Fall is a fantastic time to fish for bass. After a long, stressful summer with sky-high water temperatures – and recreational boat traffic to match – anglers finally have lakes and rivers to themselves again. And believe me, the bass are ready to make your trip worthwhile. Let’s explore a pair of presentations that will put more bass in the boat this fall.
Fish big baits for deep weed largemouth
On natural lakes in the north and reservoirs across the south, cooling water temperatures draw fall largemouth out of the depths and back toward the shallows. Reservoir bass will follow schools of shad into the backs of coves, where crankbaits can put big numbers in the boat. In the northland, shallow weed flats will also see a resurgence of bass, and here, Z-Man Chatterbaits dressed with paddletail minnows will produce consistent action.
An excellent way to target quality largemouth in the fall is to look to green weedgrowth in somewhat deeper-than-expected water. If you’re finding numbers of bass in shallow, 4-6’ weeds, then slide out a little deeper, say 10-12 feet deep, for bass that may be slightly fewer in number but larger in size. You may have been fishing deep weeds for largemouth all summer, but I suspect that the last time you did so, you may have been armed with a finesse bait, like a drop shot rig or a Ned rig. In the fall, we’re going after those largemouth with a mouthful – a big, bulky, Texas-rigged creature bait. I like the Sweet Beaver from Reaction Innovations, especially in Junebug or Black with Red Flake.
In thick week cover, many anglers will peg their sinkers to keep them close to their soft plastic bait. This can help the lure to pass cleanly through cover, but the peg can also damage your line, causing it to fail at the worst possible time. One tip that will help you land more fish is to use a Screw-in Sinker from Bullet Weights, rather than the pegged Texas-rig worm weight, for fishing these big creature baits. The Screw-in Sinker is designed around a stainless steel corkscrew that securely holds the soft plastic bait, while an integrated plastic tube that passes through the weight protects the line. Now, you’ll have a compact presentation that fishes cleanly through the weeds, while avoiding any possibility of a pegged sinker causing your line to break. Give it a try the next time you fish soft plastics through heavy cover.
Go with the flow for fall smallies
For me, chasing smallmouth bass in rivers begins in earnest during the heat of the summer. As the green leaves on the riverbanks transition to shades of red, orange and yellow, those current-loving fish that were scattered over shallow gravel flats in August are on the move – frequently traveling distances measured in miles rather than yards – to find suitable wintering locations.
Where should you look for river smallies during the fall? Start by searching for areas with minimal current. These could be long, slow outside bends in a small river, or prominent holes adjacent to current deflecting objects in a large river. Those fat brown footballs love current in the summer but tend to avoid it as the water cools. Indeed, still or very slow water is the first thing to target.
Another key attribute for winter smallmouth is depth. Frequently, a current-deflecting piece of structure – either natural or man-made – will have a deeper area just downstream, where the swirling current has excavated an area of the substrate; such depressions are top-line targets for the fall smallmouth angler. Confluences, regions where two rivers or streams merge into one, are another premium location. Here, the turbulent mixing of the formerly independent flows can create an area of water that is deeper than the surroundings. Confluence areas are typically larger than the small depressions associated with current-deflecting cover, and as a result, will hold more fish – many dozens or hundreds, rather than singles and pairs that you might find behind a rock or a submerged tree.
Now that we’ve found fall smallies, let’s catch a bunch. A 3-4” jerkbait is a good place to start. Present these with medium-power baitcasting gear, and spool up with 12-15 lb test Seaguar InvizX 100% fluorocarbon to provide long casts and critical abrasion resistance. The cool water jerkbait routine is subtle: crank the lure down to depth with a few turns of the reel handle, and then stop, providing a long, strike-provoking delay. When you think you’ve waited long enough, wait a little longer, then repeat the sequence until it’s time to cast again. In areas that have a relatively clean bottom, like deep outside bends or confluence areas, I will also spend time presenting live baits, like 4-5” sucker minnows, on a classic live bait rig. Start by threading a ¼ to 1/2 oz egg sinker onto a 30 lb test braided main line, like Seaguar Smackdown in Stealth Gray. Add a bead to protect your knot, and then tie in a quality SPRO swivel. Add a 4-foot leader of 8 lb test Seaguar Tatsu or AbrazX fluorocarbon, and finally, tie on a 1/0 or 2/0 Gamakatsu octopus hook. Hook the sucker minnow through its beak, and after a quartering upstream cast, let the current do the work by moving the rig slowly downstream. Maintain a tight line, and follow the bait with your rod tip as it sweeps past you; when using larger baits, be sure to give smallies an extra second or two after the bite before you set the hook.
Fall is upon us, and along with cool winds and colorful foliage, we’re about to enjoy some of the best bass fishing of the year. Get the boat out and enjoy – winter will be here soon enough!