Targeting Late-Fall Reservoir Bass

Variations in water temperature and photoperiod brought on by a season in transition can turn the bigmouths finicky. Will you be able to finesse their pickiness to your advantage? (October 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Largemouth bass can get finicky in the late fall. Once the leaves start falling, the slightest change in temperature combines with a major change in the photoperiod of the day to alter bass feeding patterns at reservoirs dramatically. To successfully find fall bass on big water, anglers need to focus on a combination of baitfish in relation to transitional zones and large main-lake structure.

Main-lake points and creeks entering the main body of the lake are the important areas to fish at this time of year as they give the fish access to shallow and deep water and hold fair to good amounts of baitfish. Throw large Beetle Spins and wacky worms during the midday period; fish topwaters and buzzbaits early and late. Another viable option: Fish the riprap and bulkheads along some of the big marinas, especially in the evenings. These areas will hold many bass, especially after a late frontal system passes through. The hard part is patterning the fish.

For these situations, I like to use a slow-sinking lure like a Slug-Go or a wacky worm, because they appeal both to cold-challenged, slow-moving fish and to aggressive feeders.

Between fronts, look for baitfish bunched up around the secondary points and start fishing a crankbait like a Bomber 9A with a slow retrieve. If you find active fish, switch to something like a Rat-L-Trap and boost the retrieve up to medium speed. Sometimes the baitfish are spread along the shorelines, stacked horizontally instead of vertically. If this is the situation, the bass can be scattered as well, so try trolling. Use the Bomber 9A or a 1/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap trolled at a slow pace. If you catch a fish, throw over a marker buoy and hit that spot again.

It is best to employ spinners when the water is up high and you have baitfish clinging tight to the shoreline. Cast parallel to the shore and work it back at a medium pace for best results.

Another method that may seem strange for fall but that works quite well is "flipping" for bass in deep brush. Many anglers know bass hold tight to brush that runs along shorelines of reservoirs in the spring but they will also hold up between fronts in the spring. If you stop to think about it, late-fall and early-spring weather patterns are very similar, so it can pay to use those tactics you use in the spring.

The best spot to look is near brush that rests on a ledge at the end of a point near a creek channel. This is especially true late in the evenings when bass often move from the deep to the shallows to feed. Baitfish stack up in these areas, which in turn draws in the bass. By flipping a large jig-and-pig combo or a live crawfish rigged on a 1/2-ounce jighead, it is possible to catch good numbers of bass

Fishing guide Roger Bacon turned me onto some outstanding brush fishing for bass by accident back in the summer of 2000. While fishing with him over artificial brushpiles, I caught a couple of largemouth bass and figured out quickly that they hang around brush just as much as any other game fish. Bass like structure, too, and they, of course, prey on baitfish and the panfish as well.

According to Bacon, anglers unfamiliar with brushpile locations should search the open lake and large coves, looking for submerged marker buoys covered with green slime. "These are the ones some of the hard-core crappie anglers put out and they usually hold plenty of fish," he said.

Some of these brushpiles can be quite large, and there is much structure to cover. Anglers should stick with the main brush and not worry about the smaller piles on the outside. Most of the bass tend to stick around the main brush, and if anglers are baiting the brush for other species, they usually do so on the main pile, because it's easier to position a boat over. This will draw in baitfish, which in turn draw in bass.

Brushpile bass are famous for biting at specific depth when they get choosy, say 14 feet, and ignoring anything they have to move very far to ingest. That is why boat positioning is such an important part of brushpile fishing. If you get right over brush and vertically drop a live shiner or run a crankbait by it, your chances of catching a mess of fish increases greatly. The same is true of fish around natural structure in relation to dropoffs. A good way to fish these spots is to use a depthfinder to locate those that have big schools of baitfish around them. Bass don't hang around spots that are devoid of baitfish very long, and the bigger the bunch of bait, the more fish will be around.

A dropoff around a river channel may not be very deep -- so don't go looking for a crater. A difference of two or three feet in depth is major when putting things in perspective. Micro-crankbaits (like a Yozuri Snap Bean in the 1/32- or 1/16-ounce size) are great for fishing along main river channels to locate fish suspended over deep water. I started using them for crappie but have also found them effective for catching brushpile bass.

One of the reasons some anglers have such a hard time locating fish on big waters is that many of these fish will suspend at say 8 feet in 12 feet of water just over a subtle dropoff. When fishing jigs or shiners rigged on weights, many anglers shoot right past these fish, whereas a tiny diving crankbait will go right to them.

If you're fishing natural brushpiles or logjams, the most common and, arguably, productive bait is a live shiner fished on a freeline. Well it's almost a freeline rig -- but instead of a simple hook and shiner, the preferred rig here is a hook and shiner finished off with a 1/32-ounce weight, which will allow the bait to get down a little quicker, and into the lair of some of the bigger fish, which typically hold tight to the structure.

As the late fall period turns to winter, start thinking about finding bass on the river channels in reservoirs over deep structure like humps and mounds or old roadbeds that weave into the channel. Veteran bass angler Michael Cole likes to run his boat around the main river channel in a reservoir and along steep dropoffs adjacent to large creeks and river mouths. This is where baitfish "stack up" and that is where the bass will be.

"Anglers catch those bass while crappie fishing over baitfish. That makes perfect sense because some bass act a lot like crappie when it gets cold. Their metabolism is not going to be high enough for them to roam around, chase and corral the baitfish, so they suspend around big schools of them. Often times the bass will lurk around logjams and structure that is located just under the baitfish so they can be hard to locate on electronics.

My best advice is to locate the baitfish and the bass will usually follow suit," Cole said.

On locating the baitfish, it'd be best to put out a marker buoy. You may put out as many as half a dozen buoys before fishing so you have plenty of spots to hit. For best results, use a 1/3- to 1/2-ounce spoon on a 2-foot leader attached to 15-pound-test Stren Sensor or Berkley Fireline Crystal. You will want something that is super sensitive because these fish will sometimes be able to hit the bait before you ever know what happened. Sensitivity can be crucial.

Simply lower the bait down into the bass' zone, work the bait up and down and hold on to wait for a hit. If you're not bit within a few minutes, you should move. It usually does not take long to find them when they are actively feeding in a locale.

Remember: Fall fishing has everything to do with immediate weather changes, and until patterns shift into full-blown winter, fish will feed in either transitional areas or some of the same places they'll be during spring -- everything from grasslines to artificial brushpiles and natural brush along islands and shorelines. Fall bass fishing can be exciting, and perhaps the best part is that in most areas you share the water with relatively few anglers.

Hunting's on the mind of many anglers in the fall, but that doesn't mean that the bass have stopped biting -- and those who recognize this can catch plenty of fish.

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