Check out the bass fishing at these prime East Texas locations this month -- and use these patterns to score! (October 2008)
Fall in Texas! Temperatures are dropping to a tolerable level, leaves are changing, waterfowl are migrating -- and all that's on your mind is that huge trophy bass you'll get this weekend.
That's right: I said "bass," not "buck."
I know that this sounds a little off-kilter. But even though most of you are shooting bows, sighting-in rifles, filling up feeders, and thinking about monster bucks, the fall of the year is one of the best times not only to latch onto a trophy bass but also to hook into a ton of smaller ones -- that is, if you know what to look for at your local lake.
For the past two decades, the undisputed heavyweight champion in the world of bass fishing has resided in Northeast Texas. California has its aquariums with bass snacking on stocked trout, and Mexico has a year-round growing season, but the stump-filled arms of Lake Fork have been producing double-digit bass for decades, and the reservoir shows little sign of slowing down.
Even though more anglers are flying across the waters of Fork in the spring than at any other time of year, fall at Fork might be your best chance at catching a trophy -- and also staying on a consistent pattern. The current No. 2 bass caught in Texas just happened to come out of Fork in November, so if you've stowed the rods for the winter, it might be time to break them back out.
Clint Wright, owner of Lake Fork Day & Night Guide Service -- (903) 342-3497, email@example.com -- makes a living pulling big fish out of Lake Fork on a consistent basis, so when he talks about fishing the lake in the fall, it might be a good idea to listen. Would it surprise you to know that one of his favorite times of the year to be at Fork is when the deer hunters get back in the woods? The reduced pressure and cooler temperatures make being on the lake a pleasant experience; the massive fish that are biting are just a bonus.
The one key Clint passes along that absolutely must be taken into consideration this time of year at Fork, and really just about any lake, is the thermocline. As a matter of fact, Clint won't even pick up a rod until he's determined exactly how deep the thermocline is in a specific area.
To understand the influence of the thermocline on Fork bass fishing, you must first have an understanding of what exactly the thermocline is. When looking at a slice of a lake, imagine it divided from surface to lakebed into three distinct layers. Starting in late spring and on into the summer, the surface of the lake becomes increasingly warmer (layer 1) while the water in the bottom of the lake stays cooler (layer 3). Between these two layers is the thermocline (layer 2), a mixture of cool and warm water.
Why is this middle layer so important? Glad you asked. Cold water is denser than warm water, and dense water holds less dissolved oxygen, making it difficult for bass, or any fish for that matter, to live in it for an extended period of time. The thermocline -- the middle layer -- marks the beginning of the cold, dense water and gives an angler some idea of where not to fish. If you're throwing lures that fall beneath the thermocline, you're just spinning your wheels, since there will be very few bass at that depth.
Knowing the significance of the thermocline and being able to locate it are two different things. All depthfinders are different, so you'll need to tinker with the settings on yours to tune it to locate the middle layer. But once you do, you can run slowly through an area and the thermocline will show like a soft bottom, with interference displayed from this area all the way to the real bottom of the lake.
After you get your depthfinder tuned, begin your search on main-lake points and humps. Start with the shallow area and motor out toward deeper water. Once you've established the depth of the thermocline in that particular area, it should be relatively close to that same depth throughout the lake.
"The part of the lake that has the most distinct thermocline is the SRA (Sabine River Authority) point," Clint advised. Those who've never tried to locate a thermocline on a graph will find this to be the best place in which to practice.
There's no denying that big baits equal big fish, and fall at Fork might be the best time to throw those magnum-sized lures you've had in the bottom of the tackle box for the past few years. One of Clint's favorite oversized fall baits is a bit unusual -- but who am I to argue with the man? He knows what he's talking about, so when he tells me that some of his biggest fish of the year are caught on oversized baits typically used by saltwater anglers, I tend to listen.
I've seen these in various outdoor stores, and never gave them a second look, but Clint swears by flutter spoons. Flutter spoons, large models with two hooks dangling below them on wires between 3 and 8 inches long, stay tied on a few of his rods in the fall.
Fall in Texas is one of the greatest times to be a bass angler, ranking right behind spring as the best time to be out on the water.
Clint prefers chrome spoons, but knows that sometimes, bass just want a different color; instead of buying dozens of different-colored spoons he has a simpler solution. "I go to arts-and-crafts stores and buy the different-colored metallic tape and keep a few rolls in the boat all the time," he said. "It's easier to carry different-colored tapes than different-colored spoons. Plus, if you lose the only spoon color the bass are biting and don't have any more, you might be done for the day. If you carry the tape, you can rig another spoon, and put the same color tape on it, and keep fishing."
You just have to be able to stand up to the ridicule of your fishing buddies when they find out you went to an arts-and-crafts store!
To fish a flutter spoon, Clint prefers a vertical presentation for fish suspending in 10 to 15 feet of water near Bird Island, Dales Hump, and any point south of the 515 bridge. Occasionally he'll cast the spoons, but most of his time is spent jigging, owing to the massive amount of timber under the water's surface.
If the fish aren't in the mood to be spoon-fed, Clint falls back on the old reliable technique of Texas-rigging a worm in planted brushpiles. Most of his brushpiles are sited so that they're on the downward slope of a dropoff. After Clint marks fish on brushpiles in or above the thermocline, he'll throw out a marker buoy and then
move back to shallower water. Sitting in 10 feet or less water, he'll cast the Texas-rigged worm past the brushpile and work it back through.
