By David A. Brown
Fall is transition time for largemouth bass; it’s a time when the fish have fully departed their warm season haunts, but they’re not quite ready to drop into their winter retreats. No, the calendar’s tail end is all about stuffing bellies and packing on the weight that’ll sustain the fish through winter’s leanness.
The bass are on the move and it can definitely be a here-today-gone-tomorrow deal; but the bass’ seasonal instincts also heighten the likelihood of banner days. Few times of the year will see gatherings like the fall gorge fest and savvy anglers can enjoy the kind of action that’ll have you pining for your next outing.
“Once you get to November and beyond, the later fall period brings the opportunity of finding big schools of fish,” said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Ott DeFoe. “They’re starting to get grouped up into their wintering places, but they’re still feeding pretty good. You have the potential to catch a lot of fish when you find the right deal.
“The good thing about fall is that the bite could be in really shallow water or it could be in deep water. It’s not like summer where you only find big groups of fish deep; they can be grouped up shallow too.
So, how does the accomplished angler from Knoxville, Tennessee make the most of this opportunity? Truth be told, the exact game plan varies day to day; nevertheless, DeFoe suggests following these four guidelines for maximum seasonal success.
FOLLOW THE FOOD. Noting the importance of locating and staying near schools of shad, DeFoe says: “Fall is hands-down the time of year when baitfish matter the most and that relates to the bass’ preparation for winter. Baitfish are the most important thing in the fall. Cover doesn’t matter as much; in fact, you’ll catch them around ‘nothing’ banks, as long as the bait is there.”
Baitfish are generally migrating to the backs of creek and coves, but the schools are constantly moving. Covering water is the key, but DeFoe has a couple of strategies for narrowing the search.
- Fish the windy side of the lake, as the wind pushes baitfish into predictable areas.
- Watch for wading birds grouping on the bank, or hovering and diving over open water. Both point to baitfish concentrations.
KNOW THE NEIGHBORHOOD. A big part of the hunt for fall bass and the bait schools they follow comes down to recognizing the productive areas. Bluff walls that typically occur on the deeper side of a creek can be one of the most consistent fall producers, as the vertical structure provides a holding spot where bass can quickly adjust their depth to find the right water temperature by ascending or descending in the water column.
This is the sure bet; the place that typically produces some level of activity throughout the day. DeFoe values the bluffs, but he points out another consideration with day-making potential.
“In a creek arm with a steep side and a flat side, I look at both as having their own set of options,” he said. “The bluff is the safeguard. In the fall, I can go to a bluff and catch some fish and I may find a group of them. I can throw a shallow to medium diving crankbait or a jig and run across places throughout the day and put together a decent (5-fish) limit.
“On the other hand, I may fish flats half the day without catching a fish; but once I find them, I’m liable to catch 15 pounds in 15 minutes. So, it’s a matter of which do you want to focus on: Do you want to focus on the bluffs where you can pick up a fish here and there, or do you want to focus on the big groups of fish that have the bait pushed up there on the flats and are actively feeding?”
Timing has a lot to do with this; specifically, how far we are into the fall cooling. If the water temperature is in the high 50s to low 60s, DeFoe expects the flats to produce a good morning bite followed by a solid afternoon rally. However, if the water’s in the low 50s, he knows it’s mostly an afternoon deal, as the shallows will need several hours of sun to reach a temperature the baitfish can tolerate.
WATCH THE WEATHER. Speaking of weather, DeFoe knows that cold fronts bring major impacts that demand consideration. Before and during the front’s passage, fishing can be off the charts, as falling barometric pressure, cloudy skies and blustery winds can whip up one ferocious feeding frenzy. On the flip side, post-frontal conditions can be a real head-scratcher.
Here, the high pressure, cloudless skies, intense sunlight and lack of wind create an eerily still scenario in which bass tuck tight to shady cover and hunker down until conditions stabilize. This is generally considered “lock jaw” time, but bass still have to eat — they simply adjust their methods.
“Before and during a front, I expect those fish to be active where I can catch them on topwaters and other moving baits,” DeFoe said. “Once you got to the post-frontal period, you can fish something like a squarebill crankbait close to cover to try and get a reaction bite out of those fish, or you can fish something like a jig or a shaky head to pick up bites with the less-active fish.”
STAY CAST-READY. In closing, DeFoe points out that fall weather can take its toll on an angler’s performance. Certainly, chilly temperatures will tap away at one’s endurance, while the bright sun of post-frontal conditions unleashes solar harshness on one’s skin.
To keep himself in good physical and mental form, DeFoe won’t launch without his BUFF Multifunctional Headwear — possibly a Merino Wool or Polar model, as conditions dictate — and an appropriate pair of BUFF gloves.
“I like not only the sun protection and wind protection I get, but also the warmth around my neck,” DeFoe said. “Also, BUFF’s Merino Wool hats and the different models of gloves complement the Multifunctional Headwear. Having items that make you more comfortable on the water will relate to more casts per day and more fish in the boat.”