Photo courtesy of SoLaFisher.
Three of the five largest bass I have ever caught have been in the Fall despite that I spend far more time fishing for bass in the Spring. Fall is just a great season for everything.
Fishing can be tough if you’re looking for numbers. Fluctuations in weather and scattered fish can be challenging. We’ll discuss some tips to help up your Fall bass game It may quickly become some of your most productive fishing of the year.
Frankly, I can catch more bass in a day in the Spring so what makes fall so much better? For one, it’s the aggression of the fish and for two it’s the tactics! I love to hunt down the fish and just slay them one after another. You can manage that in the spring but it doesn’t have the same feel of zoning in on your quarry and finding that one great spot.
All bass fishing is a little bit like hide and seek but nothing is like the fall.
Fall Bass Behavior
Really this is about all fish behavior and the whole predator/prey relationship. As the temperature drops, the whole wild world is looking to fatten up. Schooling fish will school together tighter and are often the shallows and other rich areas looking for food. Congregating fish draw in bass and because the lower water temperatures can hold more oxygen, the bass drawn in are often big!
It’s a collective feeding frenzy as bass hit one school of baitfish and scatter them then move on to the next. You can often find large fall bass cursing the lines of banks and open water shallows in search of food and they will often hit anything that looks like a likely meal.
We can’t neglect the vegetation either that is a normal haunt for our prize specimens. As the weeds begin to die back in fall the smaller available cover provided can be a veritable goldmine. These places are congregations of smaller fish seeking shelter and will, therefore, host a number of roaming beastly bass.
The trend in all of this is to follow the baitfish. You find a school of shad or perch and you can bet that a bass will be along soon if he isn’t there already. Now you just have to get him to latch on to your lure instead of one of the live fishes that got his attention.
Fall Bass Baits
It’s time to stow away those worms and drop shot rigs that work in the spring. Those are for when you know where the bass are. We are hunters now and the name of the game is coverage. No more delivering up food for when he is ready, you aren’t a waiter anymore. It’s time to hunt and cover a lot of water fast.
Swimbaits are the first choice in your Fall bass arsenal. Anything that looks like a shad is effective or mimic the local baitfish. I have often had luck on bluegill patterned swimbaits. You want something big and shiny with a lot of white or silver for a preference. These should be retrieved moderately slow and thrown in a pattern to cover the most area.
Of all the lures out there, these are probably the best bet from the perspective of attracting bass while still covering a lot of water. Opt for something lipless though a little rattle never hurt.
Spinners and Buzz Baits
Because the bass are aggressive, we are looking for reaction strikes. Anything that is shiny and makes a little noise can bring on the bite. When you aren’t having any luck with a swimbait, fishing a spinner or buzz bait a little higher in the water column may be just the trick to urge out any big bass in the vicinity. I find these most effective in the areas where shallow streams flow into the lakes.
Color-wise, match you bait fish or stick to lighter, more reflective patterns. I like white with a little bit of flash in it.
On those days where the water has fallen just below the 50-degree mark, bass will move shallower but may be a little lethargic. I find the application of an appropriately fished jerk bait to be just the thing to peak their interest and get a bite. There is nothing that beats true reaction bites from a big bass. That whole first hit when he takes the bait and runs is about the most amazing feeling you can get as a fisherman. I think it beats the spring topwater hits, though I love those too.
The whole idea behind a jerk bait is to provoke a response by mixings slow and fast speeds. Do this with a light and shiny jerk bait, something large with deep sides, and you very well could pull in some true monsters.
The final baits that I fish are creature baits, specifically frogs and crayfish. If the water temperatures are anywhere above the mid-50s and clear, these can be just the bait you need around shallow cover to draw out any reluctant bass.
I like a crayfish with big floppy claws fished on a Texas rig around stumps and dying patches of thick weeds, especially in mid-lake flats. Bounce them along but don’t let them linger too long. Remember that your goal in the fall is to cover water.
Similarly, a frog bait works really well in shallow coves fished the same way you would in the summer. I think it’s the novelty that makes the frog so effective. Bass have been feasting on shad so much that the opportunity for something a little different is just enough to pull a strike out of them. If the water is under 50 degrees, these are less effective. Like the crayfish, I want something with big floppy appendages.
Where to Fish
Though we covered this briefly in behavior, lets narrow that down a bit and try to lock on to where the good spots are.
The cardinal rule of where is to follow the baitfish and look for the tale tail skipping shad.
Docs and Hard Structure
Anywhere there are hard drop-offs can be productive for Fall bass and while these are also popular in the spring, Fall calls for a change of tactics. This is not the time for slow jigging. Instead, stick to running swim baits several feet below the surface. Fall bass are usually shallower than those of warmer seasons.
Dying Weed Beds
As Fall progresses and the underwater weeds begin to die back, the smaller areas of cover will often collect large numbers of fish. Not only is this a good hiding spot for bass but also a good attractor for roaming bass looking for large meals. Stick deep enough to cruse by the thickest parts of the grass or bounce along a crayfish that could prove irresistible to the ravenous fall bass.
