Stretching Out the Season
Point your vehicle south and extend your open water season and enjoy incredible action.by Craig Ritchie
I'll be the first to admit it - as much as I enjoy a good day of ice fishing, I'm always a lot happier when I'm out fishing in open water. So as fall turnover concludes on my local lakes, and the fish begin settling into their early winter patterns, I become a lot more interested in looking further afield to stretch out my open water season than I am in dusting off my auger. That's especially true in November, when the action to the south of us is really starting to peak.
I'm of two schools of thought then. I can do a short drive from home base in the Midwest to fish big impoundments in Kentucky or Tennessee, and stretch out my season with familiar quarry like smallmouth, walleye and muskie. Or I can do a longer drive to play with saltwater species that I never get to tangle with at home. Both options have their advantages.
More of a Good ThingThe two big positives to doing a shorter trip into the mid-south are obviously the shorter drive, and the fact you're chasing familiar species. With a couple of hours on the Interstate, I can literally roll back the calendar and have more of that prime action I enjoyed on my home waters over two months ago, since that's the situation southern fish will be in right now. It's easy fishing and fast action, using more aggressive presentations for fish that will actively chase. To me, that's a whole lot more fun than dredging the depths for inactive fish while clad in a survival suit.
The other benefit to chasing familiar fish is that I'm already set up with all the right rods, reels and baits. There's zero adaptation, for the most part, beyond learning your way around some new waters. Use the same stuff you did in September and you'll be all set.
Brave New WorldsIf there is a downside to staying in the mid-south and chasing familiar species, it's the simple fact that it is all familiar. Sometimes, we all feel like a bit of a switch, and that's when I stretch that drive south a few hours even further to get on salt water and chase different fish I never have the opportunity to catch at home.
You might bring your boat on a saltwater trip, but there's really no need - a comforting thought if you're worried about the effects of salt water on your trailer and outboard. A couple of days fishing off local piers and jetties will usually get you into plenty of fish with the least fuss possible. Or, hire a guide for a day to enjoy a bit of variety the easy way.
Ask around at local bait shops to find out what's biting, and your best approach to catching fish. I keep a box of baits just for saltwater at home, with a mix of heavy spoons, crankbaits, jerkbaits and swimbaits I can cast a long way. I also bring a box of hooks, weights and slip floats, because sometimes live shrimp on a plain hook beat all else. Ask around, but never be afraid to experiment.
Saltwater fishing from piers isn't just a panfish game though, as these spots can also be great places to catch major game species like snook, redfish, barracuda and even tarpon. These fish will put a healthy bend in even the heaviest muskie rod you can find, and landing one on a walleye rod is a genuine accomplishment. Sharks - some weighing several hundred pounds - are also caught from piers on a regular basis, and will challenge even the most skilled anglers using heavy saltwater gear.
I have friends who love pulling on their survival suits, breaking skim ice at the launch ramp and straining the depths for lethargic bass before ice seals the lake shut. But I know a lot more people who, like me, would love to turn back the clock and have more hot action like we enjoyed back in September. Driving south for a week in the sun is a great way to stretch your season, so give it a try - you'll be glad you did.