Fall is Hard Bait Time

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Presented by Mercury

As to the title of this piece – yes, I realize that fall is not just about hard baits, it’s about many styles of baits that can be used in order to execute a proper presentation to catch your quarry. However, if you’re at all like me, and one “style” of bait has been working fall after fall repeatedly, why change, right?

One of those baits that I always have rigged up in the fall has been a plastic craw or craw-like creature, Texas rigged for Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass. I use Sweet Beavers, Flappin Hogs, Muscleback’s, Rodents etc. As long as they have a bit of bulk and they aren’t too long, they’re right in my wheelhouse. I’ve come to rely heavily on this style of bait. Not only does it catch both bass species, but it catches Walleye and Muskie (when they don’t floss me) as well.

This brings me to the title of this piece… we’re talking the total opposite; hard baits. This includes crankbaits, rattle baits, jerk baits etc. 

Through time, I’ve come to primarily trust two non-soft-plastic baits for my bass fishing, squarebill crankbaits and spinnerbaits (Colorado’s for LM and Willow’s for SM). I’ve done quite well with both styles… at times! But again, between the craws, the squares, and the blades, that’s pretty much it.

Recently, Fish’n Canada and bait & line manufacturer Yo-Zuri, teamed up to join these two iconic brands together, thus creating what I consider to be a dream partnership. Ang and I have known about and used Yo-Zuri products throughout our time, but we never really went deep into the brand.

So, for my most recent outing, I grabbed a few deeper-than-my-usual squarebill crankbaits and brought them along, hoping to try them (in other words, I’ll probably have to lose all my go-to’s first). 

Spot #1

As we got to our starting area, long-time friend Scott Delong, and I hit a deep weedline. Before I was even tempted to fire out my craw bait, I said “NO… I’m gonna’ try a Yo-Zuri deep diver” (it’s called a 3DB Deep Crank). “I’m in deep water, so pull yourself out of your comfort zone and give something else a shot”!

You know it people, about six casts into the trip, a beauty, 3lb Smallie hauled on that crank and the battle was on (well, kind of a battle, the water was about 49 degrees). That right there is such a confidence builder. First spot and a quality fish in the boat. From then on, I knew I could throw that deep diver in similar situations throughout the day.

A fall smallmouth on a Yo-Zuri hardbait

I’ll take brownies like this one, on crankbaits all day long… so much fun!

Second Stop(s)

As we moved on and puttered around to some of the bassiest looking spots of the lake. Of course, I tried my craw as well as other baits.

One of those spots was an ultra-shallow flat and, surprisingly, there were still some Largemouth on it. It was way too shallow and weedy for a crankbait so I fired out a Heart Tail Swimbait. After missing a couple of fish, a 2 1/2lb Smallie took that sucker sideways. I missed at least one more and Scotty popped a couple of solid Largemouth in the same area on a MegaStrike 3” Fat Shad swimbait. Scotty’s Largie game and his plastics were on point… me, not so much!

The fish were eating, but the bite was off as they weren’t inhaling any of our baits, including Scott’s (he was barely hooking them)

A New Area

We moved down to another deep weed edge working swimbaits and craws in the weeds and I did one of those “they’re not in the weeds so what the hell” casts where I grabbed my DB deep diver and fired it straight out into deep water… 180 degrees AWAY from the weedline and into the abyss. 

Crunch… a Smallie pummeled it.

Things were getting fun.

fall fishing at its finest. A smallmouth on a Yo-Zuri hardbait

A cast into the middle of nowhere produced this fall Smallmouth

Let’s Keep Moving

The next move was to another shallow, weedy area. Here, I blew another Largemouth THREE TIMES! 

It missed the heart tail on the first cast.

The same fish ate it on the second cast (I could see the whole thing) but as I set the hook, the bait just pulled from its mouth. A big, strong 5/0 EWG Swimbait hook with the point exposed!!

On my third cast, I took a finesse spinning rig and threw a light weightless plastic to the area where I saw the fish swim. I felt the bite, set the hook, got it halfway to the boat and SPIT, bye-bye… not my day for Largemouth! 

Move To A Flat

As we pulled out from the shallows and into the mid-depths, Scotty cracked a great Smallmouth on his little swimbait… at least he could execute properly with the soft stuff.

