Early Fall Fishing:
The Transition and Struggle

by Bruce Callis

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Love is in the air. No, not that spring fever, but the love of the fall crisp morning with that slight chill in the air. No, it hasn’t arrived, even though fall is upon us. Summer doesn’t want to leave. But as the cold fronts move through and the temperatures drop at night, so does the water temperatures. It’s not a huge drop, but it is enough to start the bass, that we love to catch, into moving into the shallows to start feeding up.
While not every bass is going to move up so quickly, there will be plenty and some big ones too. And the catching isn’t going to be like hitting a school of bass during the summer. It will mean you need to be covering a lot of water. But where do we start and what baits should we use?

As the bass begin to move into the backs of the coves and feeder creeks, look for them along the flats. These could be in 15 feet, 10 feet or even 5 feet of water. Look for the bait fish and the bass will be nearby. You need to cover water to find them and a great way to do it is with a spinning reel, yes a spinning reel spooled up with 15 pound braid and a 15-20 foot leader of 8-10 pound fluorocarbon. Use an 1/8 ounce ball head jig with a 3 inch swimbait and make long cast and retrieve it back with a slow to medium steady action. The fluorocarbon leader will allow the swimbait to act more nature and trigger more bites. And it will trigger a lot of bites. Just be ready when they slam it hard.

One of the favorite ways to cover water in the shallows is with a buzzbait. You can cast it up shallow to the edge of the bank, along laydowns, around lily pads, and across points and work it back. This is usually set up on a casting rod with a 7.0:1 or higher gear ratio reel and on 20-30 pound braid, which allows you to make long casts and have enough power to haul in those big monster bass. You can use monofilament, as the stretch does give a little forgiveness on the hookset. One secret is to actually engage the reel before the bait hits the water so that you can start your retrieve the minute it hits the water. By not doing this, the bait sinks fast and it takes a few seconds to bring it back to the surface and away from the probable strike. You can actually thumb your spool to help it land a lot softer and help you get the reel engaged faster.

Another great bait this time of year is the old Johnson Silver Minnow. Yes, old school still works as good as it always has. Use a white grub trailer and be ready for some big girls to attack. Depending on your preference, you can use either fluorocarbon or braid, but I prefer to use a baitcaster and 30 pound braid as it works great around grass and lily pads. Make long casts and then work it back in using a variety of retrieves. One way is to let it sink about a foot and to retrieve it back at a slow, steady retrieve. This allows the bait to twist and give off a lot of flash. You can add in a couple quick pauses during the retrieve. Another way is to cast it out and let the bait flutter down to the bottom. Then give quick, upwards rips to make it dance up and off the bottom, then allowing it to flutter back down on a slack line. The secret is to find out what works best on any given day, or time of day.
Another great bait to cover a lot of water is with a spinnerbait. I love to throw a spinnerbait as it does catch a lot of bass, both small and big. Don’t feel bad if you aren’t real good with it as first, as with any bait, practice will teach us so much more. The spinnerbait is almost fool proof, as you can just throw it and reel it in. The secret is to learn to change it up, work it back at a variety of speeds, slow and steady with sudden burst by working the handle faster, then back to normal. You can do one or two quick cranks then slow back down, or you can pull it along by lifting or sweeping the rod. The spinnerbait can be worked in a variety of ways, so experiment and find what works best for you and the bass.

Shallow running crankbaits are one of my favorite ways to cover water. Two of my favorite baits are the SPRO Fat John 50 or the Fat John 60. The Fat John 50 is the one that is the most unique, as it dives from 0-2 feet and has an erratic hunting action. When you want the bait to stay higher in the water column and off the bottom that may have plenty debris like leaves and grass. Use a 6.3:1 or 7.0:1 reel on a good cranking rod and spooled up with 10-14 pound test fluorocarbon line. The Fat John 60 is another great choice, as it dives 1-3 feet range. Just be careful not to go to big on the line as it will take away from the lures action. The 3rd crankbait is the SPRO Little John 50. It dives from 3-5 feet and the new rattling version is a great choice in the fall. Just remember, there is a lot of baitfish, so you may want to switch to something that stands out, like the Citrus Shad color, but any shad colors should work great, especially the new Homemade Shad color. If they holding out in a little deeper water, switch up to the Little John Micro DD 45. It dives to 8-10 feet, but with a smaller profile, matching the size of the baitfish.

The jig is still a great way to catch them. While it can be used to cover a lot of water by swimming it, you can also slow down and cover an area like laydowns and other fish holding honey holes. While a lot of people like to use a heavy rod and 50 or 65 pound braid, fluorocarbon is actually a better choice for open water and around laydowns. What the bass don’t see is better. If you are flipping into brush or thick wood, braid may just be the right ticket. But everyone has their own preference.

There are plenty of great baits that will work this time of year, and sometimes it is just what you have the most confidence in that works the best. A jerkbait is something that I love to throw anytime of the year. You can cover a lot of water with it by working it fast, but not everyone loves to throw it. I know it catches big bass year round and I have a lot of confidence in it, so it is something I will always have on the deck of the boat. Remember, it’s all about you having confidence in what you throw. Now go out and catch some fall giants!