I’m a fall kind of guy when it comes to bass.
Fishing is good then, better even than in the spring, because you don’t have to deal with high water or abrupt weather changes that put bass off their feed. As autumn winds gradually cool shoreline waters, shad start migrating up the feeder streams of lakes to feed or to spawn. As they go, the larger bass that have stalked them all summer follow in roving packs.
Hunger doesn’t make the lunkers easy prey for anglers, though. They never would have grown so large otherwise. Such bass can’t all be caught on the same lures, using identical techniques under similar circumstances. You have to fish like a pro to be successful in the fall. The following advice, from people who catch bass for a living, should help in that regard.
1. Shallow Cover and Big Bass
Denny Brauer is the B.A.S.S. all-time money winner, with 15 career wins and more than $1.8 million in prizes. The Missouri pro has earned similar accolades and payouts participating in the FLW tournament circuit. More than anything else, jigs have been responsible for Brauer’s success, and he sticks with them throughout the year. In the fall, he swims jigs to get bass on the line.
His approach is predicated on the belief that big bass, or at least some of them, are shallow-water homebodies that stake out shoreline cover such as docks, laydown trees and aquatic weeds. Rather than stalking baitfish around a lake, such lunkers wait for shad to come to them.
“My choice for all types of cover is a Strike King premier Pro-Model jig with a Strike King 3X Chunk trailer,” says Brauer. “I use either one-quarter- or three-eighths-ounce models. The quarter-ounce jig is easier to swim but the heavier jig is easier to present on a windy day, and you can get the heavier jig into the strike zone quicker and keep it there better.”
Once Brauer has a target sighted, he pitches or skip-casts his jig to it with his bait-casting outfit, which is teamed with 50-pound-test Stren Super Braid. He lets the jig sink a foot or two below the surface and then retrieves the lure by pumping the rod while reeling in slack line. “I hold the rod tip up at about ten o’clock; I’ve really got to watch the line and set the hook as soon as a bass strikes because the rod is already so high,” says Brauer.
The reason why Brauer swims the jig instead of letting it sink is because he believes that in the fall, bass suspend in cover that is at about the same level as baitfish. To be efficient predators, the bass have to have cover, whether it’s the shade under a dock or water weeds.
“I like a white jig with a pearl-white Chunk behind it, especially if the water is clear,” says Brauer. “This approach will catch bass of all sizes, but mainly it will catch the bigger fish. The big boys have a home in cover and they’re waiting for dinner to come to them.”
2. Check All Depths With a Mix of Lures
Shaw Grigsby is a veteran of 10 bass master Classic championships and one of the top all-time money winners in professional bass angling. He thinks that once a fisherman finds a big concentration of shad, he’s won half the battle.
“Once I find shad, I look for the closest structure–ditches or channels–with associated wood or weeds,” says the Florida angler. “I believe that bass will stay in aquatic grass until it dies down; then they’ll move to wood or rocks. If you find shad in an area that has those cover ingredients, you’re in the right place.”
When he’s fishing a typical Southern lake, Grigsby likes to start shallow and move deeper as he has to. In early fall, it’s likely that many bass will still be in deeper haunts; late in the season, they will have moved up to the bank. “I don’t really have one lure that I use most of the time,” Grigsby confesses. “I’ll start with a shad-colored spinnerbait and work shallow cover. Another good bait is a white jig or a Strike King Pro-Model Flip-N-Tube.”
If fish aren’t positioned near inshore cover, Grigsby will go prospecting, blind-casting with lipless crankbaits such as a Diamond Shad. “I’m really concentrating on the shad bite,” says Grigsby. “If the bass haven’t moved to the banks in that cove or stretch or feeder creek, I’ll start working my way out and fish deeper. The bass are close.”
Grigsby’s favorite rig to explore offshore waters in the fall is a Carolina-rigged plastic worm. The Florida pro backs away from the shore far enough to fish submerged points and the flats between the bank and drop-offs. Once he gets a strike or two, he might switch to another lure that covers more water faster, such as a diving or lipless crankbait.
“To some extent, where you start fishing in the fall depends on the latitude of the reservoir you’re fishing,” concludes Grigsby. “If it’s early fall and the water is still fairly warm, you might want to start offshore. If the water has already cooled down, start at the bank.”
3. A Rig Bass Can’t Resist
Although Bill Dance retired from professional bass fishing many years ago to focus on a long-running television program, he’s still acknowledged as one of the all-time greats of the sport. The Tennessee angler knows that as good as fall fishing can be, there are times when bass will loaf offshore and leave shad alone.
