, my fa­vorite ray of Septem­ber sun­shine stems from the fact that the sun sets so much ear­lier than it did in July. For me, Septem­ber is the month of mid­night bronze. Oh sure, you can catch top­wa­ter small­mouths af­ter sun­set all sum­mer, but come Septem­ber, I swear those smashes ring out louder than the first-pe­riod bell, and the fish that do the ring­ing are of­ten heav­ier than the av­er­age dog-day taker.


In most of the coun­try, a Septem­ber af­ter­noon can reach the same swel­ter­ing tem­per­a­tures that you fought in Au­gust with a dip in the pool. Length­en­ing nights, how­ever, can make small­mouth fish­ing ex­cel­lent af­ter sun­down. In sum­mer, the wa­ter had less time to cool off be­tween UV beat­ings, and mov­ing-wa­ter bass fa­vored hatch­ing in­sects or smaller bait­fish. Now, big bronzebacks may be slug­gish at mid­day, but the even­ing re­lief will get them on the hunt. They can feel au­tumn com­ing, and when they prowl af­ter dark, they’re of­ten look­ing for a real meal. Pop­pers have yielded some mem­o­rable Septem­ber night blowups, but most of the time, I’ll start out with a black Jit­ter­bug. It may be blas­phemy to fans of this clas­sic lure—sorry guys—but I like the jointed ver­sion. A gur­gling Jit­ter­bug can be heard un­der­wa­ter from a great dis­tance, and whether a bass thinks the lure is a mouse, frog, or in­jured shad, it will be able to home right in on the tar­get thanks to the milk shake–thick bub­ble trail a Jit­ter­bug leaves in its wake. An­other rea­son the Jit­ter­bug shines is that all you have to do is cast and reel, and you can hear the lure through­out the en­tire re­trieve. Sound and feel are all you have to go on, and if you hear a shot but don’t feel a tug, a Jit­ter­bug still re­mains in play at rest, giv­ing a fish a sec­ond chance to hit.


Guide Travis Edens (we­gofish.com) makes his ba­con chas­ing small­mouths on the Shenan­doah River along the north­ern bor­der of Vir­ginia and West Vir­ginia. Over the years, Septem­ber nights have pro­duced lots of 20-plus-inch bass on the fly for him. He fa­vors pop­pers, as they can be worked slowly. But for Edens, what’s most crit­i­cal for scor­ing is pick­ing the right Septem­ber night, and stand­ing in the right place. “I’ve no­ticed that the big­gest fish move re­ally shal­low af­ter dark,” Edens says. “While you don’t nec­es­sar­ily need a full moon, some moon­light is a good thing. Most im­por­tant is know­ing the dis­tance to the bank from where you’re stand­ing, and be­ing fa­mil­iar with any ob­struc­tions. Get in po­si­tion and then don’t move. Flats ad­ja­cent to deeper wa­ter are of­ten the best.” How long this Septem­ber night may­hem lasts hinges on how hot or cool the month is over­all. As a gen­eral gauge, Edens says once the flow starts to dip be­low 70 and stay there dur­ing the day, those late-night sonic booms will be­come fewer and far­ther be­tween. Whether I’ve got­ten my fill or not by the time the night bite fiz­zles, I’m al­ways sad when that door closes. The only con­so­la­tion is that I’m one step closer to hav­ing all the other great fall bites open wide.

Late Shift

This Delaware River bass crushed a pop­per af­ter dark.

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