For months you have been searching deep water, scanning for schools of bass set up on structure and cover where the water is cooler. And the fish you found were reliable, feeding in the same place, day after day, as long as the weather held relatively stable. But suddenly, they are gone.
As the water cools in the fall, bass get the urge to move to shallow water to feed. They spread out and do not stay in one place long, stopping to feed on cover along their route.
Once in more shallow feeding areas, they use scattered cover to ambush baitfish. The bait is moving and the bass follow, never staying in one place very long. To find and catch these bass, you must cover a lot of water, casting to a variety of places they may be feeding. The more casts you make, the more likely you are to catch fish.
To be efficient, you need to use suitable baits. Something you can fish fast through a variety of cover but that looks like something bass want to eat, or baits that cause a reaction strike. Tie on the following to be ready for a variety of conditions.
When the water first starts to cool, bass will follow contour lines toward the shallows. Crankbaits are a classic search-bait choice because they fish a variety of depths and cover types fast, from key spots on points, creek channels and ledges running into coves and creeks.
To make things simple, choose a brand of crankbait that comes in different sizes for different depths. For example, Rapala DT series baits come in DT 4, DT 6, DT 10 DT 14 and DT 16 sizes. The name tells you they “dive to” that depth on a long cast with light line.
Choose a few colors based on what the bass are eating. Have shad, dark red craw and bluegill colors to cover most situations. The water is usually clear in the fall due to reduced rainfall, so the above colors are consistently good. But if the water muddies up, a chartreuse brown or firetiger bait will be easier for the fish to see.
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When the water first starts to cool, start out on points and creek mouths near where you have found schools of deep fish during the summer but fish shallower on them. Cast a deep-running bait, bumping bottom on quick depth changes. If you know the lake, target stumps, rocks and brush. If not, watch your electronics for that cover and cast to it.
Work toward shallower water, casting baits that will contact the bottom but not dig in too much. When you get to the shallows, run the shallow running bait around all cover. You can often see stumps, brush, rocks and logs in a few feet of water that will hold feeding fish when the water cools down enough for them to be comfortable. Work all the way around coves, hitting docks too, all the way to the back, quickly covering the area until you find a feeding bass.
When you catch a fish, note its depth, the cover it is on and position in the area. After covering a cove or creek, move to the next similar one and concentrate on cover and depth combinations similar to what gave up previous fish. Develop a pattern of where the bass are holding.
Spinnerbaits are well known as an excellent bait for covering water, and for good reason. You can fish them fast and they look like baitfish, something bass want to eat. And you land a high percentage of bass that hit them.
Spinnerbaits come in a variety of weights, blade types and colors. Willowleaf blades are the best for fishing fast in the fall. Chartreuse and white skirts with one silver and one gold blade work under most conditions, but in extremely clear water translucent skirts with silver blades will draw more strikes.
Trailers on the spinnerbait can make a big difference. A simple split-tail trailer is best for fast moving spinnerbaits, but a small swimbait looks more realistic. Match the trailer color to the skirt color.
Start out on points at the mouths of coves and small creeks, and fish into the cove. It is easier to fish deeper cover with a heavy spinnerbait. Strikezone Lures offers spinnerbaits up to 2.5 ounces to hit the deepest cover, but a 1-ounce bait is usually heavy enough in the early fall. The heavier baits come in standard colors as well as a special “Clearwater” series, and Strikezone makes lighter baits in many colors, too.
As you fish up the point into shallower water, switch to lighter baits. Cast to all cover on the point, trying a fast retrieve near the top first. But if fish are unwilling to come up to hit, slow the bait down a little and get it near the bottom cover. A heavier bait will let you do this and still fish fast.
Back in the cove, a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce bait is best. If the bass are feeding on smaller baitfish like threadfin shad, use the smaller bait. Run it fast along logs, beside brush, docks and bushes and over rocks. It is often effective to run a spinnerbait up to and over a stump, brush pile or boulder, then stop it and let it flutter down on the deep side.
Wind blowing into a rocky point is an excellent place to cast a spinnerbait. Waves break up schools of shad and confuse other baitfish, making them easy targets for bass. A 1/2-ounce spinnerbait cast to the bank and fished fast just below the surface mimics a panicked baitfish and will draw vicious strikes.
In the fall, bass will follow a line of docks into a cove and hold on them as they move. A spinnerbait run right along the floats or posts and cast into the deepest shadows you can hit will catch fish. A lighter 1/4- to 3/8-ounce bait will let you do this fast but effectively.
A buzzbait is fun to fish since you can see it and watch the blowup, and they draw reaction as well as feeding strikes in the fall. Sometimes they will draw bass up from deeper water, but they shine over and around shallow cover. You can fish them fast over any kind of cover.
A 1/2-ounce bait in white with a silver blade is usually the first choice, but at times a completely black bait works better. Try a 1/4-ounce bait if you are missing strikes. In the fall, a double-bladed bait is good for bigger fish. Stick with one brand to make it simple; for example, Strike King makes baits in a variety of weights, colors and blade configurations.
Start casting to water 6 feet deep or less and work around the cove, from one point to the other and everything between. Run it over rocks, logs, stumps and brush and beside and under docks. As you move between known cover, keep casting. Bass will often be moving across bare bottoms between cover stops so offer them an easy meal. Between docks, bass will hold on cables anchoring them, so cover that area too.
Often you will find very thick cover like green or dead grass in small pockets along the bank and in the back of coves. You can run a buzzbait over it and a spinnerbait or crankbait just over the top of it, but a bladed jig is your best choice. It will catch fish around all cover going into the cove, but when it is ripped through grass it can’t be beat.
The Chatterbait brand was the first bladed jig on the market and it comes in a variety of colors and sizes to fit any situation. Shad sometimes move in around grass to feed, and if you see them flashing and dimpling the water, choose a white bait with a silver blade. But there are always bluegill in grass, and a brown bait with gold blade imitates them. Use a trailer matching the bait for added effectiveness.
Cast your bladed jig far back in the grass, reel it along through the cover, and snatch it when it hangs up. That darting movement will draw a reaction strike. Work all grass cover with a bladed jig.
Have these four baits tied on to cover water fast. The more water you cover in the fall, the more bass you can catch.