Wintertime River Smallmouths

January 10, 2024 by lbailey

Angling for Connecticut’s wintertime river smallmouths is a paradox. The cold weather period is perhaps both the best time to catch trophy bronzebacks and the most likely time for fishermen not to even receive one bite. Here are tips from Lee Bailey Jr (Three time Bassmaster Classic Qualifier) on how to experience more of the former and less of the latter.

Wintertime River Smallmouths on the Connecticut River

“How many writers even suggest fishing for wintertime river smallmouths. Water temperatures are near freezing. Ambient temperature is so cold that you have to dunk your rods into the water to thaw the ice from the guides. Or when the water is so muddy that you can’t see the bottom half of a brightly colored 6-inch soft bait as you hold it at the surface of the water.”

Jigs, Tubes and crankbaits are excellent for Wintertime River Smallmouths.

Most river smallmouths need deep water to winter. In Connecticut and Massachusetts I have conducted tagging studies which revealed that smallmouths migrate up to 60 miles from summer to winter habitat. In many cases, the trip is much shorter, sometimes nonexistent, but a migration of some length is the rule. Most wintering sites on rivers are at least 5 – 20 feet deep up in the North sections of the Connecticut river.. Down the South end of the Connecticut, smallmouths tend to migrate shorter distances and sometimes stay in creeks all winter. They seek deeper water, but a wintering site doesn’t necessarily have to be 20 feet deep.

The Connecticut River doesn’t freeze everywhere during winter, active smallmouths tend to rise up and feed in shallower water. This is usually between 2 and 10 feet deep. Rock bars, gravel points, boulder fields, and shallow flats immediately adjacent to a wintering hole become activity sites. In high water, smallmouths will be on these same spots where they extend up onto the flood plain. The closer to shore, the slower the current becomes. In high, cold water, slack areas become key.

“Deep” is relative to latitude. “On the Connecticut River, ‘deep’ water can vary from 5 feet to over 10 feet,” “Just find the deepest water and scout the entire vicinity around it. Some great smallmouth rivers have long stretches of nothing but shallow water. Smallmouth will travel as far as it takes, sometimes miles, to find water deep enough to satisfy their comfort and safety zones. And they remain in these areas for weeks (up north, make that months).

A wintering site doesn’t necessarily have to be 20 feet deep.

“In winter, deep holes near a shoal or falls are perfect trophy smallmouth areas. In high, muddy water, concentrate on eddies formed by islands that end abruptly. Those ending in a gradual slope are usually too shallow and too swift to be comfortable for larger smallmouths. The holding area for smallies at the ends of these islands is much smaller underwater than they appear to be on the surface. Islands that end abruptly form the bigger, deeper, and slower holding areas trophy bass prefer. They remain in areas like these until river conditions return to normal.

“The Connecticut is an excellent destination for winter smallies because it has such diversified habitat and plenty of it,” “Fish don’t have to move long distances to winter. I typically locate new winter holes during the low water months when you can see the content of these areas better. Then I will go to them in the winter and check them out. Some work out, some don’t. Only time on the water will tell.”

Lastly, please be sure to always wear a lifejacket while wintertime fishing and check river gauges to make sure water levels are safe.

See You On The River

This CT River Fishing Guidebook is the most comprehensive compilation of maps, Lees Lures and river Fishing Factors I have ever put together.

See You On The River 2nd addition by Lee Bailey Jr.

Strategies For Bass

Strategies For Bass paperback has the most impressive collection of up-to-date information, anglers will learn everything they need to know to catch more bass.

Strategies for Bass a 228 page book by Lee Bailey Jr.

Binsky In Late Summer

December 6, 2023 by lbailey

Binsky In Late Summer works so well when those bass move offshore and begin to school in deeper water, that’s when you can get your money’s worth out of this blade bait.

It’s a good bait for pressured or schooling fish. Bass don’t stop eating bait fish when the water gets warm, so continue to use a Binsky blade bait no matter what time of year it is. When it’s in the dead of summer, you might not be able to just pull up and drop-shot on a school of fish. But, if you use a Binsky, they eat it at first sight.”

