Fall Fishing: Boom or Bust

By Bruce Callis

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The leaves are starting to change, taking on the vibrant colors of fall. The gentle breezes rustle loose some, sending them across the sky. Cooler mornings and shorter days usher in the bonanza we call fall feeding. The bass sense the changes and start to chase the baitfish, fattening up for the winter ahead.

But while this can be a great time to be on the water, it can also present challenges. If you aren’t in the right area at the right time, it can become a terribly long day filled with frustration. Changing weather patterns, such as cold fronts, can turn them off just as fast as it starts.

I went out on Monday and the bass were going crazy chasing the baitfish in the shallows along the bank. I managed to get back out Wednesday with the same results. But by the time Friday got here, they were just about gone. I found 2 up in the shallows, but were did they go and why?

Wednesday night into Thursday, a cold front made it’s way across the area. Thursday morning had a high of 73, but the temperature continued to drop throughout the day. By late afternoon, it was in the upper 50’s. They moved out deeper and developed lock jaw. Welcome to fall fishing.

While I developed a pattern, they had moved out to deeper water and were holding tight to wood cover, it was a grind. I managed to land 6 good keepers over the next 2 1/2 hours. I had to knock them in the head with my jig n’ pig to get them to bite. It may be a grind, but it is normally short lived.
But what baits work this time of year? I personally have my preferences, just as you have yours. And there is always that one bait that we have the most confidence in, the one that always seems to work. Let’s take a quick look at some great baits this time of year.

The spinnerbait is a great fall bait. It will work all year long, but fall is one of it’s best moments to shine. Down size to a 1/4 or 3/8 ounce size with willow leaf blades, this will help it mimic baitfish better. A small plastic such as a grub or a small swimbait will help keep it up and present a very tempting meal for a bass. Throw it up shallow and be ready. It is also a great bait to work around laydowns and across points and shallow submerged grass beds.
My second choice is a shallow running crankbait. I prefer a SPRO Fat John 50 and 15 pound Seaguar fluorocarbon to help keep it running high. I will also do the same thing with a SPRO Fat John 60. Try to mimic the baitfish with your color choice. But, don’t be afraid to throw something different than matching the hatch. With so many baitfish, being different may create more strikes. Chartreuse with a black or blue back can sometimes be the right choice over a shad imitating color.

Thirdly, a jerkbait. Now is a great time to break out the spinning gear and throw the smaller versions. The small floating version can excel now. Twitch it down and let it float back up, experimenting with different retrieves. Mimic a dying baitfish floating back to the surface. A suspending jerkbait can also be deadly. Just use bigger line to keep it from running so deep. I will actually use 17-20 lb fluorocarbon to help keep it higher in the water column.

A jig n’ pig is always a great choice too. I like to downsize here, going for a 1/8 ounce jig and a smaller trailer. I like to use a Power Team Lures 3.5″ Craw D’oeuvre for my trailer. It keeps my lure compact and slow the fall just enough to give the bass time to strike it on the fall. Small and compact early in the fall and then a bigger profile as we get into late fall/early winter.
A lipless crankbait can and will always be a must for me. Early on, I will downsize to a 1/4 ounce version and work it in the shallows, but I will still use a 1/2 ounce version to do the same. It is also a great bait to work out onto the drop offs and points to catch the bass holding just off the shoreline. I like to match the baitfish as much as possible and prefer a SPRO Aruku Shad in Chrome with a blue back most of the time, but switch as needed. The bass will tell you what they want, but you need to be willing to change to find the answer.

Worms are a great choice anytime of the year, and now is no different. There are so many options and all of them will work at different times. My fishing partner on so many of my adventures, Tiffany Risch, prefers a weightless Texas rigged 5” stick worm. She rigs it on a straight worm hook and does an amazing job with it. But she isn’t afraid to change colors looking for the bite. I myself prefer a Power Team lures 7” Tickler on an 1/8 ounce Woo Tungsten weight and a 3/0 wide gap hook. It’s just my personal choice, but is a great way to entice them, especially if you are both working the same areas.

Now the wacky rigged worm can outshine both of these at times and has a place all its own. It has the ability to fall slow into the strike zone, so up shallow is a great option. It can also be worked across the surface in a walking fashion, then stopped and let fall into their face. And can be repeated over and over back to the shore or boat. You can also put a small nail weight in the end of it so it falls differently, or a small wacky jig head so it falls a little faster. There are so many ways to rig it wacky style.
One of the lures I struggled with has become one of my favorites, the jerkbait. It takes time to learn to use it, and the different ways it can be used. I love to throw a shallow running, floating jerkbait on a spinning rod this time of the year and throw it up shallow. I also love to throw a suspending jerkbait just off the shallows to catch the bass holding out a little or moving back and forth into the shallows. As the water cools more in the late fall/early winter, I will use a deeper running suspending jerkbait to pull them in. The SPRO McStick is my favorite and gives you all these options.
Lastly, a topwater bait is always an exciting bait this time of year. Everyone has their choice as to what they have the most faith in, but casting them up shallow and working them slowly is always fun. If you are on shore, cast down the shoreline and work it back slowly. I have been having great success using a Heddon Spook Jr in chrome, walking it back slowly, twitching it on a slack line, using the rod tip to create the action. Of course, this time of the year can be challenging with leaves falling into the water and fouling in the hooks. The Whooper Plopper is another great choice as are poppers, like the Rebel Pop R. Experiment with the retrieve on them all until the bass tell you what they want.

The main thing is be patient. Some days can be amazing, especially if you find the right bait for the moment, and other days can be painfully slow. The main thing is you get out and have fun no matter what happens.

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