Any stream that connects to the Tennessee River is a bronzeback haven for the angler.
October brings about many changes to north Alabama. Green leaves turn to brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows as the hot sluggish days of summer are finally pass for good. Just like their surroundings, a change is also occurring for the smallmouth bass that inhabits the many feeder creeks and streams found in the Tennessee River drainage. These beautiful, elusive fish become aggressive again, feeding quite frequently in anticipation of winter. For the Alabama angler, this change couldn’t be a more exciting start to smallmouth bass fishing.
Excitement Begins with Smallmouth Bass
If you’ve ever tangled with a brown bass (bronzeback to this angler), you know exactly what I’m talking about. No other bass provides such exhilaration upon hook-up. Huge jumps from the surface combined with deep, bruising runs only come close to defining the smallmouth’s desire to escape the lucky fisherman at the business end of the line. Join those two solid facts with what seems like a never-ending endurance contest and you quickly have one of the most exciting game fish our state has to offer.
Many fall anglers choose to motor up feeder creeks from the main lakes in search of October smallies. I guess I’m exactly the opposite, though, because my method of travel each year is by kayak. Both methods are great for producing fish, but in my opinion, there’s just something about floating and fishing that helps soothe the soul. As to the exact where, I have a few favorite streams I like to visit, but for the most part, any stream that connects to the Tennessee River has potential to be a smallmouth haven. You’d be surprised to know that some of the tiniest stretches of water produce some very nice fish. The exploration part of the journey is just as much fun as connecting with the fish.
I remember a few years ago a friend and I were floating a new stretch of water for the very first time. Around every bend and below every current break, the thought that this stretch may hold smallmouth is the only thing that consistently captured our minds. Using this train of thought, even an everyday ten-inch bronzeback is an extraordinary challenge, creating a satisfying experience on the water.
What to Use When Smallmouth Bass Fishing
Regardless of which stream you choose to visit, always look for smallmouth to congregate around current. Shoals and rapids are nothing less than smallmouth bass fishing magnets. Either above or below the swift water, smallmouth bass love to ambush easy prey. In these areas, I like to use a spinnerbait or crankbait when smallmouth bass fishing. Both of these lures are search baits that can cover a large section of water in a short amount of time. Likewise, they both resemble the baitfish the bronzeback feeds on. Once the spinnerbait hits the water, give it a short jerk before you start a steady retrieve to get the blades spinning. The flash and vibration really get a feeding fish’s attention in the shoal water.
As for the crankbait, allow it to bump the bottom if possible. The bait will stir up some debris and resemble a smaller fish or crawfish that will be too much for a hungry smallmouth to ignore. Spend several minutes around each area of current, thoroughly working all the breaks.
Don’t neglect the pools just below the swift water, either. Bigger fish love the safety deep water offers. Spinners and crankbaits are worthy selections in this section as well. However, other lures draw a different crowd of fish. If fish are acting wary, or if the water is extra clear, use a weightless soft plastic there. Both a fluke and Senko worm are excellent choices to draw strikes from uninterested fish. These lures resemble injured minnows that have been swept by the current into the pool. Fishing them weightless allows for a more realistic approach. Slight twitches with the rod tip will create an irresistible side-to-side action.
Look for Ambush Points
“Black and blue is a tried and true color combination for jig fishing, but don’t be afraid to mix in some brown and orange as well.”
Another hotspot is a ledge around current. From my experience, smallies prefer rock over sunken timber. That doesn’t mean you won’t find them among timber, but it does mean that they will almost always take advantage of a rocky ledge as an ambush point. Over time, water erosion has cut deep into the rock wall, forming resting areas for the fish to hide in. When the food comes by, out comes the smallie. Jigs are dynamite in this situation. My fishing buddy, Jeremy, caught a nice smallmouth last time we went on a 1/8th-ounce hair jig along a big rock wall. A slow, bumping action resulted in the big hook-up.
Black and blue is a tried and true color combination for jig fishing, but don’t be afraid to mix in some brown and orange as well. Crawfish are the main forage for smallmouth and anything resembling them is a solid choice. Other good choices along these walls include rattling lipless crankbaits. The thin profile that lipless crankbaits have a strong to appeal to the smallmouth and the rattles serve as an attention getter. These lures also sink rapidly, allowing for more time in the strike zone for the lure. A steady retrieve is all that is needed.
An Irresistible Bait
Another great way to find smallies is to look for moving water coming into the stream. It doesn’t have to be much, but a smaller creek or even a drainage ditch can be enough to warrant a cast or two. When smallmouth bass fishing, the smallies tend to sit below these flow-ins similar to those below a shoal. The point is this: It’s all about an easy chance for a meal. I love pitching a Texas-rigged crawfish into those situations. A slow-bumping retrieve is all it takes to entice a strike.
Enjoy The Experience
Smallmouth bass fishing in October gives the remarkable fish a time to shine. I hope you drag out the old canoe or get out the kayak and give them a try. Better yet, take a youngster float fishing for the first time. My friend David takes his son with him all the time. He says they catch some fish, but they also turn over rocks for bugs and skip stones in hopes of seven hops in a row.
Either way, don’t be surprised to see me on the water. Just writing this makes me excited about my upcoming trip. This will be my third year in a row to trek up Interstate 65 in hopes of finding a few bronzebacks. Once you hit Decatur, it doesn’t really matter if you take a right or left. Smallmouth bass fishing in Alabama will be primed and ready for fishing in all directions.