Binsky In Late Summer works so well when those bass move offshore

A Binsky has the kind of versatility that you simply can’t get from a drop-shot.

A blade Bait is great to use in summer because it can sink like a rock to whatever depth you need it to/ You can get the reaction bite with it because it’s so fast and moves so quickly. It’s also a good casting bait to use when you’re waiting for topwater fish to blow up because it’s so heavy and you can throw it far.

A Binsky blade Bait is great to use in summer

Binsky In Late Summer is more effective than a suspending stickbait during this time because it can probe deeper and catch fish in the 30 to 40 foot range. Steep drop-offs along main and secondary points or creek channels in the major coves are the prime spots to introduce the metal Binsky to bass.

The best sizes to use for this blade bait are 1/2-ounce for depths under 20 feet and 3/4-ounce for probing deeper than 20 feet. After making a long cast, allow the bait to sink to the bottom on a slack line before starting your retrieve. You want to lift that bait just enough to where you actually feel it vibrate. Once you feel it vibrate then kind of let the lure pull back down on a more tight line to where it will pendulum out a little bit. You don’t want it to go straight up and down during your retrieve.

Make sure you work the lure all the way back to the boat because bass will frequently hit the lure right under the boat. Match the lure with a medium-heavy rod and baitcast reel filled with 15-pound fluorocarbon line.

Lees Spring Seasonal Approach

December 6, 2023 by lbailey

Lees Spring Seasonal Approach Guide is a system I’ve adapted to help find bass on unfamiliar waters. With spring arriving in most of the northern waters. The spawn completing in the south. I thought a spring time article from my book (Strategies For Bass) would be appropriate. As a retired touring pro, I fished all kinds of lakes and rivers in many regions throughout the year.

Fishing Factors Lees Spring Seasonal Approach

Some diehard early season fishermen know to head for the waters with current. Rivers and river system lakes will most often offer you some of the best early season bass fishing (especially smallmouths) in your area.

Obviously, I didn’t have time to become intimately familiar with each of these venues prior to tournament competition. When you only have three practice days. Unlocking the secrets of a large river system. You need some guidance. Helping you to quickly get on a viable fish catching pattern. Lees Spring Seasonal Approach provides that information, regardless of where or what part of spring I’m fishing. It helps me make educated guesses about where bass are most likely to be. You need to understand all stages of spring bass migration. It’s a system that quickly eliminates unproductive water and helps me home in on areas holding the most bass.

Lees Spring Seasonal Approach Pre-spawn: (48 to 55 degrees)

Some diehard early season fishermen know to head for the waters with current. Rivers and river system lakes will most often offer you some of the best early season bass fishing (especially smallmouths). There are things that are beginning to happen on these bodies of water in the spring that trigger the fish to begin this early season feed. The water temperature and the water level in river systems are on the rise. And we can all feel the suns rays are becoming stronger and more direct. All this is leading to an increased activity level for bait and bass.

Temperatures reaching into the mid to upper 50 degree mark will begin to trigger bass activity. Few however, acknowledge the fact that river smallmouths thrive in SPRING cold water (low 40’s) and will begin the spawn ritual before the water reaches the low 50’s. As mentioned earlier, even a slight increase in temperature is all that is needed to trigger the bites in a river system. A temperature rise from 38-43 degrees is a great temperature change for an early season river basser, especially if it happens over a period of only a few days. Bass will become extremely active during the first water temperature increase they encounter after a long cold winter.

Mid to upper 50 degree mark will begin to trigger bass activity.

Some of my best smallmouth catches on the Connecticut River happen in the early season. “One trip in particular was with a great friend of mine Don Sanzo. We were fishing an early season tournament. The river water temperature was hovering at a whopping 46 degrees. I had found these really big smallmouths holding on a shallow ledge in some of the shallowest and fastest water in the river. We ran 40 plus miles to get to those fish through rapids and some pretty nasty ledge only 18” deep to get there. When we arrived at this ledge we preceded to catch smallmouths from 3-4 pounds. As a matter of fact we hooked up on big smallmouths on the first 12 consecutive casts”. Not only did we have a great day of fishing but we won the tournament and set a standing record for the Connecticut River. A record setting 10 fish limit of smallmouth bass that weighed in at 31.14 pounds.

