As Water Temperatures Cool, Fall Bass Fishing Heats Up
Turning the calendar page over to September can bring a sense of relief, especially for bass anglers. The hot, “dog days” of summer are behind us. Anticipation of cool mornings and mild days stirs our desire to head out to the lake. The sweltering heat has subsided and fall bass fishing moves back to the top of the angler’s list.
Bass too welcome the relief of cooler temperatures. They make their transition back toward shallow water haunts in search of food. Heavy feeding is on their lists in making ready body fat reserves for the upcoming winter. From the north to the south, Cotton State bass are becoming more active.
Weather plays an important role in fall bass fishing activity. Cold fronts can trigger rain and falling temperatures. The rain also cools the water and adds oxygen. Baitfish like shad and blueback herring begin to move and the bass aren’t far behind. Knowing where to look and the proper lures to throw can help an angler quickly fill out a limit of fall bass.
Locate the Baitfish First
One of the first things fall bass fishing anglers must look for on any lake is baitfish. These silvery, slender little fish ball up in giant schools on most lakes around the state. They move in huge packs feeding and growing over the fall months.
For a majority of lakes across Bama, shad are the primary type of baitfish. Gizzard and threadfin shad are the most common species and make up a large portion of the diet of bass. Some lakes, like Smith Lake near Jasper, have blueback herring along with shad.
“Start your search around the middle section of a major creek,” mentions Tracy Beall, a fishing guide from Eufaula, Ala. “Shad will use the creek channels as travel routes to shallow flats and the bass will be close by.”
As the water temperature begins to cool, shad will often swim just beneath the surface, Beall explains. The bass will follow the large balls of baitfish and attack the shad when the time is right. Anglers lucky enough to be in the right spot will witness the explosive action of the bass and shad battle.
Mouths of creeks, ditches and other channels that intersect the main tributaries are great locations to search for fall bass fishing. Inside breaks create a current ebb and the shad will sometimes congregate there. Also, sharp changes in depth along the channel ledges are prime areas for bass to hide out.
“Depending on the lake, water temp and sky condition bass will generally be around 4- to 10- feet deep,” Beall comments. “Bright days will have them a little deeper and on cloudy days they will move up shallow.”
Cover, Cover, Cover
Bass are cover oriented. At any time of year, anglers can find bass hiding around cover. The autumn season is no different. However, bass are more willing to chase after food during the fall. Thus, anglers don’t have to fish their lures right in the heart of the cover.
“Flooded brush or timber, boat docks, riprap and underwater rock piles are top spots to find fall bass,” advises B.A.S.S. Elite Tour pro Matt Herren of Ashville, Ala. “Don’t overlook main lake cover and structure.”
Herren comments that once the water temperature gets back down around the 72-degree Fahrenheit range bass become more active and ready to eat. They will use whatever cover is available to ambush their prey.
“Flooded brush or timber, boat docks, riprap and underwater rock piles are top spots to find fall bass,” — B.A.S.S. Elite Tour pro Matt Herren
Another type of cover some anglers may overlook in the fall is grass or weeds. On some lakes, the grass can still be very prolific and continue to grow. Herren advises anglers to fish grass edges near open water. Also, any submerged grass flats about a foot under the surface is another top spot for fall bass.
“I like to make a long cast and retrieve a spinnerbait fairly fast over the top of the grass,” Herren mentions. “You can change the speed of the lure to see how fast the bass prefer it.”
Narrow the Lure Choices
With bass sometimes in a feeding frenzy, anglers can get caught up in fishing many different lures. Beall mentions a couple of old standbys that catch plenty bass in the fall. He says don’t try to over think the lure selection for fall bass.
“Shallow- to medium-diving crankbaits are a good starting point,” Beall advises. “Choose a color and size that closely resembles the baitfish in your area.”
Beall comments that crankbaits are good search baits for locating schools of bass. The lures are easy to cast and can cover plenty of water. Later in the year, shad will take on a hint of chartreuse or yellow around their tails. Crankbait colors in white, silver or sexy shad are prime choices for fall anglers.
Anglers may want to keep a couple different sizes, colors and lure styles rigged and ready on the deck. Beall mentions that anglers will want to cast toward cover from different angles and make retrieves from various directions. A medium-fast retrieve should garner a reaction strike from a bass.
Herren agrees on the reaction strike scenario, but he prefers a spinnerbait for fall bass fishing. A tandem willow-leaf bait is Herron’s go-to bait for fall bass. This style spinnerbait allows for long casts and easy retrieves. The blades simulate schooling shad activity.
“The spinnerbait closely resembles both threadfin and gizzard shad,” Herren mentions. “I prefer white blades and a white skirt for my fall spinnerbait.”
According to Herren, a spinnerbait is versatile for fall bass fishing. It can be fished at varying speeds and depths throughout the water column. Herren believes spinnerbaits don’t receive as much attention as some other lures, but he regards blade baits as still one of the top lures for fall bass fishing.
Herren advises the most critical part of selecting a spinnerbait is matching the size of the lure to the size of the baitfish. He says this can vary from lake to lake and even on the same lake from one end to the other. Anglers will benefit if they take the time to study the baitfish size in the area where they are fishing.
“If the bass are active I will fish the spinnerbait as fast as I can retrieve it,” Herren comments. “I’ll keep the bait just under the surface.”
While the high-speed retrieve does produce some strikes, Herren will often opt for an erratic retrieve. He will vary the speed and use a stop-and-go technique as well. When fishing over grass, he stops the bait and allows it to flutter down in the vegetation.
Herren mentioned about bass being around cover during the fall. He likes to make the spinnerbait bump something on the retrieve. He says to bump a log, stick, rock or pier piling to draw that reaction strike from a bass. As the water continues to cool, Herron will slow down his retrieval speed on the spinnerbait in late autumn.
Spinnerbait sizes for Herron will range from 1/8- to 1/2-ounce. He fishes them on a Kistler rod with an Ardent reel with a 7.3:1 gear ratio. His reel is spooled with Gamma fluorocarbon line ranging from 12- to 20- pound test depending on lure size and depth.
For crankbait fishing, Beall also likes fluorocarbon line in the 14- to 20-pound-test range. He likes the lighter weight line for smaller lures in open water. When fishing around cover, he will step up to the heavier line. Beall mentions that anglers will lose some action and depth range with the heavy line.
Fall bass fishing is the time when anglers and bass become active again. Cooler temperatures will have the bass on the move and anglers in pursuit. Tie on your favorite lure, make a cast and hold on for a great day outdoors.