By: Jon Pski
The fall fishing season remains a mystery for many anglers. This is a season of change. We can see it all around us, and the bass know things are changing too. Unfortunately, the bass don’t declare it’s Fall by our calendars. The length of the day may well be their signal long before the water temps. start to drop. It’s been said that the bass know it’s Fall when the first major cold front of the late summer season hits. Since good science is very difficult to apply to bass fishing, all we know for sure is that for most of us, the bass suddenly become tough to find and catch. Yet, we hear in many magazines that the Fall can bring about some of the best bass fishing of the year. Let’s see if we can put some of the pieces of the puzzle together to help us increase our catch.
- Time for a Change
- As mentioned, this is a time for change. At Candelwood Lake for instance, some of the weeds at the northern end of the lake will start to die and become covered in algae. This one example has some obvious consequences. When weeds begin to die, oxygen in the water is consumed in the decaying process. Algae growth further depletes the surrounding water of oxygen. Thus the bass that have inhabited these weed beds for most of the summer, now are forced to move. Not all of them, but most. Now, let’s assume that they are not going to swim 9 miles to find another good weed bed. In a lake such as Candelwood, you can typically find massive schools of alewives balled together in deeper water. So, one piece of the puzzle in this lake may be to find the balls of bait, and an area of rock, or a point, roadbed, or house foundation not to far away from where you had located good fish all summer. This makes sense then that the bass would set up house at one of these locations and wait for the schools of bait to come by. As the Fall progresses and the water cools, the bait should go deeper and deeper. So, put the pieces together, and the puzzle should look something like: find the bait and the depth they are holding at, then locate some type of structure other than weeds that intersects with the bait, and we ought to be able to hook up with a couple of fish. Oh! Wait! What about baits? Well, if the fish are keying on Alewife, then so should we. A grub for the bottom, (or a spoon?), a spinnerbait or Zara Spook for the top, and maybe a jerkbait for the mid depths. Let’s not forget about a crawfish bait. We know that bass will eat crawfish wherever and whenever, so let’s tie on a jig & pig also.
- Got Weeds?
- What if your lake has weeds that don’t die off like Candelwood’s? Ahh! This is a good thing! With our abundant milfoil filled lakes, there are many lakes where these weeds don’t die completely, or maybe not until December. In these lakes, the bass will still use the weeds, but now they will be mostly holding on the deep outer edges, or cruising the inner edges. When they are cruising the inside edge, your in for a great day. We know that bass use the outer edge all summer long. But now they know the food supply will be dwindling, and they need to fatten up for the ice. So, these same fish we saw on our depth finders all summer, are now a little easier to tempt into biting. When the water temp hits about 65 you can expect these deep fish to be a bit more cooperative. As the water temp continues to drop and gets into the 50’s, you’ll find more fish on that outer edge. When it drops into the forties, you’re going to find bunches of fish out on the deep edge. Unfortunately, when the water dips below fifty, the bass will probably be eating less and less. Though a well placed crawfish imitation probably will not go untouched.
Fish on the inside edge, regardless of water temp, are there for a reason, they’re going to eat! As the water temp falls, the water tends to become more clear due to a slow down in algae and other micro organism growth. Hence, in many lakes, we can easily see the inside weed edge, and with good polarized glasses we may see some bass cruising. Rapalas, Slug-Go’s, and spinnerbaits may be good tools for these skinny waters. Again, don’t forget the jig. Any bass looking for an easy meal is not going to pass up a good crawfish imitation. On those sunny, calm days is when your likely to find them on the inside edge. Windy days, those with white caps, will also put them on the inside edge. And, those bass will be visiting those inside lines heavily from 70 degrees down into the forties. As a matter of fact, one of my best ice fishing bass came from an inside line in about three feet of water. Only goes to show that even in the dead of winter, they’ll cruise shallow.
Docks and rocks will be another hang out for the late season bass. With water temps from 70 to around 60 and a sunny day, you can find many a bass up on those docks. and, if there’s boulders around, so much the better. Just like in the spring, boulders will get warm and perhaps hold some small panfish or craws. As the water dips below 60, you’ll notice that many of the sunfish will leave the shallows and head deep, yet the smaller ones may still hang around those shallow rocks eating different micro organisms that are trying to hang onto life in the warmer shallows. And those small sunfish make for a high protein snack.
Another shallow water pattern that can be dynamite is the remaining lily pads. These pads will still attract insects and serve as some type of overhead cover. Pads typically grow on a dark bottom, which in turn, just like the Spring, warm the surrounding water a degree or two more than the main lake. The pad pattern tends to be better after a couple of warm days, and in the afternoon. A slowly worked bait, perhaps a frog bait might draw a strike. I’ve witnessed over the years how bass will still come up to the top to lazily slurp an easy meal. I’ve seen bass suck in a small Rapala 5 days before the ice came on. Hard to believe, yet it does happen.
And probably one of the most overlooked patterns, (well, it’s really not a pattern) is to keep an eye open for schooling, surfacing bass. Many anglers dismiss the idea of bass feeding on the top in small schools for what they believe are trout. Don’t be fooled. If you ever see a bunch of fish together chasing on the top, then you’ve got to chase them down and hit them with a topwater, Rat-L-trap or a grub. And another thing we’ve read about but few have seen, is how some of the larger bass will hang below a school of 2 pounders waiting to pick off the scraps or a stray. Big fish didn’t get big from wasting energy. They can just lazily hang out and below the smaller ones and be almost hand fed. Cool water tends to school both bait and bass making for some good feeding opportunities. On a warm sunny day, check out the shallows and keep your eyes peeled. What may look like a bluegill slurping the top, may very well be a good largemouth that just stuck his fin out. Yet as the water temps drop lower and lower, the majority of fish are going to be found out on those deep weed edges. Granted, you’re not going to get them all to bite, but in the middle of November, a couple of taps on the end of your rod with a jig on the other end, is going to feel pretty good.