November 10, 2022
If you were an alien trying to catch a human being at mealtime, you might cast your bait near a pizza shop. If you’re a bass fisherman, you should do the same thing when targeting fall bass.
No, don’t fish near pizza shops—not exactly. What you should be doing, though, is something similar. The best bass anglers follow the forage for their fall bass, and there’s no better time to key on bass food sources and emulate that prey than the fall. It’ll get you more bites, and it might just be the most enjoyable bass fishing action you have all year.
TAKE ’EM ON TOP
Major League Fishing pro Josh Bertrand calls Arizona home and loves fall’s topwater action in Western reservoirs. “The bass are super shallow in the fall,” he says. “Definitely less than five feet deep. In fact, there’s almost no minimum depth for them. They can be in just inches of water, and I can usually catch them on top.”
To catch the reservoir bass he most often chases in tournaments or with his guided clients, Bertrand usually throws a Berkley Choppo 90 in the Bone coloration. It’s big enough to cast well but small enough to land quietly, and it has a great buzzing action as he reels it across the surface. “The Choppo 90 is just the right size to get the attention of larger bass without turning off smaller fish,” he says. “I like a medium to medium-fast retrieve and throw the lure on 30-pound-test Berkley Trilene X9 braid spooled onto an Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel with an 8:1 gear ratio and a 7-foot, medium-action Abu Garcia Veritas rod. This is one technique where you really need a fast reel. It’ll save you a lot of wear and tear over the course of a day.”
And Bertrand will throw the Choppo all day long. That’s one of the great things about his fall topwater pattern—it can work from dawn to dusk because the bass are typically very shallow and aggressive. Finding them can be easy, too. Bertrand often does it by watching for birds. “I’ll look for baitfish like shad in the backs of creeks and pockets,” he says. “We have a lot of ‘dead water’ on Western impoundments. An easy way to find good areas with baitfish is to look for diving birds. If I don’t see birds or signs of baitfish at the surface, I keep moving. If an area looks good, I might fish it for 10 or 15 minutes, but if I haven’t seen bait or gotten a couple of strikes in that time, I’m gone.”
Bertrand’s topwater pattern can still be hit-or-miss. Often, he’ll work through several areas with all the right indicators before finding feeding bass. “Sometimes there’s no obvious explanation for why one pocket or creek is loaded with fish and another is just dead,” he says. “If you really know the lake well, you might realize there’s a spring under the surface or there’s an important bottom composition change, but other times it just seems random.”
And that’s why Bertrand loves his topwater pattern. The Choppo allows him to cover a lot of water quickly. He can zip through unproductive areas until he hits it big. Then the action can be fast and furious. “This is a numbers pattern,” he says. “If you’re not getting bit pretty quickly, you should probably change areas before you change baits or depths. When you’re in the right spot, you’re definitely going to know it.”
Bertrand focuses on whatever cover is available in the backs of shallow creeks and pockets. It might be vegetation on one reservoir and rock on another. Brush can be found on most Western lakes, and it’s always worth a cast or two. “But don’t overlook the nothing-looking areas,” the Arizona pro says. “If there’s bait in an area, the bass will usually be there, and they don’t need cover to feed. They’re there to chase and eat shad or other baitfish and to feed up for the colder weather that’s coming. By then, these same fish are often 30 feet deep. Fall can be the last shallow-water hurrah of the year.”
His final tip may be his best. Despite all his tournament success, Bertrand is quick to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers and that sometimes persistence is just as important as analysis. “When you fish an area that just looks perfect—it has baitfish, shallow cover, everything—but you can’t buy a strike, make a mental note of the spot and come back later,” he says. “If all the elements look right to you, there are almost certainly some good bass nearby. The timing might not be right for them to eat, but the fishing could be lights-out an hour or two later.”
CRANK ’EM UP
Former Bassmaster Classic champ Jay Yelas loves river fishing for his fall bass, and living in Oregon means he has plenty of opportunities. Unlike Josh Bertrand’s fall pattern in the Southwest, Yelas’s approach is not primarily shad-based.
“In the northern half of the West, we have a lot of different forage,” Yelas says. “We have some threadfin shad, but we also have American shad, crawfish, yellow perch, squaw fish, bluegill and lots more. Almost everything is up shallow in fall, and it makes for some really exciting fishing.”
Yelas’s baits of choice for fall bass on Western rivers are medium-running crankbaits like the Storm Wiggle Wart, Lucky Craft LC 1.5, Strike King Pro Model Series 3 or other lures that dive 3 to 8 feet and allow him to cover water.
One reason that Yelas recommends fishing deeper than Bertrand does in fall is that the water’s colder in his part of the West. Another is the forage types he’s emulating. Shad tend to be surface-oriented at this time. Crawfish—and most of the forage on rivers in the West—are not.
“Early in the day, the bite may be really shallow,” he says. “But once the sun gets up, the bass tend to hold closer to the bottom. A crankbait that hits bottom and deflects off rocks and cover is the best and fastest way to catch them.”
When it comes to crankbait colors, Yelas most often opts for a crawfish-, bluegill- or perch-patterned model. He fishes the baits on 12-pound-test Strike King Tour Grade Fluorocarbon line and a 7-foot-6-inch Lew’s Mark Rose Ledge Series casting rod designed for small crankbaits. He matches it with a Lew’s Team Lite casting reel with a 6.8:1 gear ratio.
“It’s not a fast reel,” Yelas says, “but with a slow to medium retrieve, I can get my crankbaits down where they need to be, bumping bottom and cover and triggering strikes.”
According to Yelas, fall river fishing is all about current. He focuses his casts on eddies, points, substrate transitions (sand to rock, small rock to larger rock, etc.) or anything that creates a current break. Bluff banks and the mouths of creeks always seem to hold fish, too, he says.
“Fall offers some of the best fishing we have all year,” says Yelas. “Later, things can get slow, but as long as the water is in the high 40s or 50s, the fishing can be great.”
On top or just a few feet beneath the surface, fall bass are out there in great numbers and ready to attack your topwaters and crankbaits. Take a page out of Josh Bertrand’s and Jay Yelas’s playbooks to get in on the action.