Fall has arrived and archery season for whitetails is in full swing. It's a good time to be in the deer woods, but an even better time for anglers to be on the water.
A lot of outdoorsmen and women have grabbed bows and arrows, leaving their bass boats and fishing tackle abandoned until spring. The summer crowds have left the lakes but its prime time to be throwing lures in the water.
In early fall, bass are transitioning from open areas toward shorelines. The long, hot days are over and fish become more active. Days can still be quite warm in early October, but fishing improves as water temps cool down.
"Bass feed more during this time of year as they fatten-up for the winter," said Jerry Brown, fisheries biologist. "It can be a good opportunity to catch high numbers of fish."
And while prey can vary, shad are a primary forage source for bass in the fall. Shad are known to migrate toward creeks and into coves in the fall in search of plankton.
One of the best tactics for fall bass fishing is finding and following schooling baitfish. Not only are shad schooling, they're bigger than any other time of the year. Yearling shad are usually around 3 to 4 inches by October.
As such, shad-imitating lures, such as soft-plastic swimbaits and crankbaits, work well in the fall. A good soft plastic to try is the YUM Money Minnow in pearl/black back or throw the Tennessee shad in clear water and the foxy shad or clown for stained water. Anglers can rig them on a jighead for going deep or on a weedless hook for retrieving in shallow water. Even when retrieved slowly, the big paddle tail offers a realistic presentation.
"I've found that in a lot of lakes in the fall, 90 percent of the bass you're after will be in 10 percent of the water," said Scott Stanton, semi-pro angler and guide. "I like to cover a lot of water."
More Than One Crankbait
One of Scott's strategies for covering water is to tie on crankbaits to several different rigs, as they are excellent for covering a lot of area and they mimic the shad. He ties a coffin bill to one rig for fishing shallow, while keeping a Rat-L-Trap handy for fishing medium depths. Finally, he rigs another rod with a deep diver for getting down to the bottom.
Whether moving along shorelines, easing in the coves and creek channels, trolling near flats, or trying deep ledges near shallow water, keep on the lookout for schools of baitfish. Mark the schools of baitfish and look for bass to be nearby. Anglers can also locate them by watching the surface for that rolling turbulence of small baitfish leaping out of the water, followed by bass hitting the surface hard.
For this, many anglers will go to topwaters, but Stanton goes straight after fish with a coffin bill or Rat-L-Trap.
"The bigger bass will be deeper and I let the lipless Rat-L-Trap fall," said Stanton. "Instead of a steady retrieve, I'll go with erratic movements — crank, crank, pull to the right, let it fall; crank, crank, crank, pull to the left, let it fall."
According to Stanton, most strikes occur when the lure is falling. He particularly likes Strike King's Red Eye Shad, because he says it falls like a wounded baitfish, quivering, wiggling and shaking on its way down.
Stanton also says to "go to the bottom" if looking for lunkers over numbers, claiming that he often pulls deep divers across the bottom under schools of shad.
"The big bass are just a little bit on the lazy side," said Stanton. "While the 2- and 3-pounders are slamming the topwater, the lunkers stay down low underneath the school, catching the falling, wounded and crippled baitfish."
This works really well on hard-surfaced bottoms by really digging the lure in with random hard pulls.
Anglers should also look for riprap, rock banks and shorelines, especially after water has cooled. Afternoons are particularly good around rocks that hold some heat. The sun will warm the rocks all day and they'll hold heat when the sun is off the water. It will be much warmer than open water or shaded coves and the fish will be more active.
In the fall, the vegetation starts dying off in the lakes. The farther north, the quicker it will be gone as the temps cool off. As such, look for any green vegetation that is left. There will be high oxygen content, which is going to keep baitfish, and bass will be nearby. Any place with vegetation near rocks will be a good spot.
Fall is one of the best times of the year to fish for bass, as they are actively feeding and moving to more accessible water. So instead of taking a gun into the woods, try putting a line in the water. You might just catch your best ever.