Strike King pro Mark Zona explains why September is a unique time to catch smallmouth bass in comparison to other fall months.
“For the most part, September is a unique month compared to what we just came from in August, a month where the fish are mostly offshore in deeper depth zones,” shares Zona. Because of the change in temperature during September, smallmouth are on the move. “In September, it gets more complicated because the smallmouth start to go shallow, but there are still deep fish. So, you need to be prepared to fish from 3- to 30-feet of water,” Zona advises. In order to locate bass, Zona has a specific technique that he uses. “How I approach this month is moving baits and then transitioning to more finesse presentations when I find them,” Zona shares.
If the water is clear, Zona prefers the 5XD in Green Gizzard Shad. In stained water, he switches to Chartreuse Perch. For muddy water, he will favor Powder Blue Back Chartreuse.
“This is my go-to search bait to find big groups of smallmouth in the month of September. I can cover a lot of water with it, and the fish are typically not scared of a larger plug. This bait shines for numbers and for getting big bites. The unique thing about this bait in September is that I rarely want it to touch the bottom. The fish are feeding up chasing suspended bait fish,” says Zona.
“You are not slow crawling this bait – you are burning it while also keeping it up off the bottom. This is how you’ll trigger the most aggressive strikes,” Zona shares.
Zona’s choice for clear water is Smokey Shad, while he opts for Arkansas Shiner if the water is stained or muddy.
“After I locate fish with a 5XD, I’ll always back this up with a Z-Too on a dropshot or on a 3/8 oz. jig head. The bait is typically bigger this time of year, so I’m opting for the larger Z-too. They want a meal, not a snack,” says Zona.
He opts for the Rage Swimmer in KVD Magic in clear water, and switches to Pro Blue Glimmer or Red Flake if the water is stained. Ayu is Zona’s go-to when fishing in muddy conditions.
“I apply this presentation both shallow and deep. I also utilize this as a search bait that generates a lot of bites, and big bites. ¼ oz. for 15-feet or shallower,” Zona shares.
If the water is clear, he will throw a Coffee Tube in the KVD Kick, while more stained or muddy conditions call for Green Pumpkin Purple Flake.
“I have this tied on all year – end of story. It imitates everything that a smallmouth wants to eat. The 5/16 oz. and 3/8 oz. work best for 15-feet and shallower. Use the ½ oz. for anything deeper,” advises Zona.
He opts for Watermelon in clear water. If the water is stained, he will throw Double Header Red.
“I don’t talk about this bait a ton, but I use this a ton in September. There are wolfpacks of smallmouth that move shallow this time of year. They tend to be very spooky when they initially get shallow, so I need a finesse presentation that they haven’t seen all year. It is truly insane the size of smallmouth that I’ve caught on a KVD Finesse Worm. I typically throw this on a 1/16 oz. Flick Shake Jig Head. It’s been one of my best big bass producers for over a decade. Long casts are the key here to avoid spooking the fish. You are typically site fishing for them, so low-vis water conditions won’t apply here,” says Zona.
Strike King pro Mark Zona compares the similarities when targeting largemouth bass and smallmouth bass during September in Zone 5.
“The largemouth are in similar positions to the smallmouth. But it can be difficult to find large schools of largemouth compared to August,” shares Zona.
“Before the colder months arrive, the fish really need to start putting the feedbag on. So, September is when they feed heavily to stock up before winter. Because largemouth aren’t schooling as heavily as the smallies, you’ll need to be prepared to search every depth zone in the 0- to 30-foot range to find the highest concentration of fish,” Zona advises.
When fishing in clear water, Zona prefers Green Gizzard Shad. In stained water, he switches to Sugar Daddy. For muddy water, Zona will favor Oyster.
“This search bait is going to tell me where the fish are the fastest. I’m fishing this in 3- to 30-feet of water. I want a bait that I can absolutely launch when the fish show themselves on top. A Sexy Dawg will typically generate the biggest bite in a school this time of year. But above all else, it’s going to show me where the fish are,” says Zona.
Zona’s choice for clear water is the KVD Magic, while he opts for Watermelon Red Flake if the water is stained. Green Pumpkin or Pearl are the top picks for Zona when fishing in low-vis conditions.
“This is a direct connection to the Sexy Dawg approach, as it’s my immediate back up bait. The Caffeine Shad is one of the most underrated baits that Strike King makes. The density of the plastic allows me to throw it weightless on a 4/0 hook. If one misses my topwater bait, I can pretty much guarantee I’ll catch him on the Caffeine Shad. I have this bait tied on from the spawn through the fall in these zones,” Zona says.
He opts for Green Pumpkin Craw Tungsten Casting Jig with Green Pumpkin Rage Baby Menace in clear or stained water, and switches to Black and Blue with matching Black and Blue Rage Baby Menace trailer if the water is muddy.
“Duh! It’s September, so you must have a jig tied one. The key with the casting jig is that you still get a great jig profile in a compact size. I love hitting pressured fish with this bait as we transition out of summer. I’m fishing this jig absolutely everywhere I’m at. I’m trying to mimic a bluegill here. I use 3/8 oz. in 0- to 10-foot depth and ½ oz. for 10-feet and beyond,” shares Zona.
If the water is clear, he will throw Green Pumpkin Orange Throat Sexy Frog, while more stained water calls for Leopard Frog. Zona chooses Black when fishing in low-vis conditions.
“Fishing this in 5-feet of water or less. This is exponentially the best big fish catcher in Zone 5 during September. I’m fishing this in everything from pads, to matted grass, to docks – whatever the cover is in front of me. For some reason during this month, the bites tend to be more violent on a frog than any other time of year in this zone,” reveals Zona.
He opts for Green Pumpkin Hack Attack Swim Jig with matching Rage Craw trailer in clear water. If the water is stained, he will throw Blue Craw with matching Rage Craw trailer, while he will switch to Black Blue Flake with Black and blue Rage Craw trailer if the water is muddy.
“In connection with the Sexy Frog approach, I’m throwing a ¼ oz. Hack Attack Swim Jig in 0- to 5-feet of water. It’s the best option out there for covering lots of water, getting lots of bites, and getting big bites. I’m using a Rage Craw as a trailer here because it has a lot of action while displacing a lot of water. The water temp is still warm, so action is important,” says Zona.