Cooling Weather Means Fall Fishing for Bass on North Alabama Lakes
I do love the fall. The oppressive heat of summer is fading, but it’s not brutal winter cold yet. I believe fall gives anglers in Alabama the best fishing conditions of the whole year and this year is no exception.
It’s a lovely October morning and things are going well with the world. The Tide and Tigers are both winning this year and the weather has turned very pleasant with warm days and cooler nights. There’s just a bit of color in the thick woods around the lake. The world is much quieter since school has started. The vacationers and their jet skis have gone home.
On this fall morning, the mist is rising up off the water. The surface is not quite glass-smooth, so I can see every fish that chases bait on the top from a distance. Here, far up in this large feeder creek that empties into the main lake body, I know that big schools of shad will be gathered. Where the shad go, the bass won’t be far away.
I make a long cast toward a patch of disturbed water that tells me a massive school of shad is balled up and nervous. My crankbait is throbbing the tip of my rod as I speed it back towards me, but before I get more than 10 feet in the retrieve, something happens. My crankbait stops its rapid side-to-side motion and I feel the strong pump of a good fish’s tail.
Sure enough, there are bass here and I have one on my line. I see the flash of a good largemouth bass deep in the clear water. Then, the bass comes to the top and puts on a show. When I get the bass to the boat, the crankbait is just barely hanging on. With one final run, the 3-pound bass pulls off and runs free.
Oh, well. No big deal. That just saves me the trouble of getting my hands wet, but I sure want to catch another bass like that one. There’s a very good chance that I will do that, too. Fall fishing for bass can provide some of the best bass fishing of the entire year on the big lakes of northern Alabama.
How to Find the Bass
Capt. Brent Crow spent many years fishing and guiding on the big lakes of North Alabama. He has some information for anglers who want the best success in fall fishing for bass. During this time of year, bass patterns seem to be consistent in all of the big Tennessee River lakes.
“Fall is a time when bass patterns are in transition from the deeper water, structure oriented summer fishing to the wintertime patterns of fish holding in places where the water is a bit warmer than surrounding locations.”
Fall is a time when bass patterns are in transition from the deeper water, structure oriented summer fishing to the wintertime patterns of fish holding in places where the water is a bit warmer than surrounding locations. In the fall, the bass are looking for lots of food that they can obtain with a minimum of effort so they can stock up energy for the colder winter conditions. It is very possible to catch largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass in most of the big North Alabama lakes as they work the shad schools in fall.
Captain Brent tells us, “Shad will be migrating toward moving water. They’re looking for cooler, fresh water coming in to the lakes. They’ll get out of the main river parts of the lakes and go up in to the backs of creeks. On the Tennessee River lakes, they’ll be found below the dams in the moving water there, too.”
The reason why the location of the shad is so important is that bass feed heavily on shad, particularly in the fall. If we can find the shad schools, we’ll probably find the bass.
Captain Brent continues, “As the water cools, shad go shallow in the creeks. It happens every year at this time. There can be hundreds of thousands of individual shad in the massive schools and the bass will be around the schools of shad. It can be difficult to catch bass because of the competition with the shad. When the bass are not actively feeding, this can be especially true. You may have to throw eight or 10 different baits to find the one the bass want when fall fishing for bass. You have to try and match the size and color of the shad.”
Captain Brent feels that at this time of year, working structure in the lakes is not as important as it can be in other times of the year. Basically, when fall fishing for bass, anglers need to find where the shad are. The water in the creeks where the shad like to assemble in such massive schools can vary in depth quite a lot. The water may be from three to 10 feet deep. The shad school may stay from two feet to eight feet deep and these are massive schools.
Captain Brent says, “In the fall, the bottom structure and cover are not as important as finding the shad.”
Quite often, anglers can see bass busting on the surface as they work the schools of shad. Even when they’re not actively feeding on top, frequently, the shad will be flipping on the surface. Anglers can see the slight disturbance on the surface that the massive schools of shad make.
Rig it Right. Work it Right!
Fall fishing for bass is a prime time to work crankbaits around and through the schools of shad. When asked how he rigs and sets up for crankbait fishing in the fall, there’s no hesitation in Capt. Brent Crow’s response.
He says, “I use only Dobyn’s Rods, the 704 CB model. With it, I use 15- to 20-pound P-Line fluorocarbon line. This line weight keeps me from losing baits. Fluorocarbon line sinks, so it works better with crankbaits. I like Strike King crankbaits that run from 1.5 to three feet deep. I may have four different crankbaits rigged up on rods ready to go.”
He uses a bait-casting reel with a seven to one retrieve ratio. This is crucial. Fall fishing for bass is not the time for slow, deliberate presentation. Bass anglers in the fall will want to have either a spinning or a bait-casting reel that picks up a lot of line quickly to allow for high-speed lure retrieves.
Captain Brent says, “I think the speed of the retrieve with a crankbait is important. At this time, I think the faster the retrieve, the better. Remember, you’re reeling your crankbaits through a school of thousands of shad. I want to run my crankbait so it looks different from the real shad. I want to create a reaction strike from the bass. So think about using a retrieve that is fast and different.”
Captain Brent tells us that he has seen lots of bass approach and even charge a lure, but they put on the brakes at the last moment. Something has happened to make bass change their minds. These bass can make split-second decisions to strike or turn away if something is not quite right.
“The high speed retrieve makes them strike fast. They have to decide to eat. Keep in mind, you may catch one or two bass on a certain bait, but then they’ll quit. Just keep experimenting with different color and size baits until you find what they want,” advises Captain Brent.
Best Conditions for the Fall
Many bass anglers tend to assume that in all times of the year, low-light and flat water make for the best bass fishing. While these conditions are good for summer and late spring, when fall fishing for bass in super-clear water in the big lakes, Alabama anglers may want to hope for a little disturbance on the surface to cut down on the ability of the bass to see clearly.
“At this time, I think the faster the retrieve, the better.” – Capt. Brent Crow, fishing guide
When asked what kind of day he would choose to go fall fishing for bass on the lakes, the captain has no hesitation. He tells us, “My perfect fall day would have clear water and it most always is at that time of year. I like to have the water temperature between 65 and 70 degrees and cooling off. I like it to be sunny. This helps. You want the bass to be able to see the bait from a distance, but not see the bait too clearly. Sunny with a breeze is best. I like a breeze of perhaps five to 15 miles per hour, not a gale, but not a slick calm, either.”
He continues, “You may have to check around in a lot of creeks and in lot of places in the creeks to find the shad. You have to be prepared to cover a lot of water. If you find’em, you’ll find a lot bass, too. In the fall sometimes, I’ll sit in one pocket for two hours and catch fish the whole time. You’ll mostly have keeper size fish in the fall, but you can expect some nice 3- to 5-pound fish, too. There may not be big fish in every school. Usually, it’s more of a 3- to 4-pound bass bite.”
Captain Brent adds, “In fall, you can’t rule out any depth of water or any technique. Some fish will be found from a foot deep to really deep water. However, the best bet is always find the shad and you’ll find the bass.”
Important contact Information
Brent Crow’s North Alabama Guide Service