Fall is coming with all its fishing action! Here are the patterns, locales for the best Missouri bass fishing.
By John Neporadny Jr.
September can be a tease or a trigger for fall bass fishing on the Show Me State's lakes.
The cool weather of fall arrives earlier in the northern part of Missouri during September, while the southern section of the state still experiences hot summer weather until at least the middle of the month. The weather still remains warm throughout the month, but cooler nights start a drop in water temperatures, which prompts bass to start their fall feeding binge.
Bass busting into pods of shad in the shallows at the backs of creeks and coves is the scenario generally considered prime fall bass fishing. Just about any lure that resembles the size and color of a shad will catch bass then.
Missouri bass anglers can take advantage of this fall feeding spree at the following lakes throughout the state.
Tournament competitor Jim Duncan notices the fall patterns on this northeast Missouri reservoir starts in early September. "The bass start moving and you will start finding a lot more fish way up in the ends of the feeder creeks," he said. "I mean bass will be as far as you can go where you run out of water."
South Fork, Middle Fork, Elk Creek or the Indian creeks will be full of bass in early September. "That time of year the shad are almost everywhere," Duncan said. "In the back ends of creeks they will be on the big flats, especially Indian Creek, where they roam around on the pole timber. Those fish will be suspended in that timber just waiting for those big balls of shad to come through."
Running a shad-pattern or chartreuse medium-diving crankbait through the timber is an effective way to catch bass on the flats. Duncan also favors dropping a magnum-sized plastic worm in red shad or June bug hues or a green pumpkin Zoom Brush Hog into the timber to catch bass holding tight to the cover.
By October, more bass flock to the backs of creeks in pursuit of shad. Duncan continues to catch fish on the crankbait, worm and Brush Ho, and he will throw a 3/4-ounce white or white-and-chartreuse spinnerbait with No. 5 or 6 gold or nickel blades to catch bass feeding heavily in the creeks.
Duncan notices the bass will stay in the backs of creeks until the water temperature drops to about 55 degrees. He usually stops fishing the lake then and starts concentrating on deer hunting.
Bass at this reservoir near Kansas City start changing their eating habits toward the end of the dog days of summer. "We really see a change in late August and then we see a full bore change altogether the first or second week of September," said Dave Ballard, buyer for Rogers Sporting Goods Store in Liberty.
In late August and throughout September, Ballard keys on riprapped banks and channel swings on the main lake and on secondary points where he finds bass in 8 feet of water or less. The tournament angler notes Smithville bass usually remain less than 10 feet deep throughout the year.
Ballard recommends throwing square-billed crankbaits in Tennessee shad or American shad hues and 3/8- or 1/2-ounce black-and-blue jigs with soft-plastic trailers during early fall. Popular jig trailers for Smithville include Strike King Rage Craws, NetBait Paca Craws, Crock-O-Gator Bait Company Ring Craw, and Missile Baits D Bombs.
Fishing is restricted to the lower half of the lake when the waterfowl refuge on the northern half closes during October. Ballard suggests October bass can still be caught on square-billed crankbaits and jigs throughout the month on the riprap banks and brushpiles. Bass will be feeding on shad in the backs of creeks where a 3/8-ounce white or white-and-chartreuse spinnerbait with tandem willow-leaf blades produces best.
The lake clears up by late fall so Ballard catches bass then on a suspending stickbait in French pearl or bone colors, and the same spinnerbait he uses in the creeks during October. The local angler usually keys on laydowns and 45-degree banks on the main lake into early November.
Bass start keying on the massive balls of shad on this central Missouri lake when September arrives. "A lot of different things start working that time of year," said Casey Scanlon, who guides on the lake and competes on tour.
Large schools of shad start migrating to the shallows, but some remain deep where bass suspended under docks ambush baitfish. "The bass are really doing a little bit of everything," Scanlon said. "That time is kind of a sign of fall when you start seeing shad migrating to the back of the creeks and there is a lot of surface activity."
Throughout early September, Scanlon notices bass get "extremely shallow" and can be caught from less than 1 foot next to the bank, or suspended high in the water column over a depth of 35 feet.
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"You can catch bass then in the summertime haunts out to 30 feet of water," Scanlon said, "but a lot of those fish will be real shallow into the back of coves on docks or wood cover. A lot of times the bass just get out in the middle of the baitfish so if you see bait balls, just throw into those."
The guide suggests a variety of patterns develop then and anglers can catch bass from the dam area to the upper river arms. "A jig fished around docks is hard to beat," he said. Scanlon relies on a 1/2-ounce Trophy Bass Company jig in brown, black or blue most of the time, but if he notices bass are feeding heavily on shad, he opts for a white jig tipped with a white Bass Pro Shops Speed Shad swimbait. He likes to pitch the jig to brushpiles or into shady areas of docks and swim the white jig and trailer around the corners of docks.
