The annual catch-and-release season for smallmouth bass begins in Minnesota after Sept. 9.
The rule was enacted several years ago to protect smallmouth bass as they follow traditional migratory routes toward areas where they will spend part of the fall and most of the winter.
Since smallmouth follow the same routes each year, anglers who discover the pattern could put smallmouth populations at risk of over-harvest.
You can still fish for smallmouth bass, but they must be immediately released. A quick measurement and photograph is permissible, but the species cannot be placed in a livewell or on a stringer.
For anglers who have never caught a smallmouth bass before, you definitely know when you have one on. They are commonly referred to as the hardest fighting fish, pound-for-pound, in the lake. Their aerial acrobatics are additionally exciting to witness.
One of the behavioral characteristics exhibited by smallmouth bass in the late summer and fall is their propensity to follow other fish. In other words, as you battle with the smallmouth on the end of your line, several others might follow your fish up to the side of the boat. Not only will they follow other smallmouth, the species will trail behind rock bass, largemouth bass, snapping turtles, even vegetation or timber as it's retrieved.
Whether the behavior is due to a highly competitive nature, a social mannerism or purely out of curiosity, watching a half-dozen big smallmouth arrive at the boat is exhilarating.
Smallmouth can be very aggressive in their feeding attitudes, attacking large minnows or crayfish. Yet other times smallmouth bass become somewhat cantankerous and it seems no bait choice or lure gets them interested, even when placed directly in front of their nose.
During the fall, smallmouth bass can be seen cruising along shallow rock and sand flats on warm, calm days. But when the weather turns nasty, it's more common to find them situated in deeper water on steep drop-offs and rocky humps.
Artificial baits that imitate minnows or crayfish are successful, though live bait is also quite productive. Just ask the walleye anglers who incidentally run into smallmouth bass as they explore traditionally walleye spots. Though leeches and nightcrawlers on a livebait rig or jig work well for both walleye and smallmouth, minnows in the 3-to-5-inch range are a better option during the fall period.
River minnows like redtails and creek chubs are perfect. Pearl dace and large rainbow chubs are also good choices when available in the bait shops.
Catching a few nice smallmouth makes for a great fall day, but finding really big smallmouth bass can be a challenge. Good smallmouth destinations in the Park Rapids area include Potato Lake, Belle Taine, East Crooked and Big Sand, all of which have both good numbers and size.
Landing a four-pound smallmouth is magnificent, but reaching the five-pound mark is quite difficult.
A true five-pound smallmouth bass caught while fishing any destination in the world is worth a photograph and quick release back into the aquatic environment.