Exist To Fish Canada Writer Chris Huskilson
August and September can be one of the best times of the year to catch BIG fish in the Kawartha’s Northumberland region. As we reach the end of August and the days start to shorten. The nights a little cooler and the leaves begin to change so does the trigger for our native fish species to feed! And feed a lot! Not only is everything seemingly hungry, but locations and patterns start to change as well. As the days shorten and temperatures reduce the aquatic vegetation follows suit and will start to deteriorate to the point where the fish will no longer use it as cover.
Largemouth bass in the region will now start to seek out what healthy green weeds remain. In most instances Milfoil is preferred. It provides a higher oxygen content creating a place for the panfish to hide which in turn attracts the Bass. Its root system holds the bottom in place, which holds phosphorus in place as well. It will also improve water clarity making it easier for the bass to ambush. The shallow water vegetation is the first to go and in most cases the healthy green weeds will be in deeper more stable water temperatures. 8-10′ is a depth I like to target when seeking out healthy vegetation that may hold Largemouth this time of year and the presence of bluegill and other panfish are a sure bet that you are in the right area. Once you find them they will be there in high numbers! Shallow water can still be a very productive option this time of year as well. Overhead cover is at a premium given the decaying plant matter. As the resident weeds die they will float to the surface creating matted clumps that will hold heat and panfish which will keep the bass in shallow as well. These fish are much more susceptible to temperature change this time of year if a sudden cold front or other weather pattern develops they will either vacate the shallows or developed a case of lock jaw.
Rice Lake – Stony Lake – Dalrymple Lake
Jerkbait- Twitch this along the edge of the green weeds you locate. The fish will dart out and strike!
Topwater Frog- Drag this over the matted vegetation! The shallow fish will be under it and cannot resist!
Spinnerbait- A steady retrieve over top of healthy weeds will generate strikes. A spinnerbait is a terrific option this time of year!
Flippin Jig- Dunk this right in the middle of the healthy green weeds and feel for weight! Set the hook hard and winch the fish out of the heavy cover.
The regions Smallmouth Bass population is on the move this time of year as well. They will begin their transition from deeper offshore structure to more accessible closer to shore haunts. Rocky points are very popular this time of year. They tend to really tighten up into schools. Instead of two or three fish together we often see 10 or more together. The same rule is true. Once you find them they will be present in numbers. Every fish I catch this time of year seems to have at least a half a dozen friends following it in as I land it. Some if my biggest Smallmouth of the season will be taken after Labor day in as little as 3-4 feet of water! Rock and sand points being my main target, but not to forget hard bottom healthy yet relatively shallow weed lines as well. The same rule applies however! If the vegetation is still green and baitfish or panfish are still present so will the Smallmouth be.
Sturgeon Lake – Balsam Lake – Catchacoma Lake
Jerkbait- twitch this along the outside green weedlines and rocky points. Hang on because they will smash this!
Tube Jig- hopped and dragged along the bottom will entice a strike from a hungry smallmouth. Also a great follow up bait to drop to the fish that may be following the fish you are reeling in!
The Muskie bite during the fall transition can be absolutely lights out at well. The drop in water temperature is the que for these apex predators to put the feed on. This is not only the time to catch a lot of Muskies, but can also be the time to catch an absolute monster. They can be extremely aggressive in late August, early September. The forage they have been feeding on has grown throughout the season and as such the tackle I like to use will increase in size as well. Large soft plastic baits are a go to for many as the water temps start to fall into the 60’s. I like a bait that will allow me to impart a “stop and go” retrieve and has a fair bit of buoyancy so that it will hang suspended in the water column between jerks. That extra hang time is just what the Dr ordered for big Muskies this time of year. I have good success fishing fairly shallow weed line edges this time of year. Edges with relative proximity to deep water. Green weeds seem to be less of a factor ironically enough and my belief is that they simply need something for cover to ambush their forage whether the weeds are healthy or not. So don’t shy away from decaying vegetation just yet for these fish during the fall season.
Sturgeon Lake – Pigeon Lake – Cameron Lake
Bulldawgs- a slow steady retrieve will often win the race with this big plastic. Don’t hesitate to impart a pull pause retrieve as well! Fish will often strike on the pause.
Large Swimbait- Swim this bait in current or over the tops of the weedlines. A very slow presentation that the fish really like this time of year.
On the flip side the regions Great Lake tributaries are on the cusp of exploding with the annual fall Chinook Salmon run. A drop in temperature and a good rain will trigger the “run” in full force, and what a blast these fish are to target and fight in shallow flowing water. There are a plethora of accessible locations to park and fish along some extremely product and renowned tributaries like the Ganaraska river flowing through port hope or the Wilmot in Newcastle. There are many bait and tackle shops along the way that are licensed to sell tied salmon roe that can be used under a float as bait. This is a very popular and productive method for catching these massive fish. They will stage in enormous schools at the mouths of these tributaries in waiting for the river conditions to suit their spawning requirements. They can be caught as early as mid-August at the mouths and right in to the tributaries as early as late August, early September. Light line and small hooks are imperative as these fish have very keen senses. A medium action 10-13′ Rod and large spooled spinning reel are also very helpful when fighting these long running, head shaking, high flying fish and will dramatically increase your odds of landing them.
