November 18 2014
November is that time of year when most guys have already put the boat up for the winter and set their sights on anything with antlers. However if you are not the type to trade the deck of your boat in for a tree stand then you might just be in for the best bite of the season. I am going to shed some light on the “how’s” and the “why’s” that can make November your favorite time of year to fish.
Before we get into the “Go here and throw that lure” section of this article I would like to talk about the science behind what is going on with the fish this time of year. As water temperatures plunge into the mid 40s bass are forced out of the shallows and into deeper water. This migratory movement is typically accomplished by following bottom contours to gradual and/or severe depth changes with focus on rocks, wood, ledges or any combination of the three with adequate depth present. At this temperature range bass are still feeding sporadically although their mobility is dramatically low when compared to the 50 degree “Fall Feed”. This works out to the advantage of the savvy angler since at this point the bass are schooled up in large groups and mobility is at a minimal rate. This means that when you find a school they are more than likely not going to travel far for the rest of the season. Also, feeding is now more based on competition within the school rather than survival. This is what makes this time of year a “slug fest” on the water if you can trigger the school and get them fired up.
As the temperatures drop into the low 40s and upper 30s just before “Ice-in” the bass are now typically becoming very passive and will usually set up in oxygen rich water. At this point bass will rest with their pelvic fins and tails in direct contact with the bottom to maximize body temperature and thermoregulation. This makes them extremely difficult to detect on traditional sonar. Also, at this stage bass are extremely inactive and are usually only breathing about one breath per minute. With dramatically cold temperatures affecting their aerobic and metabolic rates bass are also experiencing a reduction in their digestive rate. All of this dramatically effects the bass’s feeding ability as well as willingness to feed. For the angler this means it is necessary to spend time focusing on high percentage areas holding large schools. Slow bottom crawling lure presentations are usually the most successful during this stage of pre-winter fishing.
So how do you find them? With a little bit of map study and some patience you can narrow down a large lake rather quickly. The key is to hit high percentage areas where the fish are going to be stacked up and ready to feed. I usually target offshore humps and points with significant drop offs (10-25ft change). If there isn’t a major depth change in the area or many points/humps I focus on subtle changes in depth as well as bottom content on gradually sloping shorelines. This is where good electronics come into play. I prefer Lowrance Structure Scan to help save time when working long shorelines. Although many lakes in MA/NH have plenty of natural structure and depth there are still a lot of “cereal bowl” style lakes that seem feature less but still have quality fish. On these lakes I use Structure Scan to look for areas in the 15-40ft range where a sandy bottom starts to mix with small isolates rock piles. You may be very surprised to see how a subtle change in sandy/rock bottom can hold a large school of fish.
One important factor I would like to point out is when I use my electronics this time of year I am more focused on looking for the correct combination of change in the bottom contour than I am looking for bait and arches. The reason for this is typically the fish are very close to the bottom and sometimes lying in the silt, sand, rocks making them virtually undetectable to most anglers.
Gear selection is key this time of year. I keep it very simple with usually just blade baits on the deck with some minor variations in set-up. Color choices are personal preferences. I switch between gold and silver on sunny days and solid painted colors on cloudy days until I dial in what the fish are reacting to the best. For water temperatures 42 – 48 degrees I prefer the Fish Sense Lures Binsky 1/2oz . For temperatures 42 and below I usually prefer to throw a ¾ oz original Silver Buddy or a ¾ oz Binsky. In the lower water temperatures I find the fish are less likely to chase fast moving/ripping baits therefore the slower and heavier ¾ oz baits have a wider wobble and slower vibration tend to be more successful.
Smallmouth and Largemouth both seem to react equally well to the blade bait in the pre-winter bite.
Water temps 45 and above usually call for a rip/fall type of cadence, while water temps 39-44 usually require a slow drag style retrieve.
Rod//line combinations are kept pretty simple. I prefer to use a 7ft Med-Hvy Impulse Fishing Spinning Rod. This rod has the perfect balance of backbone and tip to throw anything from a light drop-shot – heavy blades and jigs. I tend to be overly critical on my line choice for cold weather. I have found the Gamma Edge 8 and 10lb Fluorocarbon line outperform any line on the market in subfreezing conditions. Unlike many fluorocarbons Gamma does not become brittle in cold temps and keeps its smooth casting ability and extreme sensitivity.
Rods, lures, and electronics aside the most important piece of equipment I have on my boat is my Mercury SmartCraft gauge. When hopping from spot to spot make sure your engine block temperature is in normal operating range before hammering down on the throttle. No matter what engine you run on your boat you can easily blow a power head when pushing and engine too hard in cold water conditions. The Mercury SmartCraft gauge gives an easy to read digital reading of block temperature to ensure it is safe to get up and running.
November is by far one of the best times of year to hit big numbers and big fish. If you can brave the cold and do a little homework on your lake map before you go out you can really be in for an awesome day on the water.
Gamma Lines Pro RC Cooper writes a monthly blog for USAMARINEINC.com covering all things fishing, with attention to Northern waters.