Faced with such challenging times, Dance has developed a foolproof way to put bass in the boat. But be forewarned, this tactic requires patience and persistence.
“One of my best fall fishing tricks is to use tube jigs to catch inactive suspended bass in areas where there seem to be a lot of shad present,” says Dance. “In fact, it’s also a great technique for winter fishing. If you can get a tube jig down in the faces of bass that aren’t feeding, it will make them change their minds.”
Job one is using his bow-mounted sonar to locate bass on or near offshore structure such as ledges. Once he finds them, Dance uses a spinning outfit with 14-pound-test Stren Superbraid to cast a 4-inch Yum Garrett Mega Tube (rigged on a 5/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook) or a 3 1/2-inch Yum Vibra King Finesse Jig (with a 4/0 Gamakatsu) and presents the bait so that it falls very slowly into the strike zone. Shad and Arkansas shiner are his two favorite colors.
“Suppose I see bass on my fish-finder graph at fifteen feet,” says Dance. “I want the tube to drop about a foot every three seconds. It’s going to take about forty-five seconds for the tube to get down there, but one cast to a good place is worth more than fifteen casts to a bad place. A slow fall is critical, and the tube has to be horizontal, which looks more natural than just dropping head first.”
Once he’s reached the magic depth, Dance twitches the rod tip about an inch upward to impart a sudden movement of the tube. Usually, that does the trick.
4. Hit ‘Em High and Low
Larry Nixon is another of professional bass fishing’s top all-time money earners, with more than $2 million to his credit in the B.A.S.S. and FLW circuits.
As contradictory as they seem, two of Nixon’s favorite fall patterns involve fishing for bass on the surface and fishing smack-dab on the bottom.
“I look for fish that are either near the bottom on structure or at the surface, usually around wood cover or some kind of vegetation,” Nixon says. “If I see a surface commotion, I’ll throw a chugger or a propbait like a Rapala Skitter Prop (silver with black back or, for smallmouths, fire-shad). If there’s nothing going on at the surface, I look in deeper water for underwater channels and ditches. Then I fish with Hopkins jigging spoons or tailspinners like the Mann’s Little George or the Rinky Dink.”
According to the Arkansas pro, chuggers or propbaits work best in wind-rippled water. Nixon uses “walking” baits like Rapala Skitter Walks, Heddon Zara Spooks and Sammy Lures when fishing still water.
“Although fishermen generally think of a topwater bait as being a lure strictly for shallow-water situations, in clear water you can pull bass that are near the bottom or suspended in deeper water with surface lures,” says Nixon, who makes long casts with a 7-foot medium-heavy bait-casting rod and 14-pound-test Trilene XT.
A good sonar is the key to Nixon’s deepwater approach. Like Dance, he idles around a cove or creek arm until he finds a channel. Then he follows it, watching the screen for signs of bass. His favored equipment for this job is a 6 1/2-foot rod and a reel loaded with 20-pound-test XT.
“It’s absolutely essential that you watch your sonar when you’re looking for shad and bass,” he says. “Contours are my targets–any changing structure features that attract baitfish. It might be a drop-off or a sharp bend in the old creek channel. The fish usually will be stacked up somewhere on it or nearby.”
5. Bulge the Surface With a Spinnerbait
Jimmy Houston is a former professional bass fisherman whose happy-go-lucky personality has won millions of fans to his syndicated television show.
Houston’s favorite strategy is to “bulge” a gold-bladed Terminator spinnerbait near the surface of the water so that the top blade makes a wake. The idea is to mimic the vibration of a single shad racing for safety. The size of the spinnerbait Houston chooses for the job–anywhere from 1/4- to 1/2-ounce–approximates the size of the shad present.
Houston’s go-to color for largemouths is white or a mixture of white, chartreuse and blue, but he likes louder colors such as bubblegum or chartreuse and white for smallmouths. He seldom uses a trailer and prefers a bait-casting rig with 14-pound-test Trilene XT dyed with a low-visibility green color.
“I like a six-and-a-half-foot medium-heavy rod because it casts well and it helps me keep the spinnerbait up in the water,” adds the Oklahoma fisherman. “The really important thing is to use a rod that will allow you to cast as accurately as possible. You need to put the bait in the hard-to-reach places along the bank where the bass are, and sometimes you’re aiming at a mighty small bull’s-eye.”