How to Fish the Fall Baitfish Migration | Outdoor Life

How to Fish the Fall Baitfish Migration

Nail down the rhythm, pace, and timing of baitfish movements to keep up with the fiery, and fleeting, action

school of migrating mullet

A school of migrating mullet this massive is an all-you-can-eat buffet for saltwater gamefish.

Jason Arnold

Fish are busy in fall. They’ve got things to do, baitfish to eat, and more comfortable living quarters to find before winter. It’s a time of year when everything is on the move; ’tis the season of migration. That journey might be local, simply transplanting fish from one part of the lake to another. Or it might push fish along hundreds of miles of coastline, ending a fierce bite in one state and kicking it off in another. But the odometer reading for any journey is irrelevant. What matters to anglers is that at some point in autumn, Mother Nature will flip the switch, and those crappies, trout, redfish, or pike will no longer be found at whichever summer haunt had been treating you so well. This shift can make fall one of the most frustrating times of year. But hit it right, and it can also be the most glorious.

Nothing captures the power and angst of a fall migration better than the Florida mullet run. In September and October, these baitfish school up in the bays, pouring out of inlets into the Atlantic in black clouds that can span miles of beach. Every snook, tarpon, and shark in the area comes close to shore to feed, slashing through this biomass, creating waves of showering mullet.

Watching this, you’d think the fishing would be way easy. The reality is, there is often too much food, so getting that tarpon or snook to single out your livey—or hit your plug—can drive you mad. Cashing in is all about timing. To get a strike, you have to find your targets as they approach the mullet or in an area where they aren’t overly thick, and rods will bend. Timing, you see, is key to all fall successes.

In the final throes of spring, you at least have the satisfaction of knowing that the fishing is pretty damn good in summer. During fall, it’s often a countdown to shutdown, and the shot clock always seems to run fast. To make sure you get your piece of the fleeting insanity, we’ve brought in experts to help you locate, hook, and stay on a variety of migrating species until the bitter end. Synchronize your watches, and get more bass, walleyes, stripers, and smallmouth bass in the bag while the getting’s good.