December 04, 2020
During the spawn bass anglers know what to do. We head to protected bays and coves with hard bottoms and look for bedding fish. In the summer we move off the shallow shores and target drop offs and humps with deep-diving crankbaits and plastic worms. In fall the bass move up tributaries in search of baitfish, and in winter it’s time to focus on the sharpest drops with vertical presentations.
But between those times—during the transition periods—the plan of attack isn’t always so obvious. And no transition period is more challenging than the transition from warm weather to the cooling waters of fall.
Part of the challenge is that the transition is rarely smooth. After weeks and weeks of brutally high temperatures, it can suddenly turn cold overnight and just as quickly warm up again. It’s as though the mercury in a thermometer is a yo-yo, being pulled up and then falling precipitously back down.
Having been conditioned to think that cold fronts are pure evil for bass fishing, we’re loathe to break from the idea that we need to downsize, fish tiny lures deep and slow and hope to grind out a few bites. But that thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. By assuming tough fishing, we guarantee it by practically admitting defeat before our first cast.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It can be better—a lot better. In fact, the fishing can be positively great. We just need to look to the experts—pros who don’t get to pick their fishing days based on pleasant weather but who must find ways to catch bass even under the most trying conditions.
California’s Jared Lintner and Arizona’s Josh Bertrand are two of the best in the West. Both compete on the Bass Pro Tour and catch bass in all four seasons all across the country in every imaginable situation. What’s more, they actually enjoy fishing during the fall transition, because they know bass will bite.
Lintner is renowned for his skills with a flipping rod or a hollow-bodied frog. Bertrand is one of the great finesse fishermen on tour. However, neither relies on his wheelhouse techniques during the fall transition.
FOLLOW THE GRASS
As water temperatures drop in lakes and streams, so goes the submerged vegetation. The deeper the vegetation, the earlier it generally succumbs.
"The bass that had been living in the deep grass will move shallower to whatever vegetation is still alive and healthy," says Lintner. "It’s a pattern that a lot of anglers miss, but if you find a patch of living grass when other patches are dead or dying, the fish will be there."
To catch them, Lintner opts for a lipless crankbait—the Jackall TN70 in ghost minnow. He fishes it on 16-pound-test Sunline Crank FC fluorocarbon line spooled onto a Daiwa Tatula Elite casting reel (7.1:1) and a 7-foot, 6-inch heavy-action Ritual Angling Team Lintner Series Glass Lipless Rod.
His bait not only catches bass, but it also searches the underwater landscape, picking up bits of grass—living and dead—to help Lintner zero in on the best spots.
"When you find green vegetation, hold on," says the California pro, who primarily uses a lift-and-drop retrieve with this method.
But what happens if and when the water gets so cold that even the shallow grass is impacted? That’s when Lintner moves even shallower to hard cover like wood, rocks, dock pilings or even heaps of dead grass that have drifted up against something to create a solid mat.
"This can be some of the most fun fishing of the entire year," he says. "It’s when I pick up a Brabec Buzzbaits Double Buzz in shad or black and start catching fish on top. Lots of baitfish are in the shallows at this time, and the bass can be aggressive, but I like to reel the buzzbait just fast enough to keep it on top."
To do that, Lintner throws the lure on 60-pound Sunline FX2 braid on a Daiwa Tatula Elite casting reel (6.3:1 to help him slow down his retrieve) and a 7-foot, 5-inch heavy-action Ritual Angling Team Lintner Series graphite rod.
Part of Lintner’s fall transition success is zigging while other anglers are zagging. "Lots of guys go to deep rock piles when the weather turns cold, and there are definitely some fish there," he says. "But many fish have moved shallow, and they’re easier to catch."
SWITCH TO TOPWATERS
When those first few cold fronts of fall come through, Josh Bertrand welcomes them with open arms and topwater lures. It’s when he heads for the backs of pockets and creeks, where he finds shad stacked up. But the baitfish are not what Bertrand says most of the bass are targeting"at this time.
"I look for dragonflies," he says. "The bite is best on calm days when the bass can find them easily, but dragonflies are the key, and the bass get really aggressive."
The affable Arizonan admits that dragonflies are not the path to giant largemouths, but he says that 30- and 40-fish days are possible when you find the flying foodstuffs. To catch them, he favors two baits: a red- or blue-skirted buzzbait that matches the color of the dragonflies and the 90 mm Berkley Choppo in bone.
He fishes the buzzbait on 30- or 50-pound Berkley X9 braid with an Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel (8:1) and a 7-foot, 3-inch medium-heavy Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier casting rod. Bertrand throws the Choppo on the same line and reel but with a 7-foot, 9-inch medium-action Abu Garcia Veritas. Both baits produce best on a medium retrieve.
"I make long casts, use a steady retrieve and try to cover a lot of water. If you see a fish blow up on a dragonfly, you know that’s a fish you can catch," Bertrand says.
He also recommends to watch for birds at this time. They’ll be feeding on the dragonflies, as well as shad and other baitfish.
"Fish fast and cover water until you see birds or fish busting on dragonflies, then cover the water more carefully," he says. "You’re going to catch them.”
Top Western lakes for tackling the transition.
These patterns discussed in this article work anywhere summer transitions into fall, but our experts have their favorite locations. Living near one of the nation’s top bass waters makes it easy for Jared Lintner to choose California’s Clear Lake. He says it’s perfect for his transition patterns.
"The north end is a big shallow flat with lots of weeds and grass, plenty of docks and lots of big fish," he says. "The south end is deeper with lots of rock piles that will draw plenty of fishermen away from the shallow bass. Of course, I prefer the north end at this time."
Josh Bertrand lives near and guides on Roosevelt Lake in Arizona. It’s where he got dialed in on the dragonfly bite, but he’s found it all over the West. Roosevelt is deep, clear, rocky and brushy—perfect for the fall bite detailed here—and very similar to lakes Mead, Powell and Pleasant, many California lakes and other waters around the West.
"Roosevelt is my personal favorite, but this pattern works wherever you have dragonflies or shad," says Bertrand. "Look for fish to be very shallow."