Those shallow sandbars and flats that lie in the middle of deeper water will often draw in bass. These bass are roamers and don’t stay still long in their search for pre-winter foods. Stick to baits you can fish fast and cover a lot of water. Flat side and lipless swimbaits work wonders at attracting the bass and getting them interested. I like to fish angles, casting twice to the same place and then changing by about 15 degrees. Repeat this till you have covered as much of the flat as you can.
Places where the water is at least 5 feet deep right off the bank are the highways of fall fishing. Baitfish will use these avenues to get to feeding areas and bass will use them to hijack wayward schools of fish. Doing this right is key, you don’t want to linger and cast up-bank and down-bank all day. You have to stay on the move. Trolling these banks and fishing baitfish patterned swimbaits is a good tactic that can pay off.
Coves and Creeks
The backside of coves where creeks inflow are the prizes of fall bass. This is where most baitfish will congregate and where the bass will come looking. If you were going to linger anywhere, this would be the spot. Approach slowly and fish the cove starting at the deeper parts near the banks and moving in toward the back of the creek.
Once you are in far enough to hit the creek start covering as much water as you can. Sometimes the bass will be right on top of the shad but as an ambush predator and will often lie in wait somewhere along the paths the baitfish are using to get in and out. What bait you use is up to you but I find jerk baits and bring out the reluctant fish but swim and buzz baits also work wonders.
Fall Bass Tactics
What makes Fall bass so exciting is the variety of locations and methods you work to entice a bite. It is never a dull moment, you fish and fish and sometimes you get lucky. By the end of the day your arms may be worn out but it will be worth the effort.
If the cardinal rule of location is baitfish, the cardinal rule of tactics is to cover as much water as possible. Fall is not the time to linger.
Cast and Move
Where it is fruitful in Spring to cast over cover repeatedly, that tactic likely won’t work on Fall bass. If they are there, it will take a predatory response to make them hit. They aren’t as territorial in Fall as they are in Spring. They want food. If they don’t take it in a few casts, move on.
I will normally cover an area with one choice lure and if the spot looks likely, I will cover it again with a different lure. You could call this the Bait and Switch method. If I haven’t got a rise or a hit out of a bass in two times over, move on to somewhere else. No need to linger.
In the Fall I like to use a buzz bait or something to make a little noise to make sure I hate the attention of any fish in the area and then switch to a shad patterned swim or jerk bait for the hit. Weed beds are a good choice for the jerk bait where more open water seems to favor the swimbait.
Do a Little Jigging
Though it isn’t the staple method it is in the Spring, a little fall jigging can be productive if you can find the right spot. I like to keep a shorter, stiffer rod with a lighter colored jig handy in case I find a likely downed log or stump. Stick to larger jigs to avoid any lingering wimpy bass. If I am going to jig in the fall it’s for the big boys.
Like with all Fall fishing, drop it and bounce it. Don’t let it sit idle. I will often bounce a jig as much as a third of the water depth in the fall. Pull it along the bottom for a short distance. Repeat this for a couple of minutes then move on. Don’t linger. If you aren’t getting a response, it’s time to go.
I also like to do this in small weed patches if I haven’t gotten a hit on and of my cast and retrieve options. I bounce my jig outside the weed bed for a bit and then drag it through a couple of times. Sometimes it will be just enough to make a hesitant fish poke his head out and look around. No matter what structure you are jigging, remember that Fall bass are usually shallower than they are in warmer seasons. Keep your jigging to depts around 10 feet or less.
Fish the Temperatures
I often find the best temperatures to fish are between 55 and 65 degrees water temperature. Bass are still quite active and aggressive. Once you get below 50 degrees, everything slows down. The bass are more lethargic and it will take them longer to bite. This is not the best time for jerk or buzz baits.
In cooler water, stick to slower lipless swim baits and try the jigging method. You can also opt for a creature bait. I have seen crayfish slay bass in cold water when they are looking for a treat. I have seen bass productive into very cold water near freezing if you are willing to fish slow enough but to get the best of the fall, get out early in the season when the water temps are still higher.
Fall Top Water
Spring is king for topwater action but there are a number of avid anglers that will swear by fishing topwater in the fall. Done correctly, you can get some good hits from some the most brazen bass. They fight hard and are some of the most fun to get on your line but you have to follow the other fall rules to make it successful.
In other words, don’t linger.
I often find this most productive on warmer, sunny mid-mornings when the water temperatures are in the low 60s. I like frog baits over open water flats and weed beds but the backs of creeks can also yield good topwater fishing. Keep an open mind and a ready pole. If you see baitfish breaking the surface, give your topwater lures a shot.
The Final Word
It’s a sad world when most bass fishermen call it quits after the spring spawn. There is a lot of year left that could be productively used for fishing. I love fishing the spawn and even more so going for smallmouth in the summer in those deep, swift rivers. Both have their challenges but each year I seem to enjoy fall bass fishing more and more.
People catch bass in January in Minnesota, if they can do that surely you can land a few in mid-October. Don’t let the seasons and the old wisdom on bass fishing ruin some of the best months of the year for fishing. Both October and November can be wonderful if you take your time and learn the methods to use to find and hook the aggressive and restless fall bass.