THE BRONZE AT­LAS

Trou­ble pin­point­ing fall small­mouths? This “map” will put you right on the money

Outdoor Life - - FISHING - by PETE ROB­BINS

PAUL MUELLER MAY have caught the big­gest five­bass limit in Bass­mas­ter Clas­sic his­tory in 2014—more than 32 pounds of Alabama large­mouths—but small­mouths are his ob­ses­sion, and this Con­necti­cut pro has chased brown bass through­out the coun­try. Many an­glers have a love-hate re­la­tion­ship with small­mouths, he says, be­cause they roam re­lent­lessly on many bod­ies of wa­ter, so if you lo­cate the mother lode one day, they can be gone the next. This frus­trat­ing habit be­comes even more ex­ag­ger­ated in fall, when drop­ping wa­ter tem­per­a­tures keep for­age like alewives, perch, and smelt on the move. Mueller says that no mat­ter where you live, the com­mon­al­ity is that small­mouths are vo­ra­cious at this time of year, and that where the bait goes, so go the bronze­backs. Find­ing them is tricky, but what he’s learned dur­ing years of fall fish­ing will help you cut down your search time.

EAT AND RUN

On river-fed reser­voirs, Mueller says, small­mouths “roam a lot more than they do on other wa­ter types, but they group up a lot more too. You have to treat the river chan­nel within the reser­voir like a high­way and fol­low them to dif­fer­ent stops. Think of off­shore rock piles, sec­ondary points, and cur­rent breaks like rest ar­eas and gas sta­tions.” Just as we only pop into a rest area for a quick bite, so do bass, mak­ing good tim­ing crit­i­cal on th­ese sys­tems. Your win­dow for suc­cess at a given stop may be short, and you can never ex­pect the fish to be in the same place the next day. On a large nat­u­ral lake like Cham­plain, Mueller says, bait that’s been deep much of the sum­mer will move ul­tra-shal­low as turnover oc­curs be­fore head­ing back out to the depths for win­ter. This makes ar­eas like mari­nas and in­side grass lines worth fo­cus­ing on, but here too small­mouths will only hold for a short time. Con­versely, if you fish free-flow­ing rivers like the Susque­hanna, when the waters cool, bait­fish move deep, seeking more sta­ble tem­per­a­tures. “You want to look in places that are out of the cur­rent but near it, like ed­dies and deeper holes,” Mueller says. “Con­cen­trate on seams.”

ROAD RULES

Ac­cord­ing to Mueller, when you break down th­ese key lo­ca­tions on each type of fish­ery, they all tend to have quick ac­cess to deep wa­ter and rocky struc­ture in com­mon. If you find one of th­ese ar­eas with a com­bi­na­tion of rock and weed, it’s even more de­sir­able to the for­age small­mouths crave. Mueller says the best time to get after them re­gard­less of wa­ter type is in the sta­ble pe­riod fol­low­ing a cold front or two, when the chang­ing weather has pushed the fish and their prey into new ar­eas, but when they’re also ready to feed again. Mueller uses his elec­tron­ics re­li­giously to find fall smallies, and in par- tic­u­lar re­lies upon his Garmin Panop­tix, which he sets to search at a range of 80 to 100 feet around his boat, pro­vid­ing him real-time data and in­cred­i­ble res­o­lu­tion; he can see not just the tra­di­tional arches but also dis­tinct bass and bait­fish. Be­cause small­mouths are typ­i­cally tran­sient, and even more so as the wa­ter cools, the name of the game is cov­er­ing wa­ter to find them. That can lead to long pe­ri­ods with­out mak­ing a cast, but the good news is that the bass fol­low the same high­ways and usu­ally make the same stops year after year, so when you fig­ure them out, it’s pos­si­ble to go from zero to hero in a hurry, sea­son after sea­son. Many an­glers may look for­ward most to the shal­low bite of pre-spawn and spawn­ing bass in the spring, but for Mueller, fig­ur­ing out those fall pat­terns is the most re­ward­ing chal­lenge. “It’s prob­a­bly the rea­son I don’t hunt,” he says.

Small­mouth bass can be hard to find in fall, but when you do, you of­ten find a lot.

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