Think you know all the secrets of where and how to find fall largemouths at Lone Star lakes? Think about taking a lesson from these three experts before you answer that! (October 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
If you're a Texas bass fisherman, you're in luck: Fall is now firmly in command of the calendar.
Hunting seasons and football games are going on all across the Lone Star State, and the combination of those pastimes' allure with the cooling of waters statewide leads many anglers to put up their boats for the year. The result: un-crowded lakes. Better yet, the bass have come out of their summer doldrums and are eagerly feeding up in instinctive preparation for the coming winter.
Truth be told, the bass fishing action all across the state -- from Toledo Bend in the east to Alan Henry in the west, and from Ray Roberts up north to Amistad down south -- is pretty good. To help us narrow that down a bit, we got some input from Jeff Samsel, public relations coordinator for the Bomber, Booyah, Heddon, XCalibur, and Yum lure companies and an avid, accomplished angler who's fished from Canada to Brazil.
"I'd probably pick Falcon, Amistad, Fayette County and Fork," he offered. "For all of those except Fork, I'd say that the major appeal is the combination of tremendous quality and quantity. Regarding Fork, it's pretty tough to argue with 35 of the 50 biggest bass ever caught in Texas."
Fork has indeed dominated the big-bass picture in Texas for years, and it and the others named aren't a bad set of choices for a fall angler to consider. But the idea here is to identify seven hotspots to fish -- so I'll throw Sam Rayburn, Ray Roberts and Conroe into the mix, and cite Alan Henry and Choke Canyon as promising autumn bets in their own right.
The truth is that the odds are pretty solid for a worthy springtime bass lake being equally good in the fall. Why? Samsel provided an answer.
"Fall is fun because a lot of fish tend to be shallow and feeding aggressively," he explained, "and the shad they feed on often give the bass away. A common challenge in the fall is that the fish can be very widespread, though, so I would fish quickly, hitting visible cover and working points and features along creek channels, all the while watching for shad flipping on the top or bass chasing baitfish." Shad tend to congregate in such spots (including major creeks) in the fall, and as Samsel indicated, shad fuel the fall bass fishing machine.
Sometimes the fishing's shallow, sometimes not. The key is to use your boat's electronics, identify where the fish are feeding and then adapt. "If the fish are shallow and running shad on top, the fishing is very visual," Samsel said. "However, the best fishing often is over points that stretch out to the creek channels, humps along the same channels and other underwater features up in the creeks. When that's the case, electronics are critical for locating structure, honing in on key features on structure and identifying depth ranges baitfish are using."
What baits does Samsel rely on at this time of the year? If the fish are up top, he'll start with a Heddon Super Spook Jr. in the Lake Fork Shad color. "I'll have a Spook Junior tied on one rod all the time during the fall and will keep it ready in case fish bust on top," he said. "I'll also throw it periodically, even if I don't see surface activity, because often it will draw fish up this time of year."
Other baits designed for the upper portion of the water column are XCalibur's Xr50 Rattle Bait and Xt3 Twitch Bait. Said Samsel, "Both are great search baits that allow you to work very quickly, and both imitate shad effectively. Pearl melon is an excellent color choice for either."
Having witnessed Samsel using such baits to catch 150-plus bass this past spring, I'd make sure my tackle box contained these gems this fall.
What if the bass aren't in the upper portion of the water column? In that case Samsel goes to a pearl-white YUM Houdini Shad soft-plastic bait. "Rigged with a weightless Texas rig, the Houdini Shad will prompt strikes from fish that won't quite come all the way to the top," he noted. "It's also an outstanding followup bait any time a bass busts a Spook but misses."
In cases in which the fish are working the shad over in the deeper water, Samsel will tie on a Bomber Fat Free Shad in the Bill Dance Citrus color pattern. "If the fish aren't on the shallow cover or I'm not catching the quality I think I should, a Fat Free Shad will likely be my first choice for cranking points and other features out in the creeks," he said. "Depending on bottom depths and the size of the forage, I might downsize to a Fat Free Shad Jr."
When you're looking for October bass at the previously mentioned hotspots or any other good bass lake in Texas, keep in mind that the schooling action that began last month can still be visible on top as the bigmouths continue their aquatic autumn blitz, ganging up in their schools to pack away the baitfish groceries.
Ken Cook, a veteran BASS pro and trained fisheries biologist, certainly knows a thing or two about autumn bass' "school days," as he spent plenty of his own school days in the classroom en route to his degree. That sheepskin eventually paved the way for a career with the state wildlife agency. A little more than two decades ago, however, he decided to move from studying fish as a scientist to catching them as a bass pro.
That move has certainly paid off, resulting in six career BASS wins, 14 appearances in the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, and more than $732,000 in career BASS earnings; add to that the receipts from his fishing activity on other tournament circuits, and you get a total of more than $1 million in career earnings deposited into his bank account. What he may be remembered for most, however, was passing the biggest test of his angling career by capturing the 1991 Bassmaster Classic crown on Maryland's Chesapeake Bay by just more than 1 pound. Take it all together, and it's obvious that Cook has achieved the status of one of the nation's best all-time anglers.
