3 Fundamental Tactics For Fall Largemouths
October 13, 2010
Regardless of where you fish this season, these are the keys to finding and catching bass. It's all about the bait!
Tossing shad-imitating lures is the key to fall bass on all major bodies of water. Photo by Tony Clifton.
The fall season doesn't arrive uniformly across the South. Some portions get it a bit earlier, and some a bit later. Regardless of when it arrives, however, it's a welcome change from the scorching days of late summer. That applies to both anglers and bass, as cooling temperatures prompt increased activity from both.
For anglers, fall means days on the water are more pleasant. For bass, it's a signal to start feeding up to lay in fat reserves for the coming winter. Mother Nature provides for the bass in the way of shad. The young-of-the-year shad have grown, are compacted into schools, and moving towards the cooling shallows. The bass aren't far behind, and are ready to eat any shad they can find.
The quickest way for anglers to enjoy the fall weather, and catch some fish, is to find where bass and shad are meeting. That can vary, depending upon the type of water body one is fishing, and there are a number of different types. Here are the key fundamentals for each.
These deep highland lakes feature abrupt depth changes, have virtually no aquatic vegetation, and offer little more than rock and scattered wood for bass cover. With the exception of the spring spawning season, most anglers think you need to fish deep to catch bass.
This month, reverse that philosophy. Fish shallow. In fact, many of the areas that were productive during the spawn will produce now.
Shad schools leave the deeper main lake waters and move into shallow creek arms and bays for a brief period during the fall. The bass follow. Savvy anglers refer to this as the "fall fling" and while it may only last for a month or so, it can provide some of the hottest action of the year.
The first place you find bass and shad meeting are the main-lake points leading to the creek arms and bays. These are convenient ambush spots for the bass, and even if there are no shad visible, the bass will be waiting. If the shad are there, be alert for surface schooling activity. If not, deep diving crankbaits, jigs, or Carolina-rigged plastic worms and lizards will find them.
As fall progresses, shad move shallower. Look for those spots where bass can ambush shad.
Submerged tapering points, fallen timber -- especially on outside bends of channels -- or boulder piles are all areas bass can wait, and then feed on any shad passing by.
If an early fall cold snap slows the action, look for bass to drop back to the main-lake points, or hold on sheer bluff walls and pea gravel banks within the creek arms.
LOWLAND RESERVOIRS & NATURAL LAKES
These are some of the most common water bodies in the South, and while one is man-made and the other isn't, they share a common trait -- both are characterized by vegetation. The lowland reservoirs have it in the shallows and along submerged creek channel edges, while natural lakes see a varied growth from the shoreline to an outer weed line.
The deeper, outside, vegetation edges are where you find shad and bass this month.
In a lowland reservoir, expect shad to be running the creek channels, but not pushing a lot shallower. If river arms are available, they will run up into them. But, for the most part, fall shad are running channel edges. Bass will be waiting for them anywhere vegetation provides an ambush point along those channel edges. In many cases, this will be hydrilla or milfoil banks, or points of other types of vegetation, that lie on channel edges. If a flooded forest exists along those routes, expect bass to use that, as well. Key areas are anywhere channels intersect and vegetation exists.
On natural lakes, start your search on outer weed line points that extend closest to open main lake waters.
If an early cold front occurs, don't get too far from those deeper weed line contact points. Bass won't. They most often simply burrow into the vegetation where they were before the front, and can often be taken by flipping the thicker weed mats.
One thing to be alert for, especially on natural lakes, is bass surface schooling in open mid-lake waters. They're chasing shad schools. Anglers have to chase the bass. It can be frustrating, or a lot of fun. Binoculars are an asset. Watch for the surface eruptions as bass blow up on shad, which is often accompanied by diving birds. In many cases, the birds are the first clue the angler will see. If you can get there in time, the action can be furious.
Rampaging schools of bass are a common fall sight on lakes, as they chase down and rip into shad schools. The drawback is that they are moving quickly, and can be tough to catch up with. Serious surface schooling also takes place on the South's rivers, and the good news is that these fish don't chase. They pick an ambush spot, wait for the shad to pass over them, tear them up, and then drop back down to wait for the next bunch of shad.
Find that ambush spot and you can have a 50-plus bass day, without moving the boat!
Those ambush spots aren't hard to identify. They occur wherever a school of open water shad moving from deep water is forced to compress over a much shallower piece of structure. That structure may be a submerged tapering point on an inside bend of the stream, a mid-river bar where the bass are on the down current end. or an outside river bend that offers a wealth of fallen timber and other current breaks.
If you visually locate schooling bass on any structure, keep that spot in mind. The proper terrain, depth and cover situation is critical to river schooling bass and they often use the same spots for many years.
While casting to breaking fish is exciting, some of the best catches are made when the fish are not visibly schooling. They are still on that spot. They just don't at the moment have shad to eat. Drift a Carolina-rigged 5-inch worm or 4-inch plastic shad tail through the spot, and the action can be continuous. If you're looking for the bigger bass in the school, move about 25 to 50 yards down current of where the fish are breaking. Larger bass often hold there, taking easy pickings on the shad the smaller fish cripple in their attack.