Fall is the time to take advantage of the best baits for bass when the lakeshores are extra pretty, most waters are less crowded than they have been and temperatures feel good through the middle of the day. The best thing about fall bass fishing to any serious angler is simply that the action tends to be good. The bass prefer the moderated temperatures, too, and they are getting fueled up for tougher days ahead.
So how do you best take advantage of the opportunity? Various approaches can produce fish during the fall, but some of the very best offerings come from your bag of soft-plastic lures. Let's look at a handful of the best types of soft lures for this time of year, examining how to rig and present each.
Shad and fall bass go hand in hand. The shad congregate and move up into the creeks this time of year, and the bass follow the baitfish in big numbers. In the realm of soft-plastic lures, nothing imitates a shad better than a soft swimbait colored and sized to match the hatch.
Along with providing a great imitation of the bass' favorite fall meal, a swimbait allows you to work quickly, which can be important during the fall, when bass find comfortable conditions in a big range of areas. Keep the trolling motor running as you work a lake's major creek arms, and keep your eyes open for big schools of shad.
Although swimbaits can be used to probe a big range of depths, the best fall opportunities normally are for shallow fish that are feeding on shad that you can see, often over flats or points within creeks. The best presentation, generally speaking, comes from a steady retrieve, with the baits swimming within a few feet of the surface.
Swimbait styles that work well include hollow-bodied baits like YUM Money Minnows, solid paddle-tailed baits like Big Hammer Swimbaits and flat-sided baits like Sebile Soft Swimmers. Depending on fish depth and aggressiveness and the style of swimbait selected, baits can be rigged with various jigheads and weighted hooks. Jighead rigging offers an open hook point, which provides an advantage for hooking fish.
For clear water, white-sided swimbaits with blue, green or black backs represent shad the best. If the water is stained, using chartreuse to adds visibility without forsaking the need to suggest shad.
In addition to at least one swimbait, keep a soft-plastic jerkbait such a Zoom Fluke rigged and ready. Sometimes fish that won't quite commit to a steadily moving swimbait find it difficult to resist a jerkbait, which moves more slowly and erratically but still suggests a shad.
Use the jerkbait as an alternative offering when shad are plentiful in shallow water, but the bass won't take a swimbait. Grab the jerkbait rod first when you see fish breaking on the surface or baitfish that appear to be fleeing predators.
Often the best depth to work a soft-plastic jerkbait during the fall is barely out of your sight. That means fishing the lure shallower in stained water, but the fish tend to hold shallower when the water is more stained. Rig the bait weightless, either weedless with an offset worm hook or nose hooked with circle hook, and work it with twitches and pauses.
Experiment with cadences. Sometimes the fish favor fairly steady action, like a sub-surface version of walking the dog. Other times a better approach is to do a few quick twitches and then let the bait free fall for a few seconds before twitching it again. Think about what you have been doing whenever fish bite, and always watch behind your lure as you are working it. If you get glimpses of followers that won't quite commit, chances are good that you are close to the right offering and presentation and that changing colors or altering the speed or cadence a bit could be the ticket.
Fish your jerkbait on spinning tackle so that you can use lighter line and make longer casts, and spool with fluorocarbon to minimize line visibility and to help the bait stay down in the water column. Again, stick with shad-imitating color patterns such as pearl, and add chartreuse to color schemes for stained water.
In the minds of many fisherman, fall if frog time. Given the savage surface strikes, often through vegetation that flies in every direction, it is an addictive style of fishing. Frog fishing heats up in the fall because the fish feed aggressively and much available forage hangs close to the surface. On lakes that have that have pads or grass that mat across the surface, during fall the vegetation tends to be thick and full of aquatic insects, which begin the food chain, consequently attracting feeding bass.
Contrary to popular perception, frog-imitating soft-plastic lures are not exclusively for fishing matted grass. Although frogs work exceedingly well for mat fishing, they also bring bass to the top around emergent grass, beside laydowns and docks and even in open water.
Also flying in the face of popular thought, a frog lure doesn't necessarily represent a frog to the fish. Many of the best grass mats sound like a bowl of Rice Krispies because of bluegills "snapping up" aquatic insects from the grass, and the bass are likely keyed in on the bluegills cruising right at the surface. Other times, the bass just react to movement or to the popping or waking of the frog bait as it dances across the surface.
