Skip to main content

Find Smallies Fast Using Search Baits

Fall smallmouth bass are hungry but can be hard to find. Learn to fish these baits to zero in.

Find Smallies Fast Using Search Baits

Search baits can be effective in the fall for smallmouth bass fishing. (Shutterstock image)

During thefall, smallies are on the move in response to their rapidly changing environment. To catch them, you’ve got to first find them. To increase your chances of locating these often reclusive fish, tie on some of the following search baits and collect yourfair share of autumn bronze.


Jerkbaits, both hard and soft, provide a stop-n-go look that often provokes a smallmouth into hitting, while efficiently covering the water at the same time. Depending on the inherent qualities of the particular bait, as well as the method in which it’s fished, a jerkbait can cover depths from the near surface to over 10 feet plus.

The stop-and-go action of jerkbaits triggers smallmouth to strike. Soft jerkbaits are best fished near the surface without additional weight, while hard jerkbaits can be fished deeper.

“Soft” jerkbaits, like the Zoom Super Fluke, are collectively called “flukes” regardless of the maker. “Hard” jerkbaits include Rapala’s X-Rap, Lucky Craft’s Pointer and Smithwick’s Suspending Rogue (among others). Both hard and soft jerkbaits possess unique qualities that earn each a prominent place on the deck of the boat.

When used as a search bait, soft jerkbaits often fish best without any additional weight, relying only on the weight of the hook and the bait’s salt impregnation to give it a slow, tantalizing fall on “the pause.” There’s an art to fishing a soft jerkbait, one that incorporates a level of controlled slack on the retrieve. A twitch of the rod tip activates the bait, pulling it back toward the surface. The magic comes in by allowing the bait a bit of freedom, that is, an amount of controlled slack during the pause. Braided line, which typically floats, serves as a strike indicator when a smallmouth eats a soft jerkbait on the pause.

Find the best day and time to fish in your zip code

While soft jerkbaits slowly fall on the pause, most hard suspending jerkbaits hover at a consistent level when “killed,” a presentation subtlety that smallmouth respond to better some days. Available in various diving depths, hard jerkbaits can cover deeper zones and are a good choice in clear water where the strike zone window is large with the increased visibility. They will trigger a variety of strikes from the occasional nip of the tail hook to a full-on inhalation of the bait. In most instances, nearly all strikes will be on the pause. Often times, bigger brown bass are triggered on longer pauses.


While there’s no doubt that the stop-n-go look of jerkbaits excel at covering water and triggering strikes, there’s also a place for a lure designed to function well on a straight retrieve/crank. Soft swimbaits, like Storm’s 360 GT Searchbait, Keitech’s line of Impact baits and Lake Fork Tackle’s Live Magic Shad, fill this niche nicely. Also, grub-style baits like Kalin’s Grub and Galida’s Grubz also function well as straight retrieve soft swimbaits.

Soft swimbaits come in a dizzying array of sizes, shapes and colors. They are one of the most versatile search baits as they can be fished with a wide variety of presentations and at varying depths depending on their weighting.

If there’s a downside to soft swimbaits, it’s that they can be difficult to hook up on. Smallmouth have an odd habit of following the bait, clamping down on it, and then simply swimming toward the angler. As such, it’s often wise to choose smaller models of baits in the 3- to 4-inch range. Mushroom head or darter head jigheads with light gauge wire hooks increase the chances you’ll hook a bass that doesn’t give you that turn of direction on the strike.

Since it’s a weighted bait, a soft swimbait allows you to search vertically as well as horizontally. An increase in jighead weight and/or decrease in retrieve speed permits the lure to achieve greater depths.

Like a skirted swimming jig common in largemouth fishing, a soft swimbait is a versatile offering that can be presented in various ways, even on the same cast. For instance, you’re searching out the deep edge of a remaining green weed flat. After the lure’s splashdown, it begins sinking toward the bottom. On its way, it’s likely to provoke a strike from a smallmouth suspended off the edge of the weed bed.

