With all the other outdoor activities going on this fall, bass are not taking a break.
Autumn is a time of transition. The heat of summer has yielded to cooler temperatures and the days are growing shorter as the leaves begin their color change. Many folks are taking time out for football. Others are focusing on the upcoming deer season.
But, the fall can be some of the best bass fishing around the state.
The change in weather is sending good signals to the bass world. As the water begins to cool, all fish are becoming more active. Shad and other baitfish move to shallow waters and the bass are right behind them. Bass know it’s time to start feeding up for the winter months and put on a little weight.
Much of the busyness on area lakes has subsided. Most boaters and water skiers have docked and turned their attention to other activities. Some anglers, too, have stowed their rods and gear for the upcoming winter.
But savvy bass anglers know this not the time to take a break from fishing.
Baitfish Is The key
With the lake seemingly deserted it would appear to the fall bass anglers that any location open will hold bass. However, anglers should understand the bass’s habits during the fall. The main key to success in catching fall bass is finding the baitfish.
“The fish are feeding up for the winter,” advises B.A.S.S. Elite pro Greg Vinson of Wetumpka, Ala. “If anglers can find the shad, the bass will be nearby.”
Vinson says to look for shad flicking on the surface. Sometimes large schools of shad or other baitfish are swimming along near the surface and their tails kick or flick out of the water. The action is very subtle and the sound barely audible. But this is a telltale indication of a school of baitfish.
“The fish are feeding up for the winter,” advises B.A.S.S. Elite pro Greg Vinson
At times, there may be explosions in the shad school from an attacking bass or other gamefish. This activity is sure to trigger a reaction for other bass close by. Bass can hear and feel the sound vibrations of the baitfish moving through the water. They know how to key in on these movements.
One of the problems in locating schools of baitfish is the transition of the lake. In some sections of the lake, the shad may not be right at the surface. In another section, the baitfish can be holding anywhere from three- to 10-feet deep. And the locations can change from day to day, depending on the weather.
“I like to start looking on humps or points,” explains Vinson. “You may have to cover a multitude of depth ranges to find the bass.”
After the heat of summer, baitfish and bass will begin to move up shallower. In shallow water there is more oxygen than at the lower depths. During the fall, shad will begin moving up into the tributaries. As they make this transition, points and humps become congregating places and the bass will be following.
As the fall season progresses and the water cools, baitfish will move further up the creeks. The mouths and entry points from the main channel should be the focus for bass anglers. Since the baitfish are on the move, anglers should keep an open mind and change locations until the baitfish are located.
“One area to look for shad is grass or weeds near deep water,” says Bassmaster Classic Champion Randy Howell of Springville, Ala. “Pockets of shad will move into the weeds and the bass will be right behind them.”
On lakes where the grass is still green and growing, it will be giving off oxygen. Howell advises anglers to look for the brightest green in weeds or grass. This is a good indication of where the shad and bass will be holding.
Howell also says on lakes with little or no grass to move to the backs of protected pockets and coves. The sun will penetrate the shallower water and activate the phytoplankton that shad and other baitfish feed on.
Break Out The Tackle
One advantage of fall bassin’ is that almost any lure from the tackle box will catch fish. Choosing one or two lures may be a tough decision.
However, our two pro anglers have narrowed down the lure selection with some of their favorite lure choices for fall.
“I like a smaller profile bait for fall,” Vinson says. “I’ll usually start out with a Fish Head Spin in a 3/8- ounce size and add a Netbait Lil’ Spanky to the hook.”
Vinson adds that he looks for shad of the same year class. These shad are smaller and travel in tighter schools. He has discovered on the Coosa and Tallapoosa River lakes, these are the size shad that bass chase most during the fall months. Also, this age group will be more prevalent on most lakes.
The Fish Head Spin will allow Vinson to make long casts covering a lot of water. Also, the lure can cover varied depth ranges to get it in position around the baitfish and bass.
“Don’t twitch the lure,” Vinson explains. “Use a slow, steady retrieve and give a momentary pause. Note your speed and depth range on the first strike.”
For Howell, one of his top fisheries in the fall is Lake Guntersville.
With a multitude of grass beds, matted weeds and shallow pockets, Guntersville can be a fall bass bonanza. Along with the strong bass population, this is definitely a top choice for fall bass anglers.
“On Guntersville I prefer a Livingston Walking Boss Part II,” Howell advises. “It has a small Jitter Bug style lip and puts out a lot of action and noise.”
Howell said in the fall the top-water bite can last all day on most lakes. The bass are in a feeding mood and the erratic action of a top-water lure imitating a wounded baitfish is sure to draw a strike.
Another top lure that Howell uses for fall bass is a crankbait. He says Livingston Howeller crankbait is a good lure for drawing a reaction strike. A lot of times bass are cruising around looking for a meal and a crankbait will draw plenty of strikes.
The lure can be fished in and around cover such as weeds, grass, stumps and docks.
If an excursion finds Howell on one of the Coosa River lakes, he will opt for a fluke style bait. These soft-plastic lures closely imitate a shad. He says fall anglers should concentrate in the back pockets and the upper end areas of creeks. Water depth around three- to four-feet is a good starting point.
Both Howell and Vinson agree that anglers should always focus on shad-colored baits during the
fall. Bass will also be feeding on bluegill and crawfish. Lures and baits that resemble this type of forage will also produce good stringers of bass.
Gearing Up For Fall Bass
Lake, lures, and water conditions will dictate the type of gear needed to tackle fall bass. In most lakes during the fall, a lack of rain will have most waters almost gin clear.
Natural-looking baits and light will usually be the ticket. However, if fishing around cover, a heavier line will be required to move the bass out quickly.
“On my top-water baits I will use the new J-Braid by Daiiwa in 50 pound-test,” Howell comments. “The fish can hit hard and bury back down in the weeds.”
Surface lures like poppers, walkers and frogs can be fished with confidence on the heavy braid. Also, a high-speed bait-casting reel buckled to a 7- to 7 1/2- feet medium-heavy action rod is a good choice for anglers.
This setup will allow for long casts and plenty of fish fighting power.
On crankbaits, casting or spinning gear with a medium action rod is the ticket. Fluorocarbon line in the 12- to 15-pound test range should perform well under most conditions. The fluoro is abrasion resistant and is virtually invisible underwater.
“With clear waters, blue skies, and fall in the air, this is a great time for bass fishing.”
Howell says sometimes the fishing can get tough. When that happens, he will tie on a Senko style, soft-plastic type bait on spinning gear. He fill fish the lure wacky style to help trigger more strikes.
He says to try this technique when the action slows and the water is super clear.
It would be remiss to talk about fall fishing and not mention a spinner bait. These are popular lures for fall bass action. Both Howell and Vinson say for anglers using a spinner bait, a lure in white, chartreuse and blue color pattern is a top choice on any lake.
With clear waters, blue skies, and fall in the air, this is a great time for bass fishing. And under these conditions, it’s certain to be a great day outdoors.