Today's frogs provide far more options than existed even a few years ago. Many modern frogs have very soft bodies and come with excellent hooks, allowing for far better hook-up ratios than used to be the case. They also come in a big range of sizes and shapes, with some rattling models and some silent models, and some that are made to hop straight while others walk side to side or pop on the top. Consider the thickness of the cover, what you think the bass are eating and the size of the bass in the waters you are fishing and choose your frog carefully.
For fishing heavy vegetation use solid colors, like black and white, which offer contrast and are easy for the bass to find. Where thinner grass or even open water give the bass a better look at the offering, use natural color patterns that imitate frogs or bluegills and are somewhat more subtle in appearance.
If the fish won't come up through the grass our out of the timber to feed, an alternative is to go in after them with a soft-plastic crawfish or creature bait, Texas rigged with a enough weight to get down through the cover. Don't spend a lot of time with the bait in any given spot. Drop it down and pay careful attention during the initial fall. Then hop it just a time or two before lifting it and making your next pitch.
This approach commonly yields big fish, and they can be tough to get out of their hiding areas. Use a stout rod, heavy line and a big, heavy-wire worm hook. For thick cover, that means 50- or 60-pound-test braid and a 5/O or 6/O hook.
If you're flipping or pitching around wood or other cover that is somewhat open, choose a crawfish with big flappy claws like a Strike King Rage Craw or a creature bait with big paddles and plenty of appendages such as a Gene Larew HooDaddy. For thick vegetation, you want a more compact bait like Larew's Biffle Bug that you can punch through the cover and get down among the fish.
Patterning is critical for this style of fishing. Whether a lake has lily pads, matted vegetation or flooded timber, vast areas can look similar with everything looking like it should hold fish. Watch for little points and cuts in weed lines or tree lines, note the orientation of the cover relative to the creek channel and pay attention to things like bottom depth changes and the presence of baitfish.
Finally, don't overlook the sheer strike-producing virtue a simple straight tailed worm. Even during the fall, when fish typically put on the feedbag, conditions ranging from an early front to heavy fishing pressure to a lake turning over can put the bass in a funk and make them tough customers. However, even a fussy fish has trouble resisting a finesse worm. With its small profile and slow wavering action, such a worm simply looks like an easy meal.
Beyond looking vulnerable, a finesse worm such as Zoom Trick Worm is really versatile in the ways it can be presented. Probably the most popular way to work shoreline slopes in the fall is to rig the worm weedless on a 1/8- or 1/16-ounce jighead and present it with a combination of shakes, hops, drags and pauses. Arguably the most often forgotten technique is to drag a Carolina rig with a 1/2- to 1-ounce weight, 2 to 4 feet in front of a weedless finesse worm. Carolina rigging allows you to cover a tremendous amount of water without moving the lure quickly and to work a broad range of bottom depths.
The same finesse worm also works as a subtler alternative to a soft-plastic jerkbait when you rig it weightless and weedless and cast it on light spinning tackle. Skip it under docks and other cover and work it with short twitches and punctuated pauses.
In terms of finesse worm colors, lacking reason to choose something different, it's hard to beat green pumpkin as an all-around producer. It is easy for fish to find in most water colors but has a natural appearance. If the water is extra clear, a more translucent natural color such as watermelon seed might a better choice. At the opposite end of the spectrum, June bug stands out really well in stained water but still has a subtle and somewhat natural appearance.
'I think it's a buzzbait. I just think people have kind of forgotten about that bait — when they think about a topwater, it's a (Lucky Craft) Sammy or something sexy or new. They don't just go out and throw a buzzbait anymore. But those are hard to beat because you can cover water, find fish and draw big bites with them.
'I use my own signature-series bait, the Strike King
KVD Tournament Series Buzzbait, in both the 1/4- and 3/8-ounce sizes. If I had to pick one color to fish day in and day out, it would a bluegill-colored skirt, with black as a second choice. I like a darker color instead of white or chartreuse.
'A bluegill-colored bait with a gold blade will catch fish in clear water, dirty water and everything in between. '
'I'd actually say it would be a swimbait. A lot of people seem to think it's a West Coast bait for big fish only and that you don't get many bites, that it's hard to throw and that it's hard to rig. None of that stuff is really true.