Other lures he fishes around the docks at Lake of the Ozarks include Luck E Strike RC square-billed crankbaits (black-and-white, sexy shad, or black-and-chartreuse colors), Texas-rigged Luck E Strike Ringmaster creature baits, and flipping tubes. He also runs the square-billed crankbait around laydowns, brushpiles and through the middle of baitfish balls along points and flats.
From early to mid-October, Lake of the Ozarks bass remain shallow along flats where Scanlon tempts them with topwater plugs, buzzbaits and spinnerbaits. Bass start transitioning from the flats to steeper chunk-rock banks closer to the main lake where they start feeding on the larger gizzard shad. Buzzbaits, topwater plugs and crawfish-colored Storm Wiggle Warts, or Luck E Strike G5 crankbaits work best as the water cools down and bass migrate to secondary and main points, and to deeper rocky channel banks.
This late-fall pattern continues until the end of November or early December. Scanlon says once the water temperature drops below 50 degrees, he must switch to wintertime patterns fishing a jig on the bottom or jerking suspending stickbaits.
Summertime weather lingers at this southwest Missouri reservoir throughout September, but bass go on a feeding binge during the month. "We have a little flurry in September that kind of teases us for a couple of weeks and then (fall fishing) takes off toward the end of October," said guide Pete Wenners. "A lot of times in the beginning of September we start to get a little cooldown but I also think that (flurry relates to) the last of the warmouth or black perch spawn."
Smallmouth and largemouth bass flock to the shallows during a two- to three-week span in September to feed on the spawning sunfish. Wenners suggests the upper river arms produce the best action then. The best lures for bass roaming the shallows are a River2Seas Whopper Plopper topwater lure and a white/blue/chartreuse 1/2-ounce War Eagle Screaming Eagle spinnerbait with gold and nickel willow-leaf blades.
The traditional fall patterns when bass migrate to the shallows and chase shad usually occurs at the end of October at Table Rock. Wenners favors running up the James arm to the backs of creeks such as Woolly Creek where he keys on brush 1 to 3 feet deep along the flat banks.
His favorite lures to throw along the flats are walking topwater baits and Rebel Pop-Rs. If the weather is calm and sunny, he heads to the channel side of the creek and tempts bass with a jig or a shaky head.
As the water temperature cools down to about 60 degrees in late fall, largemouth and smallmouth bass move shallower on the middle and lower end of the lake. The water is stained in both of those sections of the lake during this time so the fall fishing is good from the dam to Aunts Creek on the James arm and up to Campbell Point on the White River arm.
Wenners suggests trying crawfish-colored Spro Rock Crawler or Storm Lures Wiggle Wart crankbaits along transition banks where the shoreline changes from football-sized rocks to the black ledge rocks.
"The spinnerbait bite will also work then along with the crankbait bite," Wenners said. "If you get a slick day after catching bass in the wind and clouds the previous day, you can usually catch fish on the same bank and just downsize to a little finesse jig with a small profile craw or a shaky head." Rig the shaky head with a Zoom Trick Worm in watermelon red, green pumpkin, or watermelon candy hues. The late fall patterns continue to produce at Table Rock until the water drops below 50 degrees, which is usually around Christmas.
Some spotted bass remain deep throughout the fall until the thermocline starts to break up, according to Wenners. Then some spotted bass move to the shallows while other spots drop into deeper water. "It seems like only the smallmouths and largemouths make that early migration to the bank," Wenners said.
The middle of September marks the beginning of a weather change at this southeastern Missouri impoundment. "It is warm down in this part of the world so Sept. 15 is when we finally get a break in the temperature from those hot nights," said Paul Cieslewicz, Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries management biologist. "We still get hot weather but we start getting some cooler nights."
The MDC biologist notices bass usually begin their fall feeding spree when the cooler evenings arrive. "Bass are feeding all the time but the fish really start putting the feed bags on in the fall," he said.
MDC electrofishing in the spring revealed Clearwater has a good population of keeper-sized bass. During his sampling, Cieslewicz recorded that 30 percent of the bass he measured were longer than the 15-inch legal size.
The biologist suggests bass will be chasing shad along points and backs of coves from the middle of September almost until Christmas at Clearwater. Key targets to fish throughout the fall are chunk rocks, boulders and manmade brushpiles.
Cieslewicz recommends throwing any lures that imitate a shad, such as spinnerbaits, crankbaits, lipless crankbaits and soft plastics. A suspending stickbait becomes an effective lure when the water starts turning colder around deer season.
Missouri Bass: Map for Clearwater Brushpiles
A lack of natural cover has prompted the Missouri Department of Conservation to enhance fish habitat by sinking brushpiles in Clearwater Lake throughout the years.
The MDC has worked every year with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to add new brushpiles to provide more habitat for bass and crappie. A map showing the location of the manmade brushpiles is available from MDC Fisheries Management biologist Paul Cieslewicz.
Email Cieslewicz at email@example.com and he can send a jpeg or mail a copy of the map.
Read more articles by John Neporadny Jr.