There’s no shortage of activities competing for the attention of anglers during the fall. As anglers, it’s obvious we love to be outdoors; and after a summer of hitting the water hard, watching some football or sitting in a deer stand sounds like a pretty good idea. After all, fishing in the fall isn’t all that great anyway, right?
The short answer is yes and no. Bass do go through what’s commonly referred to as a “fall funk,” but that funk doesn’t last all season. In fact, depending on where you are, that phase can be rather short. It’s not so much the air or water temperature or even moon phase that we should be worried about – it’s rainfall. In most reservoirs, after they have gone through their seasonal draw downs, it’s rainfall that holds the key to creating current in the water, which is key for catching more and bigger bass. Once the rains do come, the fishing can be exceptional. But if there’s not a cloud in the sky, you can still catch fish. The key is knowing how to approach the water in both the funky and fun parts of fall.
From the early parts of fall until now, water temperatures and levels in the reservoirs have been steadily dropping. Both facts create a situation where bass are leaving those areas – shorelines, submerged cover – where we would normally target them during the rest of the year. The reason they do that is because of the shad and baitfish populations. The forage is now older and larger, moving around more in the lake, searching for phytoplankton that is blooming less often due to the fall water temperatures. So instead of concentrating around wooden docks, rip rap and laydowns, they are searching areas like open water in the backs of coves where shallower water can be found. Shallower water heats up more quickly during the day than does deeper water, and here the shad and other baitfish can find their own forage. Where the bait goes, so go the bass.
In the backs of these coves is the best place to find baitfish high enough in the water column to target the bass that are feeding on them. To find them, simply get behind the wheel of the boat, turn on your electronics and start cruising. Sometimes you will find no bait schools in a cove; sometimes you will find one or two. What I look for are coves where there are multiple bait schools – most preferably ones with arches (bass) below them. Once I find them, I go after them with a Megabass Giant Dog X topwater or deep X 200 crankbait or a host of other shad-imitating baits.
One of the most effective ways to target these fish is with a double jerk shad rig. Using 10-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line tied to a three-way swivel, I tie different length leaders off of the swivel. On these different-length leaders, I tie a 4/0 wide gap hook and rig a Gulp! or Gulp! Alive! white 4-inch Jerk Shad. Casting the rig with an Abu Garcia REVO STX mounted on a seven-foot, medium-action GLoomis MBR843, I cast the rig out and let it sink seven or eight feet, giving the rig a rip-and-pause action to make the two baits dive and dart in different directions. This is a great way to get reaction baits and fool bass into leaving the school of bait and biting your hook. You might not catch a lot of fish this time of year on this or any other bait, but the possibility is there for some bigger fish.
When the rains of November finally come, it helps create current in the reservoir (remember: the further north you are, the earlier in the year this is going to happen and may actually start in October in some latitudes). It might not be a current that you can see, but rest assured it is there. With the water low and not much going on near the bank, bass will return to off-shore structure like brushpiles, rockpiles, points and bluff walls where they can wait in ambush spots to feed on bait schools that are moving with the current. This is not going to be your usual jigging spot, unless the fish are especially lethargic due to a front or some other circumstance. These fish – especially the big ones – know that they can get a greater return on their energy expended by ambushing forage from these spots. To get them to go into feeding mode, you need to entice a reaction strike. To do so at these depths, however, usually requires some cranking.
Using an Abu Garcia REVO STX spooled with 10- or 12-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon and mounted on a 6-foot, 6-inch medium-action rod with a lot of tip, I position myself behind these ambush points, cast a deep-diving crankbait, such as the Megabass Deep X 300, beyond them and crank the bait down to the desired depth. As important as getting the bait down to the depth of the structure is getting the bait to bounce off of things like sticks, rocks and other debris. This creates the movement that entices these opportunistic feeders.
Fall can be feast or famine on many reservoirs. I’ve had numerous tournaments this time of year where big-sack days were followed by blanks only to be followed by more big-sack days. The secret is determining whether or not there is sufficient current in the water to pull these big fish back to offshore structure or being able to find moving bait schools. The opportunity is there for you to cash in on one of the last big bites of the year, enough so that it pays to stay on the water.