Clint does this because he gets more strikes by retrieving the lure from deep water into shallow than the other way around. The reason lies in a fish's mindset about the direction in which its meal is traveling. "I think I get more strikes sitting in shallow water and casting to deep," he stated, "because the bass know that if that bait gets by them they may not have another chance to eat it, and so they are more aggressive. If the bait is moving out to deeper water, they know it has to come back by at some point so they are less aggressive about chasing it."
When Texas-rigging these brushpiles in the fall, Clint noted, you should keep a couple of details in mind. First, peg your weight. You'll be dragging the worm over, under and through limbs, and thus need the weight to stay in contact with the worm so that it'll bring the plastic through the brush easier and with fewer hangups.
Second, use a long-shanked 5/0 to 7/0 hook instead of one with a wide gap. "When you hook a bass with a wide-gap hook," he said, "it will have a lot of the hook sticking through its lip that can get hung up on the brush. A long-shank hook will lay flatter against its face." (That certainly makes sense, when you think about it.)
Last, your standard-sized worm won't do. Big worms catch big fish, so find the biggest thing in your tackle box and tie it on. Clint is a fan of the Reaction Innovations Big Unit in either California 420 or Hematoma (those are colors, by the way). This big 9 1/2-inch worm is deadly on monster bass.
The final bait that Clint likes to toss in the fall is a deep-diving crankbait. His preferred crankbaits are the Flat Shad and the Koolie Minnow by Sebile; the latter can get down to a depth of 18 to 22 feet if fished on fluorocarbon line. I've seen these baits at first hand, and they're not only visually outstanding but have great action as well.
Keep in mind that when you fish these lures at these locations, the goal is to catch fish larger than the slot -- which in most cases might be the biggest bass you've ever hooked into.
However, in the fall there's also the chance to catch bass that are schooling -- potentially good news for tournament anglers looking for five fish under the slot before catching a kicker. But bass at Fork don't school in the way that bass at other lakes do.
At other local lakes, schooling bass can be found at the same time just about every day at locations long recognized for the activity, but at Fork, the schooling's sporadic at best, so chasing schools of fish is a frustrating endeavor. The best advice I can give on catching these bass is to be prepared in case they pop up next to you. Have a topwater popper tied on and readily available at all times, particularly when fishing over humps and on lake points.
Not every lake in the state is blessed with the amount of cover that Fork possesses. While the bottom of Lake Fork resembles an underwater forest, the floors of others look more like the surface of the moon: a few humps and ridges devoid of anything resembling natural vegetation. Fishing these lakes in the same manner that you would those waters chock-full of cover is a recipe for disaster -- or, at least, an empty livewell.
Veteran angler Jason Barber -- www.kingscreekadventures.com; (903) 887-7896 -- knows that in order to catch fish later in the year at Cedar Creek Reservoir, he can't move offshore and fish the main points and drops. Instead, he has to rely on the artificial cover to put his clients on fish.
Bass congregate around cover, and at Cedar Creek the predominant cover comes in the form of the many boathouses lining the shore. A bass angler who is riding across the top of Cedar Creek when the rest of the state is hunting needs to find the nearest boat dock and start chunking and winding, because bass will surround it.
In the fall, bass are on a major feeding binge and fast-moving baits that cover a lot of water in a hurry are the best way to locate the docks that seem to be holding more bass.
Jason passed along this tip: "Starting in October and running into November, I like to throw crankbaits in chartreuse or crawfish patterns, or spinners in chartreuse and white with tandem blades, usually a willow leaf and Colorado blade combination."
He admits that other colors of spinnerbaits might work, but for my money, spinners should come in one combination: white/chartreuse. Jason doesn't use painted blades either, sticking instead with the traditional gold or silver to attract fish.
"You can flip a 3/8-ounce jig in black/blue or crawfish colors around the boat houses," he continued, "or use a Rat-L-Trap in gold, chartreuse, or a crawfish pattern."
These baits work exceptionally well as long as you keep them right next to the boathouses. Make a cast down each side and one along the front, keeping your bait within a couple of feet of the cover. "If that doesn't work," Jason advised, "get your bait up under the dock in the shady areas."
The key to catching a lot of bass at Cedar Creek is locating a pattern and then repeating that pattern at multiple locations on the lake. If the bass are hanging out at boathouses in 10 feet of water in one cove, they'll be around boathouses in 10 feet of water in the next cove as well.
Now, don't think that every bass in the lake will be hanging around boathouses, because some will still be around brushpiles in open water. The only difficulty in catching those fish will be in finding the brushpiles. "If you can locate them," Jason continued, "brushpiles are another good fall hotspot. Try deep-diving crankbaits and Carolina-rigged plastics for bigger fish. Texas-rigged plastics and jigs also work."
But, as Jason pointed out, the problem is locating the brush. It might pay to put some miles on the boat in scouring points with your electronics to locate brushpiles other anglers might not want to tell you about.
Fall in Texas is one of the greatest times to be a bass angler, ranking right behind spring as the best time to be out on the water. Daytime temperatures are finally bearable, and bass are feeding. If you can wait just a few more weeks to stow the bass rods before picking up your rifle or bow, you might find that the fall is your favorite time of the year to chase bass, too.