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Targeting Mississippi River Late Fall Bronze Backs
by Cade Laufenberg


Targeting Mississippi River Smallmouth Bass in the fall is a breeze. Pull up on a sand point or wing dam on or near the main channel, start casting crankbaits, topwaters, and plastics, and you are sure to catch some smallmouths eventually. But what can you do when the water temps start to drop and you find more duck hunters than bass fisherman on the water?

For many anglers, the answer is to put the boat away and break out the bows and guns to prepare for the many hunting seasons that our plentiful area has to offer. Others choose to lay low for the rest of the year, and stay inside where it’s nice and warm. My goal with this article is to remind anglers that just because the air is cooling down, doesn’t mean that the smallmouth bass action is.

When hitting the Mississippi River at this time of year, and I classify the “fall bite” to run from mid to late September through ice up, I look for shallow areas that have plenty of access to deeper water near by. But truly, the first thing you want to find is the baitfish, because smallmouth bass are relating heavily to shad through the month of September and October, into November. In the beginning of fall, you will notice that you are seeing a large mix of fish, both large and smallmouth bass on the same structures. It is very common to catch largemouth on wingdams in September, but something seems to happen around the middle of October. There is a massive separation of fish, largemouth going one way, and the smallmouth going the other. Smallmouth find their way to the channel, and largemouth get into stagnant backwaters with either deep water access or plenty of green weeds. This is the beginning of the greatest time of the year to catch smallies.

As temperatures start to dip into the 30’s overnight, and you experience a few frosts, the bite on main channel structures, primarily sand humps and wingdams, gets fast and furious. During this time, I find fish scattered all over the wingdam, especially on the top of the rocks in the shallowest of water. I use topwater baits, shaky heads, crankbaits, and swimbaits to catch these fish. The flow level will determine what part of the dam these fish will position on, as well as which dams they will be on as well. Usually, you want to find low current this time of year, and your catch will greatly improve.

This usually means fishing wingdams that are tucked behind inside turns, islands, or just in a very wide area of the river where the current is not so heavily concentrated in one small area. The bite I spoke of above can be found anywhere from early October to early November, weather dictating starting and ending time of the bite.

As the water temps continue to dip, and the leaves are completely gone from the trees, something even more magical happens on the river. You might pull up to one of your favorite wingdams and find out that all the fish are gone. However you should be extremely happy and confident if this happens. If your fish have moved, it probably means that they finally moved into wintering areas, where these fish school in enormous groups, and can be caught consistently in sizes from 2-4 lbs, with an occasional brute topping 4-1/2 or 5 lbs. A typical “Wintering Area” could be described as deep, as you might imagine, but there are some other keys that you look for when searching for a true wintering area. When I think of fish migrations, I like to look at the big picture. Do these fish have access to water where they can spawn? Is there bait here or nearby? How is the current hitting this, and is there any possibility in the case of a flood, that this area would have too much current for these smallmouth? Although you might think looking for spawning areas in November sounds crazy, you have to remember that a big fat smallmouth is going to make her life as easy for her as possible. Through research, we know that smallmouth will migrate many miles to spawning areas wintering areas, etc., but it is my theory that if the fish have every seasonal thing they need, then they won’t move very far. In southern lakes, it has actually been proven that the very largest of bass can be caught in the same exact spot many times all throughout the year. These are all things to take into great and careful consideration.

The fish that I found this fall have wingdams, deep wood, sand humps and drops, shad everywhere, and multiple backwaters for spawning very close by. To top it off, the area is quite protected from current, so these fish will likely be close to this area for a long time to come.

Once you have located a school of smallmouth on a wintering wingdam or wintering area in general, start by coming up well behind the area you plan to fish. It has been my discovery that the largest fish position themselves just behind the wingdam on the edge of the drop into 20+ feet of water. In this 7-15 foot range where I am catching these fish, there is also some submerged wood present on a rock to sand transition bottom. The idea is to cast your lure on top of the wingdam or very close to the wingdam, and slowly pull the bait past these fish that use the slackwater behind the dam for protection. My bait of choice is a ¼ oz. Hair jig on a bfishn tackle precision head. Dark colors provide the best range of confidence for me, and I feel like if I’m not getting bit, its because there aren’t fish in the area. That is a good feeling to have when the water temperatures are ranging from 38-42 degrees.

Other lures that can be very effectively used this time of year include a drop shot, Jighead inserted tube bait, Carolina rigged plastic, crankbait worked slow, jigging spoon, jerkbait, or a spider grub on a jighead. The key in any presentation when the water is under 45 degrees or so is SLOW. The bites that you receive on the hair jig will not feel like your average smallmouth hit. You will most likely fell the line veer to the side ever so slightly, or simply feel the rod load up when you go to move the bait.

I fish my hair jigs on a 6 ft medium action spinning rod with 8 lb flouro-carbon. Light lines with low stretch are key if you plan on feeling any bites. This does not include superlines, as I have found that even in the Mississippi River , a slowly crawled plastic or hair jig on a superline is a turn off to big smallmouth. So keep it light and clear, and you’re bound to have success.

I hope this article has been useful to you, and if I can provide any more information, please feel free to give me an email at

I’m always willing to answer questions and enjoy hearing feedback from readers. I hope your fall is a memorable one, whether it involves the woods, water, or my favorite, a combination of both. Stay safe and have fun!

Cade Laufenberg