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Just a Few Weeks Left for Good Stream Smallmouth Bass Fishing
on Thursday 08 October 2009
by Lee McClellan

Just a Few Weeks Left for Good Stream Smallmouth Bass Fishing


Frankfort, Ky. – Some of the most gorgeous weather of the year is upon us. The leaves are turning copper, brown and brick, the sunlight is exceptionally bright and the window of opportunity for stream smallmouth bass angling narrows with each passing day.

Now is the time to get on it. Smallmouth bass in streams get aggressive in September and October as days shorten and water temperatures drop. They heartily strike jigs, soft plastics and flies during this time, but only if fished in the right places.

“They are still feeding heavily to put on weight for the winter,” said Gerry Buynak, assistant director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Fall fishing is good because they want to eat. Nature is telling them to eat.”

Stream smallmouth bass in October locate deeper than they did just a month ago, but are still in areas with some current.

“If you can find an undercut bank or a deep root wad with some current, fish there,” advised Buynak, who conducted fall smallmouth bass population sampling on central Kentucky’s Elkhorn Creek for years. “They will still come out of those hides into current to feed.”

A 1/8-ounce black or purple hair jig with a tiny black pork frog trailer is tough to beat right now, as is a black 4-inch finesse worm. These lures slowly tumbling in the current near an undercut bank should get smoked by a large smallmouth. It seems many of the strikes from stream smallmouth in October come from large fish. A weighted black woolly bugger drifted by these same spots draws vicious strikes for a fly angler.



smallmouth smallie fishing creek stream fly popper

Nice stream smallmouth like this one are biting right now. John Guthrie fooled this fish in the chilly waters of Elkhorn Creek by fishing slowly near an undercut bank.


October usually brings with it the lowest water levels of the year. It is a good idea to downsize your line to 4-pound test and throw smaller, more subtle lures. A 2 1/2-inch grub produces more strikes right now than a 4-inch grub.

Stream smallmouth in October’s clear water will hit a boot or spade-tailed grub or a straight-tailed worm more often than a curly-tailed worm or grub. Jigs should be small and compact.

“As the water cools some more, they start settling down into deeper holes,” said Jeff Ross, assistant director of fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “They locate near structure such as boulders in deep holes where they can lie and wait for food to drift by without wasting energy.”

It surprises the mind how quickly stream smallmouth fishing can change from excellent to poor in fall. Once mid-November hits and the leaves are all gone, those shoals, runs and root wads crawling with bronzebacks in September and October seem devoid of any aquatic life.

“Once it gets into mid and late November and the water temperatures drop to 50 degrees, smallmouth bass in streams go almost dormant,” Buynak explained. “They don’t do anything until spring.”

Buynak related a story of some winter population sampling he helped conduct on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania years ago. “One of our divers came up with an 18-inch smallmouth,” he said. “He just grabbed it with his hands. That is how lethargic they are in winter.”

Anglers target smallmouth bass in reservoirs year-round, but not stream smallmouth. “They slow down in lakes, but still bite,” Ross explained. “It has to do with current. They need to conserve more energy in winter in streams to maintain their position in current. The lake also has a temperature buffer because of the large amount of water. A stream doesn’t have that, it gets colder.”

The clock is ticking for good stream smallmouth fishing this year. Get out in the next few weeks, or it will be early next spring before they bite heartily again.


Author Lee McClellan is an award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.