During this real cold water I prefer to use jigs

Some of the greatest early season smallmouth locations are shallow ledges of shale, gravel or hard packed sand adjacent to drop-offs with scattered rocks, brush and weeds that might have survived the winter. The rocky shore adds warmth to the water and awakens food (crawfish, insects and minnows). This hard bottom also has acted as a current break for these fish to stage near all winter. One thing is for certain rock ledges and shelves stay the same for the bass through-out the winter and high water periods. It is this consistency that makes ledges and rocks the best choice in the spring.

I will usually begin my fishing on these current waters with the water temperature being as low as 42 degrees. During this real cold water I prefer to use jigs, and tubes to entice these early pre-spawn smallies. Fishing however, becomes far better as the water temperatures reaches the mid 40’s, with the action reaching phenomenal proportions when the water temperature reaches the low 50’s. The smallmouths will bunch up in the above mentioned areas; these places will give you action all day. Some of the biggest smallmouths of the year are caught during the rivers early pre-spawn period.

Fast Water Pre-Spawn Smallmouth

December 6, 2023 by lbailey

A trophy-sized Fast Water Pre-Spawn Smallmouth is what drives us to spend so much time, energy and money on our passion.

“I find that Fast Water Pre-Spawn Smallmouth always leads me to the upper part of rivers”.

Nearly 30 years ago, I was able to first connect the dots to my favorite river system and its tributaries. Without much known data to support my own theories, I sought out to understand why my favorite areas of the river system were loaded in May and June and mostly devoid of smallmouth thereafter. I struggled to understand why my river smallmouths were in abundance for 4 weeks out of the year, and then no longer present. For me I found the high water time in may and early June led me to the upper rive in the fastest water. It dwelled on me how highly migratory river smallmouth bass can be. If free to navigate without obstructions, they’ll migrate long-distance like all other river fish species are capable of.

I find that Fast Water Pre-Spawn Smallmouth always leads me to the upper part of rivers. I mean the fastest and shallowest water with deeper pools adjacent to them. In pres-pawn they will bunch up in the 2 to 4 foot range. In rivers they are primarily feeding on crawfish. This is because the crawfish at this time are very lethargic. They are actually being sucked out of their holes in the banks. I can duplicate this fast Water Pre-Spawn Smallmouth pattern on any headwaters

Fast Water Pre-Spawn Smallmouth

Without river rat intuition and an extensive history with the river system, I could have otherwise blown through the staging pools unbeknownst and without ever testing them. It’s easy to ignore staging sites on rivers. Most anglers wouldn’t know how to identify one. Good spots like this one get revisited and used annually by the same fish.

Learn more in my new book “Strategies for Bass“.

Water temperature must be optimal as well. It’ll single-handedly influence a river migration in spring. 40 degree range, it’s too cold. At 48 to 52, we’ll finally find some smallmouth success, but only from isolated staging sites. Good luck ever locating them as 99% of the river will be vacant. Middle 50’s and slowly climbing, we’re getting hot! River’s loaded, and we’ll have a bonanza through spawn’s conclusion in early June where 50 fish a trip is to be expected.

Summer Dog Days Pitching for Bass

December 6, 2023 by lbailey

During the Summer Dog Days Pitching for Bass is my preferred technique in the heat of the day. Depending on the type of water you are fishing. Bass are going to either go deep or relate to structure and shade in shallow areas. When I first started cutting my teeth on fishing bass tournaments. Pitching quickly became one of my favorite ways to catch largemouth bass.

Summer Dog Days Pitching for Bass is my preferred technique in the heat of the day. Depending on the type of water you are fishing.

When looking for the best places to find summertime bass on lakes in the heat. There are three key factors to consider are shade, deep water and flowing water. Here is a look at the three best places to find summertime bass based on those factors.

Summer Dog Days Pitching

Boat Docks

The approach to pitching a boat dock is crucial. I approach a dock and dissect it prior to my very first pitch.