Cook's definitely got both the academic and practical qualifications necessary for talking a little bass fishing with anglers, then. Just call him "Professor" Ken Cook -- it's a role that he doesn't seem to mind taking on too much. "If I'm remembered for one thing," he said, "I want it to be for helping someone learn how to catch a fish."
OK -- so how about the month of October as the bass carry on with making the transition from summer into fall and preparing for the coming winter?
"While there are
lots of keys that are important at that time of year, first and foremost is the baitfish," Cook said, his agreement with Samsel complete. "And in most places in Texas, that is the threadfin shad, whose young of the year are the most dominant food source for bass at that time of year."
Speaking of baitfish: Cook believes that size can be a critical factor. "One of the keys is to match the size of the baitfish (with your lure)," he noted. "If they're 2 inches long, try to match it. Of course, that will change through the fall, since earlier in September they'll be really small -- around 2 inches. Later in the month, they'll be 3 to 4 inches. They can really grow quickly."
Of course, to match the proper size of the shad, you've got to find concentrations of them first. Cook echoed Samsel's advice on getting a clue as to where the clouds of baitfish might be: Use both your boat's electronics and your eyes.
"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."
According to the biologist-turned-bass-pro, you should bear in mind that September and October represent a transitional period, and, as autumn unfolds, the bass are going to be on the move -- because their chow line isn't staying put. "The baitfish are going to move from main-lake areas to tributaries," he observed, "and that will affect where the best bass fishing is. By October and November, you're going to be fishing up a creek somewhere . . . "
Again, to reinforce this point from both Samsel and Cook: Find the baitfish in the autumn months and -- presto! -- you'll most likely have found the bass of whatever Lone Star State water you happen to be fishing. "If you're not seeing baitfish, you certainly need to be moving since sometime during day, they'll feed," Cook said. "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 aren't actively feeding? "The rest of the time, spend your time near cover that has baitfish around it," Cook advised.
Thanks to the largemouths' gregarious nature at this time of the year, it's quite frequently the case that where there's one autumn bass, there's likely to be another. "If you catch one, you should catch another," Cook said. "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 in action even 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 asserted.
Take, for instance, a submerged log lying in the water. "Throwing spinnerbaits parallel to the log on its shady side would be my No. 1 choice," Cook suggested. "After that, try a crankbait, and after that, pitch a power tube. Try to catch all of the available fish off a piece of cover before you leave."
As for baits: In Cook's view, anglers can fish moving baits most of the time now. Since a bass will be either feeding or making a predatory strike at a lure that simulates an injured baitfish, the veteran BASS pro's own tackle selections include spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and crankbaits.
When it comes to lure color, shad is a logical choice for Cook at this time of the year, including pearl-colored models with a chartreuse back. When the water's a little stained, he'll try to coax a reaction strike with a brighter hue like chartreuse, blue-backed chartreuse, or mustard.
As for autumn bass angling gear, Cook uses an Abu Garcia baitcasting reel with a high-speed retrieve ratio of 6.2:1. When he's tossing a spinnerbait, he'll use a 7-foot Fenwick medium/heavy rod with a fast tip; with crankbaits he'll use a Ken Cook Signature Series in medium action.
In regard to fishing line, in the past Cook has spooled his reels with Berkley 20-pound-test for spinnerbait fishing and with Berkley lines in the 10- to 14-pound-test categories for crankbait fishing.
Cook isn't the only angler who can get revved up about fishing for autumn bass in Texas; his northeastern counterpart Edwin Evers loves to do the same.
Evers spent much of his free time away from college classes at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant fishing for bass on the pristine waters of nearby 89,000-acre Lake Texoma, which straddles the Texas-Oklahoma border -- and apparently Texoma taught Evers well, as is evidenced by his three BASS wins, seven Classic appearances, and more than $855,000 in tournament winnings in a relatively young career.
Though he's perhaps not quite ready to be a tenured bass fishing professor yet, Evers, as one of pro angling's best young guns, assuredly qualifies as a graduate assistant in the school of higher bassin' education. And in that capacity, he agreed with Cook that autumn is indeed a fabulous time for targeting Texas bass.
"Bar none, the best thing (about this time of year) is that the fish are really grouped up," he said. "On reservoirs like Rayburn and Toledo Bend you can catch big numbers of fish in a small area."
For Evers, one of the big keys to autumn angling success is found in locating and fishing deep structure that holds active fish. "They're really grouped up," he noted. "Maybe not so much in surface schooling activity, but in schooling groups around deep structure."
So how will this young pro approach typical Texas bass waters this season? Like Samsel, he'll find the major creek arms on a lake and start there.
"I'll probably try to find me a major creek arm," Evers said, "and I'll probably get about midway back in that creek arm looking at things like river ledges or points. I'll have some deep crankbaits tied on -- a Carolina rig tied on -- or maybe a Texas-rigged worm in a 9-inch red shad or green pumpkinseed color."
* * *
By now, you've probably figured out that all three of our bassin' experts are of the opinion that at both the hotspot lakes mentioned at the beginning of this story and all the other promising lakes, small waters, and even farm ponds all across the Lone Star State, few times are better for going after Texas bass than right now, during the cooling and schooling days of autumn -- when the action's red-hot, even if the temperatures are not!
"They're biting," Cook concluded. "Go fishing!"