September 01, 2015
By Keith 'Catfish' Sutton, WorldFishingNetwork.com
In autumn, anglers have a chance to catch their biggest largemouth bass of the year, maybe a lifetime. Veteran bassers look forward to this season, but many weekend anglers dread it because they haven’t yet learned how to locate and catch bass that may be deep one day and shallow the next.
If you’re in this latter group, the following facts could help alleviate autumn anxiety.
Things to Try as Autumn Begins
Changing weather conditions as autumn begins trigger good fall fishing. You should especially watch for cold fronts that drive temperatures in the shallows back down into the 70s. This “shakes up” water conditions, and bass that refused to feed during the monotonously hot weather of late summer may take on a much more positive attitude to food and lures. Bass still stay close to deep summer haunts, but now, with much better water conditions, they’ll begin making forays to the shallows for at least a few hours each day.
Fish near dawn and dusk if you can, as action tends to be better then during the early part of the season. Remain flexible in your tactics. On a 100-acre lake, there could be 10 bass patterns going on at the same time; in a large reservoir, even more. Keep moving, casting and experimenting until you find at least one pattern that works for you.
One tactic that may help you pinpoint bass is fishing gradually sloping, stickup-covered flats in 10-20 feet of water near channel breaks. These areas provide largemouths the security of deep water nearby, and when the fish want to hang around in mid-depths, as they often do this time of year, they can still move vertically in the water column while relating to the woody cover. On some days, they’ll suspend; other times, they’ll be near the top of a stickup, or closer to its bottom. One day they’ll be closer to the channel break; the next might find them on the flat’s shallowest edge. Whatever the case, you’ve narrowed the scope of your search somewhat, and by working various portions of the flat using lures most suited to the depth you’re searching at a given moment, you should eventually get some “pickups in the stickups.”
Use sonar to pinpoint the outer channel first, then work stickups on the edge by casting jigs or vibrating crankbaits and working them at different depths with different retrieves. Next, move to mid-portions of the flat and work the water column top to bottom with shallow-diving, suspending and deep-diving crankbaits. Bass on the flat’s shallow side often hit plastic worms/lizards crawled across the bottom, or spinnerbaits allowed to “helicopter” down beside timber. Be patient, and work the flat methodically, and you’ll eventually get “pickups in the stickups” that make the effort worthwhile.
Tips for Turnover Time
Turnover time occurs in mid- to late fall, depending on the latitude, when previously stratified water “mixes” and the temperature evens out top to bottom. It’s caused in part by cooling winds that pound waves against shorelines and chill surface waters to make them heavier. (Water is heaviest at 39.2 degrees.) When surface waters heavy up, they sink beneath the warmer, lighter waters below, which rise to the surface and replace the entire upper realm. Thus the logical term “turnover.”
Big bass sense this oncoming annual period and instinctively respond. Seasoned lunkers sense that food soon will be scarce, so they eat and lay on extra fat to tide them over the period of lean rations ahead. They also must conserve energy, however, so exertions are held to a minimum.
Catching these bass requires the angler to develop two mind-sets. First, imagine cruising bass looking for a school of oversize minnows or shad. Then picture bass in seclusion after getting a belly full of prey.
For cruising bass, think deep. Look for dark drop-offs around old creek channels, bluffs, steep points, cliffs and bridge pilings. This calls for lures designed to work at deepest depths. Probe dark shores with deep-running crankbaits, covering a lot of territory to cross paths with feasting hawgs. That failing, try weighted sinking lures such as jigheads with various soft plastic or hair bodies. Walk them down steep shorelines, nudging bottom all the way to your boat. Also, bring them in at all levels to see if bass are hanging at certain depths for reasons known only to them.
Look for secluded bass in dense weeds, lily pads, brush or other heavy cover abutting dark water, and think “s-l-o-w.” This calls for lures with “do-nothing” appeal because a bass with its belly full won’t chase them. Try vertical jigging. Rig a soft-plastic crawfish body on a 1/2-ounce jighead. Move quietly along deep shoreline covers with a vertical line suspending the lure. Lift and lower it gently, s-l-o-w-l-y, temptingly, to trigger instinctive slurps from inactive lunkers. Keep your eyes on the line where it kisses the surface, and at the slightest change in tension, loose or taut, set the hook.
When water temperatures dip below 55 degrees, bass take to deep water. You’ll notice them moving farther from shore with each degree drop in water temperature. Fall’s frenzied feeding slows now, and the fish’s instinctually move to deeper haunts where they’ll settle in for the winter.
Your best bet now may be working the mid- to deep levels beside rocks bluffs and steep points toward the lake’s deeper end. The points, in particular, may offer one last chance to win the “lunker lottery.” Just about the time everybody thinks the fishing has gone to pot, a school of big bass often moves up for one more crack at food. Likely as not, they’ll come up on a steep point directly adjacent to some of the deepest water in the lake. They normally move up no deeper than the middle depths, and your lure—a long-billed crankbait bounced across the bottom, or perhaps a jig-and-pig or lipless vibrator like the Cordell Spot—must be worked painfully slow to entice them.
Cold weather is the norm when late fall arrives, and it may take the constitution of a polar bear to be out there when strikes are typically few and far between. This is probably your best chance, however, to hang a real trophy before next spring’s thaw.