I’m going to cut to the chase on this, because now that it’s Thanksgiving week, you Northerners are going to be pressed for time to put this plan into action. In my opinion and experience (remember, I grew up in Northeast PA) now is arguably the best time to hit rivers for huge smallies. I know, I know, super-cold river fishing is out of fashion in the world of fancy bass boats, but trust me, it’s worth it. Before you know it, floating ice will replace floating leaves, so time is of the essence. One would suspect that river water temps in the 40’s, or even high 30’s, would be a huge turnoff for river smallies that enjoy the oxygen-rich swift water of summer , but contrary to popular belief, they bite just fine if and when you find em’ stacked up. And speaking of when you do find em,’ they’re often so thick that conventional bass fishing wisdom flies out the window.
If you think about it, you’re average three mile stretch of Northern rock-laden river has way more shallow areas with moderately swift to significantly swift running water. I’m talking total surface area here. Those are the shallow areas you bass fish by drifting along in the summer months, or even by wade fishing for smallies in the shallow current eddies and pockets. The time for that is over. Look at a map and take those shallow areas away. What you’re left with is just a select few really deep holes, a.k.a. wintering holes. Now take away the swifter headwaters and tailwaters of those deep pools, and you’re left with the nice, slow middles. That, my friends, is right where those bomb smallies congregate, and believe me, they’ll chase and eat despite freezing water temps. In fact, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many big smallies have eluded the local river fisherman’s summer live bait rigs, spinnerbaits, or topwaters, but now fall victim to your jigs and jerkbaits.
Of course, this idea sounds like sunshine and rainbows while you’re planning the attack, but I must warn you, it’s not the easiest thing to execute year in and year out. It’s just that natural variables stand in every angler’s way, making it tricky to get on the same bite in the same spot year in and year out. First and foremost, unconventionally high and/or muddy water during this critical time span throws a wrench in the system. The high water spreads the fish out and has the tendency to make everything very inconsistent. The other factor that is impossible to overlook when fishing cold-water river smallies is boat convenience and/or accessibility of those deep holes. The fact of the matter is that nobody wants to chance running their fiberglass bassboat up rocky rapids in order to get to these places, and if you do take a small boat, the level of danger then becomes notably higher for the angler. Taking an accidental dip in freezing river is very bad, but that’s just part of the risk when mixing small boats in current. So that leaves a small temperamental window of opportunity to take advantage of this late season smalliefest. But if you hit it just right, like during a low-water fall day, you might find yourself sitting on a big smallie gold mine. In my experiences, I have always been happy when the stars aligned for this pattern to actually come to fruition once every three years. I know the reality too much to just expect an annual onslaught, but rest assured that during those years when it does set up just right around the Thanksgiving Holiday, I am exceptionally thankful, and come back to the table for a hearty dose of smallmouth seconds and thirds. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!