Professional guide and tournament pro Mark Lassagne agrees. There are certainly some things to consider when deep cranking. "One key objective is to be able to execute good casting," Lassagne explains. "Cast past the target. A good crankbait will help you achieved this goal. Also, a versatile crank will help you when experimenting with different angles. Or hitting maximum depths in relation to the target efficiently. "For example, a submerged tree is resting on an incline of a river bend or ledge. Part of that tree's crown could be in 15 feet while the root base extends up the bank and rests in 10 feet. Having a crankbait that helps you approach these angles efficiently can ensure proper coverage. Another consideration is to have a crankbait that can easily cast greater distances so that casting beyond the target will help the lure get to its maximum depth."
Increasing The Odds, Ensuring The Chances:
Lassagne has spent many years fishing the California Delta, better known as one of the world's greatest big bass factories. It's known for kicking out giant stringers of bass nearly every season. And with over 1100 miles of shoreline and myriad opportunities to attack cover, Lassagne puts a lot of stock in proper positioning of the lure when fishing the Delta. "Long casts down the bank ensuring you hit your depth and hit as many pieces of cover as possible, like current edge of a bank where it drops off, is very effective." Furthermore, Lassagne adds that good positioning and a good crankbait that can effectively reach its desired depth also helps him from making too many mistakes. "If you make a bad cast, simply reel it in quickly and cast again and a good deep crank will get to its zone." Lassagne believes that constantly keeping in mind his intended target is an important part of the process. Simply going down the bank and randomly casting may yield some fish, but it may keep him from consistently offering a thorough presentation. Martens speaks the same language. He encourages anglers to really focus on the target so as to not leave a promising bit of cover too early. Sometimes staying and making several casts is well worth it, especially when you believe fish occupy your target cover.
Crankbaits 6 Feet & Deeper:
When looking to target depths of more than 6 feet, Martens gravitates to the Realis M65 8A, which dives to 8 feet. For even deeper considerations, he uses the G87 15A and G87 20A, which dive to between 14 and 16 feet and 19 and 21 feet, respectively. "I can fish the M65 8A deep or shallow just by adjusting the retrieve," Martens said. "It's a very versatile lure and will go deeper than stated. It's been a great bait for me. While in Oklahoma I caught several big fish with it including one that almost went 10 pounds. "Heavier line will allow it to be fished in 5 feet of water and with standard line weights it will reach beyond. On the other end of the spectrum, the G87 20A will go beyond 20 feet on a long cast so it allows you to fish in 14 feet and deeper ... it's one of my all-time favorite cranks." Martens added that the new oversized Apex 100 lipless crankbait he helped design be fished by stair-stepping it into 30 feet of water. "During testing on Lake Biwa, we were catching fish in 30 feet of water... good fish... My newest crank, Apex Tune 68, is a compact lipless bait that can be fished in that 6- to 10-foot zone. It's a very petite lipless that has high vibration, yet low frequency sound. It can be fished longer through the year. I can go just about anywhere in the country with that and do well."
In Lassagne's case, certain baits come immediately to mind. For him, the Luhr-Jensen Speed Trap and the DUO M65 11A are two baits that just flat out produce. The Luhr-Jensen Speed Trap, designed by Tom Seaward, has a unique high vibration and has been noted as a favorite among Delta anglers for over 20 years. The DUO M65 11A displaces a significant amount of water while creating a lower vibration aided by an acoustic chamber in the gill plate that emits a unique sound. Both of these lures efficiently reach 6 feet or more. They also stay in the intended depth longer and can go deeper if need be by varying the speed of retrieve or adjusting line diameter. "Remember, it's a game of percentages and numbers," Lassagne added. "Know what's going on with your bait, determine the best retrieve rate for that day and make good casts."
Knowing Your Weapon:
Although some crankbaits may look similar, not all behave the same. Knowing how the lure behaves when using different line, rod actions and tapers, or while in the wind and around cover will help you maximize its use. "I think with cranking in general its important to know what's going on with your bait at all times," Lassagne advised. "I see anglers make the innocent mistake of setting the hook at the first detection of change in the lure instead of reading the lure through the equipment. For example, they accidently set on a tree or a rock, but if you have the right equipment and pay attention to what's going on with your bait you can work the bait over that rock, tree or grass, increasing your odds of catching a fish tenfold." Lassagne recommends rods that are sensitive. For crankbaits, Lassagne opts for an Okuma TCS 711 H - a rod designed specifically for big crankbaits - allowing him to detect the action of the lure at all times.