Ganaraska River –
Tied Roe bags- Drift these under a float or on a bottom bounce rig at the mouth of the tributaries and the upstream pools and wait for the float to drop!
Bead/egg imitators- Drift these under a float in clear pressured waters.
Fall fishing in the Kawartha’s Northumberland Region of Ontario is an opportunity for any angler to catch the fish of a lifetime from shore or boat all within an hour’s drive. The region is regarded as one of the greatest freshwater fisheries in the world. Your next trophy fish, A Kawartha’s Northumberland Legend, is waiting! Come see for yourself!
ALL FISH DISPLAYED IN THIS ARTICLE WERE CAUGHT AND RELEASED IN THE KAWARTHAS NORTHUMBERLAND REGION OF ONTARIO!
Hot Summer Tactics
To say this has been a hot summer is an understatement. With countless scorching days along with little rain, this bass season has truly been a grind for many anglers.
Low water levels, high water temperatures and nothing but sunny days means tough, hard to predict fishing right? Well, not really. Are bass easy to predict? Yes. Are they less than agreeable? Kinda. Don’t cuss me out just yet.
At this point of the season there are a few key variables that make for a seemingly difficult equation to solve for the best of anglers. Really, the variables or unknowns are where and when do these ghost-like fish show up? Feeding windows become dramatically shortened and strike zones shrink which can make for a pretty frustrating day on the water. Smallmouth will suspend at various depths in relation to the thermolcline (a steep temperature gradient marked by a layer above and below which the water is at different temperatures) and where the forage they are targeting are located. Their green cousins, largemouth bass, can be found on deep weedlines, under trees, docks or buried beneath undercut banks.
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Now, we are talking about mid-day, but what about dusk periods? What about cloudy days with a falling barometer? Put that stuff on the backburner for a moment. These are the dog days of summer so just focus on the things you can control. As smallmouth “suspend” does that mean they aren’t oriented to the bottom? No – not at all. One great tactic right now is dragging on bottom. This is a great option because you can cover a lot of real estate, ultimately searching out aggressive feeders and the hot spots they are holding on. Don’t just drift aimlessly. Use whatever wind and/or current may be available while using an electric motor for precise positioning and a drift sock to control your speed if the drift or current is too swift. Also, the use of GPS can be crucial here. If you have a couple good bites, or better yet, catch a smallmouth, mark a waypoint and double back asap as smallmouth tend to travel in (sometimes) large groups. Why you ask? Forage, that’s why.
If smallmouth are actively feeding on bottom there are a few presentations that will mimic said forage. For this I lean heavily on craw imitations of both the hardbait and soft plastic variety. For hardbaits, a perfect choice is the Kamooki Lures ltd. “Smartcraw” as this lipless crankbait has a forward weighted, nose down/tail up position at rest which mimics a crawfish in a defensive posture. Simply dragging and bouncing no more than 6” off bottom will trigger some pretty serious strikes my friends. The unique sound of the zinc weight deflecting off of rocks coupled with the internal rattles will catch the attention of lethargic fish while the posture and realism fools them into attacking. In addition to this, a soft plastic creature/craw imitation can pay dividends as they can be rigged weedless and weighted accordingly to depth, structure and cover. For this I prefer creature baits such as Lake Fork Trophy Lures “Craw Tube” and “Flipper”. One little trick during these tough conditions is the use of scent. I will apply a generous coating of Liquid Mayhem “Garlic Craw” to these presentations. I mean, why not appeal to as many senses as possible right? (especially when strike zones diminish).
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Craws aren’t the be-all, end-all for this technique as Smallmouth will often pick off baitfish feeding on bottom. Many anglers lean on shaky heads for this which is pretty deadly, so are swimbaits rigged on football heads as well. One particular hardbait can re-create this type of feeding response trigger and that is the “Smartfish” by Kamooki Lures ltd. which has the same patented forward keel weight resulting in a nose down/tail up position. This is precisely how a baitfish forages on bottom, and is their most defenseless position.
For this dragging, bottom bouncing technique I favor a medium heavy/fast action spinning rod coupled with a 3000 series spinning reel spooled with 20lb Gamma braid paired with (depending on the nature of the structure) an 18” 10-15lb Gamma Fluorocarbon leader.
Colin Booth loves to dunk deep weed with a Liquid Mayhem laced jig! Seeing the pockets in the weeds is key and he does so with his Smith Optics sunglasses.
If this bottom bouncing tactic proves unproductive, that’s fine. While drifting keep a keen eye on your sonar in search of arcs/fish holding at a particular depth, killing two birds with one stone if you will. If there are zero bites on bottom and you see a depth pattern then pick up a few baits that will run at or just above the depth the fish are holding. Mark a waypoint, double back and fan cast the area until something gives. If a horizontal presentation isn’t cutting it, try vertically tempting them. Experiment with subtle and aggressive cadences and retrieves as well, while keeping water clarity in mind as well. Natural/muted colors work well in clear water while bright, flashy colors catch their eye in murkier stained water. I’ll mention the Kamooki “Smartfish” once again as these can be fan casted horizontally or jigged vertically and come in many colors to suit clarity and forage base. I also lean on spinnerbaits and a variety of crankbaits of various diving depths for horizontal presentations as well.