Lacking such a hit, the bait continues its descent to the bottom, kicking up a plume of silt as it settles in, another possible trigger. You begin your retrieve, bumping the lure along the fringe of weeds (yes, another potential trigger) and finally swim it back through open water, where the built-in swimming action of the bait is put to work. On one cast, there are multiple potential bites—an illustration of how the bait can be fished depending upon the situation.


As fall progresses, and water temperatures dip into the upper 40s and lower, it’s common for smallmouth bass to relocate in deeper water, particularly when forage fish such as rainbow smelt and young-of-the-year panfish are there too. Vibrating blade baits like Heddon Sonars, Silver Buddy and the Binsky Bait can all draw strikes from semi-dormant smallies from here.

’Blades’ excel as search baits in the fall. They can be cast great distances, allowing you to cover large expanses of water. They are also at home at a wide variety of depths, letting you fish the entire water column.

Even in depths out to 40 feet (which is as deep as I care to catch smallmouth due to potential damage from pressure changes) blade baits are efficient as a search lure, considering the situation being fished. The deadly combination of flash and vibration let fish locate the lure and trigger both reaction and hunger strikes from smallmouth often surrounded by a glut of baitfish.


Click to subscribe to Game & Fish Magazine

While blade baits can be fished horizontally, now’s the best time to go vertical, fishing directly (or nearly so) under the boat. If a light wind is present, use it to slowly drift the boat over the targeted area. If calm or windy, use the trolling motor, in the latter case motoring into the wind.

To work a blade (and I prefer the half-ounce size), allow it to free fall to the bottom. Once bottom contact is made, engage the reel. Then make a sharp, upward snap of the rod of about a foot, which not only lifts the bait but kicks in the vibration. Allow the bait to fall back down on a semi-tight line. Pause the bait for a few seconds before making the next upward jig. It also pays to occasionally pause and hold/hover the bait at the top of the upward snap. To check your depth, on occasion allow the bait to touch bottom to ensure you’re fishing the desired depth.

With blades, some strikes occur on the pause as the bait is slammed, whileothers are “just there,” the result of a strike on a falling lure. When fishing blades, opting for braided line can greatly help your search for late-fall smallies as its no-stretch quality helps you feel subtle strikes.

No matter which of these baits you choose, each is designed to help you find smallies. Fish them this fall.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Sometimes you have to fish a bait that allows you to cover a lot of water efficiently. When you're on the search for bass that have moved into deeper water off the bank and away from obvious holding spots, a swimbait can locate them.

On the Search with Swimbaits

One of the best imitations of a wounded baitfish is the soft-plastic jerkbait, or fluke. A fluke darting just beneath the surface can be too much for a bass to resist. Rig it and fish it according to water conditions and cover to make this great bait even more effective.

Fun with Flukes

There are three models in SPRO's Outsider crankbait series: 55 (runs 3-4 feet), 60 (7-9) and 80 (19-21). Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley goes over the specifics at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

SPRO's New Outsider Crankbait Series: First Look

Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley highlights the features of SPRO's new lures at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Essential Series Spinnerbaits and Buzzbaits from SPRO

Syd Ribes with Sea Falcon highlights four new lures for saltwater fishing. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Lineup of Lures from Sea Falcon

Syd Ribes highlights two new saltwater lures from SPRO: Flutter Tail Shrimp and Cannon Ball Jig. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

New Saltwater Lures from SPRO

AFTCO's Matt Florentino highlights the features of the new Barricade cold-weather suit, a Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022 in Orlando. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

New from AFTCO: Barricade Cold Weather Tactical Gear

Three-time ICAST Best of Category winner Bubba covers it all with new knives set. With Bubba's Matt Kinamore and Game & Fish's  Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.

4-in-1 Bubba Multi Flex Cutlery Kit

The innovative landing net will weigh and measure your catch while it's still in the net. Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.

Award-Winning Frabill Witness Net 'Keeps You Honest'

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now