A couple of weeks ago I was working along a glassy-calm shoreline and saw some commotion ahead of the boat. Getting closer, I realized the ruckus was a smallmouth bass choking on a large perch!
This 17-inch bass was blind in one eye, a tough break in an already tough world. Survival might mean eating anything which comes into attack range. And predators trying to eat prey more than half their size is not unusual—especially with winter knocking at the door.
Water temperatures across southern Wisconsin have tumbled as much as 15 degrees in as many days, from the upper 50s to low 40s.
This drastic drop has dulled the enthusiasm of warm-water species like bass and created a sense of feeding urgency in cool-water species like pike and walleyes.
Using larger lures and bait is always a good idea in the fall. But it’s an especially good idea this autumn because water temperatures dropped so fast that “marble eyes” and “snot rockets” know it takes just as much energy to chase down a big meal as a small one.
The bigger meal will provide more energy to endure winter, when meals are small and feeding opportunities are infrequent.
One of my favorite fall walleye presentations is vertical jigging or casting and ripping an Echotail blade bait. The ¾-ounce Echotail comes rigged with a two-inch plastic fliptail for added action.
With water temperatures dropping from 48 degrees, when walleyes strap on the autumn feedbag, to 42 degrees—when feeding starts slowing down—over just four days, going to a larger bait profile definitely puts more fish in the boat.
I’ve switched out the two-inch fliptails on my Echotail “Teddy Cats” for a 3.5-inch Kalin Sizmic grub, resulting in a bait profile almost six inches long.
“Eater” sized walleyes have no trouble with a six-inch lure. But last week I had saugers and walleyes as small as 12 inches strike this lure which is nearly half their size.
These short fish were immediately released, which was a much better outcome from the bass which was about to go belly-up from eating that nine-inch perch head-first.
The smallmouth saw my landing net enter the water but could only offer a half-hearted tail flip in an attempt to avoid capture. The perch was already dead. But it definitely went out fighting.
Once the fish were in the boat I could see the very tip of the perch’s nose poking out of the smallmouth’s gill cover. The dorsal fin kept the perch from backing out of the smallmouth’s craw. The only chance at survival was attempting to swim out through the bass’ gill rakers.
What does an ethical sportsman due with a recently expired perch and a half-blind smallmouth bass which is about to give up the ghost? Release them, of course—into popping hot grease after being lightly battered with Shore Lunch mix.
Water temperatures should hover in the low 40s for at least another week or two. Once temperatures fall into the 30s, the metabolism of these cold-blooded creatures falls off, too, calling for a smaller and slower bait presentation.
Between now and then, going for the upgrade is a good idea. Instead of two-inch fatheads, try four-inch chubs or suckers.
If you like using hair jigs, extend the bait profile by adding a plastic tail. If you like using three-inch Kalin fliptails, upsize to the five-inchers.
Humans aren’t the only creatures which bite off more than they can chew, then realize they’ve made a mistake. The good news is, fish mistakes are mighty tasty.