Illustration by Ryan Kirby
Many rivers on the east and west coasts experience spring runs of migratory baitfish, namely shad and herring. By September, the fry from the spring spawn are big enough to begin schooling and making their way back downstream. This can pose a problem for smallmouth anglers; if there’s too much bait in the river, the bass can become tough to turn on lures during the day. But after dark, the bass begin bingeing on the abundant bait—especially during the September full moon phase. Here’s how to catch them.
Schools of fry instinctively group in shallow areas for safety, and smallmouths will slide into skinny water at night to crash the bait and grab a bite. Opt for a topwater lure that makes a distinctive sound so it stands out from the natural bait. I find that dark colors create sharper silhouettes at night, especially if backlit by the moon. Heddon’s Baby Torpedo in black shore minnow is a good choice. Work the lure with a steady retrieve, and if a fish misses, speed up.
Edge of Darkness
Inside turns of a main river channel provide areas of softer current where bass often hold and ambush bait. Find an inside turn adjacent to a ledge where the bottom rises toward the bank. Bait schools hug the bank, and the quick access to deep water allows bass to shoot in, eat a quick meal, and then reposition on the turn. Work dark-colored stickbaits, such as a 41⁄2-inch Bomber Long A in blurple, right along the inside turn. Cast to the bank and work the bait to the edge quickly. Then give it a pause and let it hang just over the ledge. Be ready for a massive strike while the bait is sitting still.