In the old days, just to catch fish this time of year we had to go shallow and capitalize on bass chasing big shad in the backs of pockets. We’d throw buzzbaits and spinnerbaits and have a good time doing it, but thanks to catch-and-release practices, we now have so many bass in lakes that many never leave the main lake. They still revert to the channel pattern this time of year (following channels during the fall transition is still a rule of thumb for me after all these years), but by targeting these bass near river and creek channels we can still catch plenty of bass without heading back into shallow, skinny water.
My favorite technique for the fall, and one that has been kind to me the last couple of years in tournaments, is ledge fishing. During this time of year, the fish that don’t go shallow will school up and always stay on structure. If it’s an Ozark lake with a lot of rocks and hard cover like gravel, sand and shale, they will use a lot of bluff and bluff-like structure.
When I am in these lakes, I spend nearly all of my time close to the river channel. It seems like if I can find a creek coming in and maybe there’s a river point there, those types of places will be excellent early in the morning. I’ll pull up near the point and use a football-head jig, either a 3/4- or 5/8-ounce, tipped with a 4-inch Berkley Power Bait Chigger Craw. I’ll hold the boat out over 70-plus-feet-deep water and make short casts to 20 feet of water. I find that these fish really concentrate on steep drops this time of year. I am not sure if it’s because of low lake levels in the fall or what, but the fish usually be on a really vertical bottom. With the boat positioned over deep water, I will make a short cast and let that big jig fall down the break line until I figure out what depth the fish are in. Sometimes they will be up close on the bluff itself in 10 to 15 feet of water, but as soon as the sun gets up a little they will start backing down the break line where I will catch them in as much as 35 feet of water.
When positioning the boat, I will start semi-parallel to the bluff face. If you are perpendicular, the bait will be pulled away from the bluff face as you reel it in, taking it away from fish holding tight to the structure. If I am completely parallel and I lose a fish, it takes me a lot longer to figure out what depth that the fish are in. By keeping the boat semi-parallel, I can bounce that jig straight down the break line. Once I hit the right depth I start to key in on where it is, then I can move the boat more parallel to the bluff face.
I fish a 50-yard stretch of bluffs and the point going into the bay, then pull up and cross the creek and fish the other side. Usually the fish are within 50 to 100 yards within a bluff end. Sometimes you will find them right down a bluff, but it is usually where the bluff will do something under the water that people can’t see that holds the bass. You might not catch anything for 200 yards, but then the river flares out and there’s a little bottom sticking out a little farther from the bluff, and you’ll hit another patch of fish. When I am looking for bass and I get that bite going, I fish a lot of dead water because I am looking for those little places that other people will overlook.
The best colors that I’ve found for this technique is a peanut butter and jelly jig, a brown jig with purple flake and purple stripes in the skirt tipped with the green pumpkin Chigger Craw. A lot of these fish this time of year are really keying on big bait because the shad are really big, and I find that the bigger bait produces more strikes than a smaller jig. I fish the jig on a 7-foot, medium-heavy Fenwick Techna AV rod and an Abu Garcia REVO STX spooled with either 15- or 17-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. If the water is stained and the fish are shallower, I like the bigger diameter line around those rocks. If I am catching them deep, I go with the 15-pound line because it lets the bait get down there better and I have more control over the line.
If a cold front has caused the fish to be finicky or if there are fish showing up on the electronics that aren’t eating, try switching to a drop shot and finesse the fish. My drop shot setup has included a baitcaster the last few years. I use a medium-fast, 6-foot, 6-inch Fenwick Techna AV rod with an Abu Garcia REVO STX spooled with 10-pound 100% Fluorocarbon line. With a 3/16- or ¼-ounce drop shot weight about 6-8 inches below a 1/0, light-wire hook, I hook, Texas-style, a Triple Margarita 6-inch Berkley Power Bait Hand Pour Finesse Worm. If the fish are still finicky, I will drop down to 6-pound 100% Fluorocarbon spooled on an Abu Garcia 704 Cardinal spinning reel on a 6-foot, 6-inch Fenwick Elite Tech Drop Shot rod. Then, I will use a No. 1 hook and nose-hook the bait to increase the bites.
October fishing doesn’t have to be tough. If you can resist heading to the deer woods for a few more days, experiment with bluff fishing and show your friends that not every transition bass comes from the back of a cove.