Ken Cook, the now retired BASS pro from Meers, Okla., certainly knows a thing or two about September school days.
After all, he spent plenty of them in the classroom en route to his degree from Oklahoma State University, the collegiate home to famed oil baron T. Boone Pickens, the OSU Cowboys football team and to the well-known Eskimo Joe’s eatery.
Editor’s Note: Adding bacon to a plate of Eskimo Joe’s famous cheese fries is well worth the upcharge.
When Cook left Stillwater with his sheepskin in hand, it eventually paved the way for him to begin a career as a fisheries biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Cook – whose two sons went to college on the other side of the Bedlam pigskin rivalry at the University of Oklahoma – eventually decided to move from studying about fish as a biologist to catching them as a bass pro.
That career move certainly paid off, resulting in six career BASS wins, 14 appearances in the Bassmaster Classic and the posting of more than $804,000 in career BASS earnings.
In 1983, Cook made fishing history when he became the first professional angler to win more than $100,000 in a single season. A year later, he narrowly missed out on winning the coveted BASS Angler-of-the-Year title, losing it to Roland Martin.
Add in his fishing activities on other tournament circuits over the years and Cook became one of the nation’s best all-time anglers while depositing more than $1 million in career earnings into his bank account.
What the 2010 Bass Fishing Hall of Fame inductee is probably most remembered for, however, was his 1991 Bassmaster Classic win on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, a triumph that Cook captured by just more than one pound.
All of which gives Cook the educational qualifications necessary to talk a little bass fishing 101 with weekend warriors, like yours truly.
In fact, just call him Professor Ken Cook, a role that he never has seemed to mind holding as evidenced by his busy seminar teaching schedule down through the years.
“If I’m remembered for one thing, I want it to be for helping someone learn how to catch a fish,” Cook once told me.
Ok, then, how about the month of September, a time of transition between summer and fall angling patterns?
“That’s a good time to fish,” said Cook, also an enthusiastic big game hunter on his Oklahoma Tarbone Ranch.
“While there are lots of keys that are important at that time of year, first and foremost is the baitfish," Cook added.
"And in most places (in Texas and Oklahoma), that is the threadfin shad, whose young of the year are the most dominant food source for bass at that time of year. Baitfish are the deal in September since they’re really reaching the size to become the dominant food source.”
Speaking of the size of baitfish, Cook believes that can be a critical factor that can change as the ninth month of the year arrives.
“One of keys is to match the size of the baitfish (with your lure),” said Cook. “If they’re two inches long, try to match it. Of course, that will change through the month since earlier in September they’ll be really small around two inches. Later in the month, they’ll be three to four inches. They can really grow quickly.”
To match the proper size of the shad, an angler has to find concentrations of them first. To get a clue as to where these clouds of baitfish might be, Cook says to use both your eyes - to spot feeding fish, feeding birds or nervous water where shad are flipping about – along with your boat’s electronics.
“Look at the color of the water,” he said. “If it’s green or muddy, they’ll be shallow. If the water is really clear, then they’ll be deeper most of the day. You’ll need to use electronics to find them in that part of the lake, to locate the depth that they’re holding at.”
The biologist turned bass pro also urges anglers to keep in mind that September is a transition month – as it unfolds, bass are going to be on the move because their chow line isn’t stationary.
“The baitfish are going to move from main lake areas to tributaries (this month),” said Cook." And that will affect where the best bass fishing is.
"By October and November, you’re going to be fishing up a creek somewhere, but in September, you are looking for that to begin to happen.”
Again, to reinforce this point, find the baitfish in September and presto, you’ve most likely found bass on the lake that you are fishing.
“If you’re not seeing baitfish, you certainly need to be moving since sometime during day, they’ll feed,” said Cook. “The bass will not necessarily feed all day, but there will be a window sometime during the day where it will be easy.”
What happens when that window is closed and bass are not actively feeding?
“The rest of the time, spend your time near cover that has baitfish around it,” said Cook.
Keep in mind that where there’s one September bass, there’s almost certainly another one nearby.
“If you catch one, you should catch another,” said Cook. “That’s true in a lot of cases although you may not catch it on the next cast. You may have to come back later to try it again and get another bite, but there is always going to be another fish there at some point in time.”
This principle is even true when an angler pulls a bass from cover that looks only big enough to contain a single fish.
“When you’re fishing an isolated piece of cover, you never just want to make one cast,” Cook agreed.
Take a submerged log lying in the water, for instance.
“Throwing spinnerbaits parallel to (the) log on its shady side would be my number one choice,” said Cook. “After that, try a crankbait and after that, pitch a power tube. Try to catch all of available fish off a piece of cover before you leave.”
Speaking of baits, Cook says that anglers can fish moving baits most of the time now. Such selections include spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and crankbaits since the bass are either feeding or making a predatory strike at a lure that simulates an injured baitfish.
What color does the retired BASS pro use early on in the fall?
Shad colored lures are an obvious choice, including those that are pearl colored with a chartreuse back. When the water is a little stained, Cook will seek a reaction strike with a brighter color like chartreuse, blue-backed chartreuse or mustard colored baits.
As for his equipment, Cook has typically used Abu Garcia baitcasting reels with a retrieve ratio of 6.2:1.
What about rods? When he’s tossing a spinnerbait, Cook typically uses a 7-foot medium-heavy rod with a fast tip. For crankbaits, he’ll use a medium-action cranking stick.
In regards to fishing line, Cook spools his reels with 20-pound test for spinnerbait fishing and 10- to 14-pound test for crankbaits.
At the end of the day, in Cook's mind, there are few better times to go bass fishing than during the school days of September.
“They’re biting,” said Professor Cook. “Go fishing.”
Now that’s a homework assignment that just about every student will like.