  • First: be sure your shadow doesn’t cast to where you think the bass might be holding.
  • Second: analyze where your targets are going to be and pitch to the closet ones to you first
  • Third: after you have pitched around the outer edge of the dock. It is now time to hit the hardest and most shaded targets around you..

“In a Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament I fished on Table Rock Lake. The Summer Dog Days Pitching had me loaded with a reliable shakey head finesse worm. Then I headed for a couple of docks I knew held fish. While pitching into the shady wells of a dock, I immediately caught a 3-pound Largemouth Bass. This pattern of targeting shady areas of docks on sweltering summer afternoons has produced bass for me throughout my years of competing as a pro anger on the Bassmasters and FLW Tours”

Rivers

“Everyone knows I am a river fanatic. I grew up bass fishing on the CT river and built my tournament career winning tournaments and guiding. The rivers and streams feeding into a lake offer plenty of water flow and oxygenated water. This keep bass active even in the midsummer heat. Run up these creeks or rivers as far as you can to find the strongest flowing water. The most productive spots to try in the tributaries are the pockets near the river bends. This is where wind and current push baitfish towards the bank. I started fishing major tournaments in 1983, and turned full time in 1996. What a ride that was. It was some of the best years of my life. Since I am retired now in Florida I no longer compete. However I fish 3 to 4 days a week. What a great life this is!”

Tips for pitching summertime bass

  • Use heavy hooks, smaller hooks can bend out and cause you to lose fish when muscling them out of heavy cover.
  • Pick your targets out and try to establish a pattern. Are you catching fish on one side or the other (Shady side or sunny side, up current side or down side) At the bottom, in the middle, or near the surface as you are pulling out?
  • When you pitch to your target be ready for a bite at any moment, let your bait fall to the bottom, twitch a few times, pull the bait out and repeat. Depending on the how the fish are reacting you may need to try soaking a bait a little longer with more twitches, try dead sticking for a bit, or shake and bump the bait against cover at the surface.
  • Look for shallow structure/vegetation areas that are close to deep water, big fish like to sit in shallow haunts near deep water for an easy retreat.
  • Practice controlling the entry of the bait to make as little water disturbance as possible upon entry.
  • Ease the bait out of the cover so your weed guard or weedless Texas rigged bait doesn’t expose the hook and snag up on the structure.
  • Lock your drag down so that the fish can’t take any line. Then you will get good hook penetration and be able to clear the fish from cover as quickly as possible.
  • Only lighten the drag in areas where clearing the fish fast off the cover is not as crucial like soft grass or vertical poles. Loosen the drag some, while using your thumb to lock down the spool for the initial hook set.
  • using a high speed reel, this allows you to take up any slack line faster to set the hook, catch up to a fish running at you quicker, and also get your bait back to the boat faster for the next pitch.

“Last but not least, A lot of guys just don’t practice their pitching enough to be able to get it into that target zone. If they’ll practice their pitching and then really concentrate on where should that fish be, the darkest, baddest, hardest to get to area, then they’ll start catching a lot more fish.”

Lees Seasonal Approach

December 5, 2023 by lbailey

Lees Seasonal Approach Guide is a system I’ve adapted to help find bass on unfamiliar waters. As a retired touring pro, I fished all kinds of lakes and rivers in many regions throughout the year. Obviously, I didn’t have time to become intimately familiar with each of these venues prior to tournament competition. You only have three practice days to unlock the secrets of a large river system. You will need some guidance to help you quickly get on a viable fish catching pattern. Lees Seasonal Approach provides that information, regardless of where or when I’m fishing. It helps me make educated guesses about where bass are most likely to be. Along with knowing where bass are at any given time of the year. It’s a system that quickly eliminates unproductive water and helps me home in on areas holding the most bass.

“I actually begin fishing a fall pattern when the water has cooled 10 degrees. Once below its hottest point of the summer it really begins”.

Fishing Factors Lees Seasonal Approach

Lees Seasonal Approach for Fall: 75 to 55 degrees

The concept operates on the theory that at any given time bass in a given river current system will be on certain key types of structure. Of course, not all bass will adhere to this “rule.” I could probably catch some bass off flats or in shallow bays in winter. If I spent long enough trying. Yet in a tournament, I’m better off spending my limited fishing time in high percentage areas. The Seasonal Approach gives me the general direction I need to form a fish catching pattern quickly. How well I fine-tune this generalized pattern during competition determines how high I’ll finish in the standings.