'Look at how many times a bass eats a bluegill or a 4- or 5-inch shad. They'll eat baits that are a lot bigger than a crankbait. Like anything else, it's a matter of taking them out there and throwing them until you've got confidence in them.
'The (YUM!) Money Minnow
is just a prime one — the 5-inch in the hitch or bluegill color. You can catch them with it belly-hooked if the water's shallow or on a lead-head if you're out really deep. '
'I think it's a jig that's most underutilized. Several years ago it seems like all the big sacks were being caught on a jig, and then the industry got flooded with all this other stuff, especially all the plastics that everybody can flip.
'You can be so much more efficient with a jig because you don't have to spend near as much time fooling with it. If you miss a fish, you can put it right back there on him, whereas with other baits it takes a few seconds to get everything straightened back out. '
'I'd say it's a crankbait because the technology of them has gotten so good nowadays. It covers pretty much every type of water clarity, structure and cover. We're learning a lot more about crankbaits and the power of them here lately, but a lot of people still don't have a good understanding of them.
'On my deck nowadays, I'll have at least two or three rods rigged up with crankbaits. I like a coffin-bill for water that's 4 to 6 feet deep, and some type of squarebill for anything less than that.
'For color, it's just hard to beat sexy shad. That's like green-pumpkin is for plastics. '
'I'm going to go with a squarebill crankbait, like a Damiki DC 100. A lot of guys write that off as a pre-spawn or a fall-type bait, but they're missing a lot of fish. I was catching them on one at Pickwick in July last year.
'The biggest thing is just looking for some form of good, shallow cover, whether it's manmade or natural rock or wood. Whether the water's 90 degrees or 40 degrees, fish will still use it. '
'I like to throw it past the cover, especially if there's a lot of baitfish in the area. That bass will sit there and use that cover as an ambush point. '
'I'd say it's a Lucky Craft Gunfish
. It's amazing the number of people who don't know about that bait, even on the pro level. It's the best topwater that's been invented since 2002.
'It's a walking bait, but it's got a cut nose that adds splash. With the unique sound it gets from its rattle, and its face splashing, it has everything. It's great if you need to cover a ton of water. Just cast it and work it fast — 'walk the dog' with a continuous twitch. '
'I don't think people fish a regular old plastic worm like they did years ago. Everybody wants to throw a swimbait, a crankbait or whatever VanDam threw last week, and I'm kind of that same way myself. But when you need to catch a limit, a Zoom Trick Worm
or any straight-tailed worm can help you do that as well as anything can.
'They're very subtle and the fish never seem to get used to them. You can turn loose a bunch of fish that were caught on one in a Monday night tournament and catch them again on Tuesday.
'If my life depended on catching a bass, a worm would be right at the top of my list. '
'I think it would be baits like YUM! Dingers or (Yamamoto) Senkos
. They were a big hit five or six years ago, but since then we've seen the swimbait and some other things show up, and now the Alabama Rig.
'I like to dead-stick it just about everywhere. Just throw it at targets and do nothing — most of the strikes will come on the fall. I keep the colors very basic, usually just black and blue or junebug for stained water and green-pumpkin for clear. '
'The one that really stands out for me is a grub. It seems like it gets forgotten about more now than 10 or 15 years ago, but it's stayed a part of my arsenal, and I like to use it in tough conditions.
'I fish them on traditional dartheads from 1/16-ounce all the way up to 3/8- or 1/2-ounce in deep water. I carry two types of dartheads — one with an exposed hook and the other with a fiber weedguard for fishing around grass or wood.
'I think the reason it's so effective is because it provides a lot of action in a subtle package — it's not noisy or clunky and it comes through the cover naturally. I think it's fallen out of favor just because it's so basic. '
'A 7-inch finesse worm will catch fish pretty much all over the country, but it doesn't seem like something that a lot of people want to use right now. I don't know if that's because it's a lighter bait or because it has no action or what, but I don't think there's a better bait day-in and day-out for numbers of fish.
'I rig them Texas-style, wacky-style or on a shaky-head, and I really focus on two colors: if the water's dirty or tannic I go with black; and if it's anywhere near clear, I use green-pumpkin. If there's any question in your mind, go with green-pumpkin. '