When water temperatures start to fall, smallmouth rush rocky banks and flats in search of easy meals. This makes them quite easy to locate. Big smallmouth will actively roam these structures giving equal opportunity to both people in the boat. That's one of the best things about this time of year: you can catch just as many from the back of the boat as the front!
When fishing rocky banks and flats with lipless crankbaits, it is important to make long casts. Thankfully this is easily accomplished because the baits themselves are very aerodynamic and cut through the wind quite easily. Long casts also allow anglers to keep the bait in the strike zone for longer periods of time.
Triggering more strikes is best accomplished by varying your retrieve. While you can chuck and wind all day long and probably catch fish, you can catch even more if you spice up your retrieve. It can be anything from yo-yoing the bait to adding short bursts of speed that can entice smallmouth into biting.
Since presentation is key to catching fall smallmouth, it is important to have the right gear. That starts with the rod. You want a rod that is long enough to fling a bait a good distance and is able to fight big smallmouth if they bite at the end of your cast. I prefer an Abu Garcia Veracity VERC70-5. It is a 7ft medium action rod. I like this model because it has a very limber tip which allows for long casts and prevents the bait from pulling free when fighting a fish. This model also has enough backbone to get a good hook set when fish bite at the end of a long cast.
Just as important as the rod is the reel. The reel determines the speed at which you retrieve the bait. I prefer to go with the Abu Garcia Revo STX in a 6.3:1 gear ratio. The nice thing about this reel speed is that it allows you to either slow down or speed up based on what the fish want. It also comes with a nice carbon matrix drag that allows you to easily adjust when fish make strong runs.
To go with this combo you need to fish the right line. This time of year, I'm not as worried about grass as when I am fishing in the spring. So in the fall you can get away with lighter line which also helps with casting distance. My line of choice is Berkley 100% flourocarbon in 10lb test. It's strong enough to haul in giant smallmouth and extremely abrasion resistant when fishing in the rocks.
With so many companies making lipless crankbaits these days it can make choosing one very overwhelming. I have found over the years that each company's version has a little something different compared to the next. Sometimes it takes a little bit of experimenting to dial in on exactly what will trigger the fish. My recommendation is to carry a few models from different companies to see what the fish want. The rule of thumb is to match the hatch. In other words, choose colors that match the forage in the particular body of water you are fishing. Most of the time, shad and crawfish patterns work best. Also, to assist in changing baits quickly I first tie a quick clip to the line so I can change out baits by opening the clasp as opposed to re-tying each time.
As a non-boater, it may take a little more adjusting to make this technique work. Your boater may be having success throwing a 1/2oz model in a crawfish pattern. You don't want to throw exactly what they are throwing. Your adjustment can be as simple as throwing a smaller or larger model or throwing the same model with just a slight difference in color. Very small modifications can put just as much or even more fish in the boat for you over your boater.
Fall is one of the best times to hit the water. I think you will find that fishing for smallmouth in Autumn can be some of the best that you experience all year long. Huge numbers paired with lots of large fish can leave your arms sore and your thumbs bleeding. But it is well worth the pain! GAME TIME!