Scotty D with a nice fall smallmouth

Scotty D with a nice fall Smallie

By this time I’m pretty much frustrated with my performance, and probably thinking way too much. We kept moving out towards deeper water. Since this area was only around 5-6 feet deep, I decided to try a shallower crankbait (3DB 1.5 MR) in a bright chartreuse colour as my previous crank would run too deep. 

Yep… another chunk of a Smallie!

Another fall smallmouth

Shallower water called for a smaller, medium running crankbait

Once we got to our intended area, we set up to where the water was about 8 – 12 feet deep. The 3DB Deep Crank that I was throwing earlier normally can dig down to around 15 feet. If, however, you kind of “finesse-reel” a crank (slow down a bit) and keep your rod tip high, you can work a bait like my 15-footer, in that 8-12 range (BTW, it was a muddy, weedy bottom so digging the bill would only be a problem).

My best results in areas like these are to start my crankbait in the shallower water (8’) and retrieve it towards the deeper water where my boat is sitting. That way the crank will work its way deeper with a better chance of not scraping that muddy bottom.

First cast straight out to the starboard… another 3 ½lb+ Smallie.

Big smiles!

Next cast out to the port side… a feisty and nasty Muskie… without a wire leader and on my ONLY deep diver in the boat. 

Talk about finessing a fish in!

A surprise muskie while out fall smallmouth fishing

Luckily this little fella was lip hooked, otherwise, it was probably bye-bye deep-diver!

Moving On

We next decided to hit a shallow Largemouth area and then finish the day off back on the ultra-shallow flat where Scotty and I had previously had that Smallie/Largie action on swimbaits (translation: where Scotty did well and I blew about 75% of my bites).

As we struck out on the second last spot I remembered seeing and waypointing a few isolated deep boulders on a previous trip. I found them during the summer and they were barren of fish, but my instinct was to mark them and come back in the fall. It’s a classic deep, cold water area… probably for Smallmouth but hoping for Largemouth.

By the way, most of Ang’s and my past “boulder” waypoints were found via side imaging; however, we’re finding now that LiveScope does a great job spotting structure and cover as well. And that’s exactly how I previously found these hidden gems.

We cruised over with the electric (it was only a short distance) and threw a few casts with craws and swimbaits but nothing. I decided to fire a long-bomb cast with a Ned Rig to a weedline in the area and caught a decent Largemouth. Nice!

I then cast Mr. Ned back out to the boulders thinking “ok, this is gonna work” and… nothing. 

OK, one last cast with the deep diver (I honestly was expecting no fish since Ned resulted in nil).

You guessed it, a gorgeous Largemouth that almost slack-lined my crankbait (TIP: when your crankbait feels kind of mushy, reel fast and set the hook hard). Biggest fish of the day, a short, fat one. What a fantastic way to end the outing!

Last fish of the day - a nice fall Largemouth

Last fish of the day, close to 15-feet deep, near a couple of isolated boulders, and on a deep-diving crankbait.

Conclusion

In closing, I honestly feel that not all anglers have the mental strength to “experiment” when fishing old favourite haunts. Especially in the fall when daylight is limited. I’m one of those I always plan on it, but execution is something else, and having ol’ faithful is rigged and ready “on deck”, sure doesn’t help.

Had Ang and Yo-Zuri not put our recent sponsorship deal together, I may have ended up scratching my head thinking “why are these finicky so-n’-so’s not eating my craw???”

My producers for the day, a 3DB Deep Crank and a 3DB 1.5 MR, both made by Yo-Zuri

BUT, since the above did happen, I now have a new late fall bass technique, that I can confidently pull out of my cold water bag of tricks.

By the way: ZERO FISH on my craws. Although their dunk-time was limited compared to normal, it’s never happened before… interesting!!!

Pete Bowman

Pete, one of the most revered and popular anglers in the nation, has a tremendous love for the game… the fishing game. Pete’s vast knowledge of angling and ability to articulate it to audiences worldwide has endeared him to his fans who still see Pete as just “ONE OF THE BOYS”. Pete is also an accomplished and published outdoor writer and photographer as well as a sought-after speaker. In 2012 another of Pete’s ultimate fishing career highlights occurred when he was inducted into the Canadian Angler Hall Of Fame, something he never thought would happen. A Canadian fishing icon.

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