As far as the ‘where’, breaklines, mid-lake reefs, and main lake points with both access to deep and shallow water are great places to search for smallmouth. My theory is that this variety of depths within relative close proximity offers everything fish need, as well as the anglers that chase them. We’ve discussed the daylight hours but when the sun dips, smallmouth can pull up into shallower waters to feed. But, sometimes they will become more aggressive and will chase down anything that moves, at just about any depth, so keying on these spots that offer variety is the right move.
What about largemouth? Well, during these hot months, they can become very lethargic and hunkered down. Lush vegetation offering an abundance of oxygen, docks, trees and undercuts and providing a canopy of shade are great places to skip or flip soft plastics or jigs. What I like to visualize is a big huge, grumpy old bass sitting in a proverbial lazy boy recliner in the shade. Skipping a stickworm, fluke, swimbait, flipping a jig or creature bait into its little piece of heaven will do nothing but anger that fish, resulting in a very angry response. This is the more “predictable” tactic and if you hit as many of these types of cover on a hot sunny day, you will inevitably run into a few not so gentle giants if you’re willing to work for it.
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did you know that a fresh water bass can detect 1/200th of a drop of a substance in 100 gallons of water? That a bass can detect a prey fish odor source at 25 feet or that bass have been noted to have a better sense of smell than even the best bird dog? With that sense of smell the masking powers of a quality fish attractant are critical in hiding unpleasant odors such as gas, sunscreen and cigarette smoke.
If these shallow haunts aren’t producing, deep weedlines are a good option as well. Dunking creatures, jigs or weighted stickworms inside these weedlines can prove effective during high skies. On the flipside, running shallow to medium diving cranks, spinnerbaits, rattlebaits or swimbaits along classic ambush points like inside or outside bends in weed edges at dusk/dawn for opportunistic largemouth can be the deal. P.S- don’t forget your arsenal of poppers, walking baits, buzzbaits and the like.
When reading sonar, look for hard bottom transitions on these weedlines/flats/patches which show up as light to dark colors on the screen. I read these transitions in composition as a broken light blue to solid red reading on my sonar (Lowrance HDS) but do your research on this as color palettes can be customized as you see fit and can be vary depending on your choice of name brand. As I mentioned, look for anomalies such as bends, turns, underwater points and sunken islands which can be found with the use of updated GPS cards and of course, a good pair of polarized glasses. My personal choice for these are Smith Optics ChromaPop lenses in a frame that blocks light from penetrating from below and through the sides which aids in spotting these choice hidden gems that usually go unnoticed with cheap lenses. Also, good UV protection is of obvious importance so do yourself a favor and don’t skimp on this essential item.
The Fork Frog features legs that are at a 90-degree angle to the body, which creates more resistance and in return slows the Fork Frog down to where you can fish it slow to where fish will not miss the bait. The Fork Frog has the physical features of a realistic frog, with the paddle feet creating more commotion helping the fish locate the bait.
Beyond everything just mentioned, punching slop and burning frogs have their time and place as well. The number one rule here is that you must commit to it. Flipping 1/2oz-1 1/2oz baits on 65-80lb braid on a heavy action flippin’ stick can take its toll on you, but can tempt the biggest bucketmouth on any given lake. Using either a hollow body frog or a rigged up plastic buzzin’ frog with a flippin’ bait like a creature or a tube as a 1-2 punch can knock out any heavyweight bass you may encounter. Fan cast key areas until you contact one, and if you catch it on the frog, great! If you have a missed strike, double back with a flippin’ bait and get ready to set hook. The best way to pick apart a large expanse of vegetation is to hit transitions such as variations in weed types, small openings which will often be hard bottom, stumps or just about any change you find visually. Working these areas should be done erratically with sudden stops on openings, beside stumps and along said transitions.
Okay, now you’re going to cuss me out. What if none of the tactics I’ve mentioned work out for you? Well, they might not. Why? Please don’t come looking for me, but this time of year can prove to be the most difficult to figure out, as so many patterns could work on a multitude of different areas. If there is a lack of current on a riverine type lake, river or stream, fish could be in a funk. Low water levels, stagnant waters, high traffic/high pressure situations, higher than normal water temps, lethargic fish (and complaisant anglers alike) and, well you get the picture. This is the time of year to keep an open mind and experiment. Do not get stuck in patterns, look at every day as a new day and just get out and put your time in. There is no substitute for time on the water. I don’t know what is going on in your neck off the woods, only you can figure it out.
See you out there.
ALL OF THE FISH DISPLAYED IN THE PHOTOS WERE CAUGHT AND RELEASED IN THE KAWARTHA’S NORTHUMBERLAND REGION OF ONTARIO! GET OUT THERE! PLAN YOUR TRIP NOW!
Jamie Wilson- Exist To Fish Canada Lead Writer/Editor