I learned early in my fishing career that bass relate to the different seasons very predictably. Once you understand that the seasons are part of the foundation to a bass’s life. You too will be able to catch them more consistently.

A very important part to consistently catching bass. Understand what role the different seasons play in the lives of the elusive bass. Having a strategy to the seasonal developments will allow you to have an understanding of seasonal movements.

Lees Seasonal Approach Guide is a system

I actually begin fishing a fall pattern when the water has cooled 10 degrees. This can vary greatly from river to river. A rapid temperature drop is best. This can really put bass on the move from deep main river structure to shallow water. Bass react to cooling water by moving shallower to big flats, long points with a gradual taper, and tributary arms.

A rapid temperature drop is best. This can really put bass on the move from deep main river structure to shallow water.

As surely as the seasons change, the behavior and location of bass change. As summer passes into fall and fall into winter. Unfortunately, the exact changes the bass makes often seems as unpredictable as the fall weather.

From a fishing standpoint, “fall” starts when summer fishing patterns start to dissolve and ends when stable, winter patterns begin. It’s a period of constant adjustment, basically because it’s a period of nearly constant change.

I actually begin fishing a fall pattern when the water has cooled 10 degrees


Simply, river systems offer the most predictable option. The key to staying in contact with bass. Knowing they move through the fall cycles is having some idea where the bass are coming from. As Well as knowing where they are headed.

Bass are more baitfish – oriented now than in any other season. Look for large schools of shad, alewives, etc., on your graph. In most river reservoirs, cooling water causes vast numbers of shad to migrate. Their first stop is to move into tributary arms, and bass are close behind. Follow this migration by fishing the first third of creek arms in early fall. Then gradually pressing farther back into the tributary as the surface temperature drops. I’ll often idle my boat up a creek arm. Closely watch your graph for suspended shad schools or looking for bait flipping on the surface. Isolated wood cover or boat docks in the backs of creek arms are dependable fall bass patterns. In lakes that don’t have shad, bass feed heavily on bluegill and shiners, both grass-oriented species, so target weedy areas.


Fishing a Fall Pattern

December 5, 2023 by lbailey

I actually begin fishing a fall pattern when the water has cooled 10 degrees below its hottest point of the summer. This can vary greatly from body of water to body of water. A rapid temperature drop is best, for this can really put bass on the move from deep main river structure to shallow water. Bass react to cooling water by moving shallower to big flats, long points with a gradual taper and tributary arms.

Fishing A Fall Pattern Lure Choices

As surely as the seasons change, the behavior and location of bass change as summer passes into fall and fall into winter. Unfortunately, the exact changes the bass makes often seems as unpredictable as the fall weather.

Fishing a fall pattern starts when you see first signs of the fall cooling trend

Bass are more baitfish oriented now than in any other season. Look for large schools of shad, alewives, etc., on your graph. In most reservoirs, fishing a fall pattern as cooling water causes vast numbers of shad to migrate into tributary arms, and bass are close behind. Follow this migration by fishing the first third of creek arms in early fall, then gradually pressing farther back into the tributary as the surface temperature drops. I’ll often idle my boat up a creek arm, watching my graph for suspended shad schools or looking for bait flipping on the surface. Isolated wood cover or boat docks in the backs of creek arms are dependable fall bass patterns. In lakes that don’t have shad, bass feed heavily on bluegill and shiners, both grass-oriented species, so target weedy areas that still have living green weeds.

A large number of the fish relate to backwaters as well as main lake areas during the summer. From the first signs of the fall cooling trend, main river fast water fish begin a gradual move toward areas with limited current.

Identifying these reduced current areas is usually pretty simple. Look for the bass to move to big cuts on the main river, cuts and coves in the bigger creeks, and slack water ponds off the main current area.

For the rest of the story and much more….. BUY NOW! Lee’s Strategies For Bass.


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