With only bronze leaves left clinging to branches and the water somewhat brisk, I wondered if we’d be too late to find decent smallmouth action. It was November, and my boys and I had just stepped into an Ozarks stream. We’d traveled to Arkansas mostly to fish for trout, but couldn’t resist at least sampling smallmouth waters. It didn’t take long for the smallmouths to start attacking our Pop-Rs and Crawfish, affirming that we’d made the right decision.

Autumn delivers some of the finest stream smallmouth fishing of the year to several regions, and it tends to be an extra good time for wading because of modest water levels and comfortable days. Although specifics obviously vary by region and from year to year, stream smallmouths generally remain active notably later in the season than most anglers probably would guess.

Autumn wading allows for a wonderfully simple approach. Carry a single lightweight spinning outfit and a small selection of lures and simply work upstream, casting to everything that looks interesting. The fish find comfortable conditions and food throughout the water column this time of year, so they can be in big pools, small pockets, atop gravel bars, in the middle of shoals… Hit everything that looks good and keep moving.

Surface lures often call up all-day action throughout autumn, so it’s tough to top a Pop-R (original or Teeny) as a starting lure. Work it quickly across shoal areas to prompt reactions, but slow it way down in hard eddies and at the heads of pools. If they nip at a Pop-R, but aren’t quite getting it, try a Crickhopper or Bighopper twitched across the surface. Terrestrial insects commonly find themselves displaced and afloat this time of year, and smallmouths are quick to capitalize on the easy meal.

If the fish don’t quite seem like they want to come up, use a minnow bait or a small crankbait to go down after them. For minnow lures, Tracdown models generally work best because they can get down in the current. A few good crankbait options include Rebel Crawfish (best specific model depends on stream characteristics and the size of the natural forage), Teeny Wee R and Hellgrammite. Assuming the modest flows and clear water that are common this time of year, use the most natural colors instead of bright attractor colors.

Gear wise, everything you need to carry will fit nicely in a small backpack or even a fanny pack. Beyond a small box of lures, you’ll likely want pliers, sunscreen, bug spray, water, a camera and maybe a snack or two.

Autumn smallmouth wading can be right on the edge in terms of whether to wade wet or use waders, with a lot of variance by region and the part of the season. I personally prefer to wade wet as long as I can stand it and will mostly work from a stream’s edges or rock-hop if the water or air borders on too cold. That said, if it makes the whole experience better for you, there’s nothing wrong with sliding into lightweight waders and staying dry.

Just don’t let the changing weather keep you from getting out there. This fishing is too good.

Fall Favorites

Pop-R, Bone

Bighopper, Yellow Grasshopper

TD Tracdown Minnow, Slick Black Shadow

Middle Wee-Crawfish, Moss Craw

Super Teeny Wee-R, Tennessee Shad