Martens agrees that knowing what the lure can do upfront is important. Skipping a crankbait along the surface, causing a subtle disturbance, is a technique Martens occasionally employs. This can be a precursor to triggering strikes. But he needs to know if a certain crankbait is better than another when skipping. Martens also agrees that no two crankbaits are alike. Some may need to be tuned out of the box. Others may look exactly the same yet carry very different actions. For example, he references the Apex Tune 68 and 62. Both have the same body as the Realis Vibration Gfix 68 and 62 but come over cover and vibrate very differently, creating almost a finesse-type crank. Working each of these lures will require a different approach.
Both pros believe that awareness and the ability to adjust on the fly with a crankbait is probably one of the most crucial adaptations an angler to make. "Casting and retrieving will catch fish and sometimes that's all you need. But having the ability to change up the way the lure is coming back to you may help you," Martens said. This can be described as a stop-and-go retrieve, a slow crawl or a fast burn, all of which can trigger a lethargic bass into eating. Lassagne also highlights the importance of being methodical. Being methodical doesn't necessarily mean slowing down, although that may be what is required. Rather, he suggests having an awareness to compartmentalize the situation and make bite-sized adjustments often. It may sound simple, yet it is one of the most common mistakes competitors make.
"Being a guide, I often teach clients the finer points to cranking. Once while walking a client through the how-tos of fishing a crankbait he landed a 6-pound bass, his personal best. He then preceded to land several really nice fish in a short period of time. The key was paying close attention to the speed of his lure, in this case slowing it down. But if slow doesn't work, change up and increase the speed of the crankbait back to the boat to test if the followers will commit. If a bass slams it, you might try speeding it up. Keeping an open mind is essential," Lassagne advised. Cranking, in general, is one of many skills, with deep cranking being in the eye of the beholder. Although deep can be relative, one thing is sure, understanding your crankbait's capability and how to employ it during the changes of conditions is imperative. Both of these pros have been crankbait artists for over 25 years, which equates to countless hours of learning, meeting trial and error often. Their determination to become better crankbait anglers is never-ending. One may say the outcome of effort is growth, no matter how you crank it up.
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Cranking Deeper? Fall 2020 Bass Angler Magazine (David Swendseid pg. 26 - 28).
Don't Leave Any Bass Behind
The potential of a new spot can be a powerful draw when the one that you're fishing isn't producing, especially when you're casting for cash. Yelas said that puts patience at a premium, as was the case in the Windy City, with most anglers choosing to look for success elsewhere. But you shouldn't be so quick to quit. "You're never going to catch all the fish in one day or one hour," he said. While it's a natural tendency for anglers to want to run all the areas that produced bites in the past, they actually may be running from bass that are catchable with some persistence and a tweak to lure or technique. Yelas honed his fishing skills doing just that on Southern California's small lakes, all of which receive bigtime fishing pressure. Overcoming that meant dedicating his fishing day to milking a couple spots for all the bass that were there.
Decide on Potential:
Before investing your time in an area, its potential must be determined. Yelas said each lake, reservoir and river fishes differently. Some surrender five-bass limits that barely weigh 10 pounds, regardless of how many hours are put in by anglers. There are no massive schools waiting to be discovered on those, he said, so grinding out a spot provides no measurable benefit. It's the opposite where bass are plentiful. Those waters typically have lush habitat such as acres of aquatic vegetation. "That's why there is a lot of bass there to begin with," he said. One spot on these lakes can hold the mother lode. The size of the lake, reservoir or river also plays into your decision of staying or running. Expansive waters, whether its Toledo Bend or any of the Tennessee Valley Authority Lakes, means there are always plenty of other areas to try. Yelas said anglers who fish these are more likely to move between locations rather than commit to one.
Modern fishing electronics have made it easier to determine the number of bass that hold in a given area. Yelas said the Panoptix LiveScope function on his Garmin electronics, for example, gives him a real-time view of what's happening in whichever direction he points his trolling motor. It allows him to literally count the bass that are there, as long as the technology is applicable. On tidal water, for example, he concentrates on water that's 5 feet or shallower and filled with aquatic vegetation, which mute electronics.
Give Them A Rest:
Yelas isn't all bass all the time. He often hops in his waders or drift boat to chase salmon and steelhead in rivers around his home. And he can't count the days he has spent fishing for crappies or in saltwater. But while the gear and settings are different for those outings, there is one commonality: "They all react well to rest," he said. "It's a time-tested solution [for getting more bites]. It doesn't matter if it's deep or shallow." You can be your own worst enemy when it comes to hammering on a school. "After a while, [bass] realize something is up," Yelas said. Hooking and landing a bass can cause the school to scatter, whether that's some bass being spooked and others following the hooked fish toward your boat. Backing off the school allows it to recongregate and its bass to relax enough to start biting again.
Leaving is the easiest way to rest a spot. But Yelas said that's not always necessary, an important consideration when you're fishing a tournament and don't want to surrender it to a competitor. "You're better off not even fishing," he said. So, sit down, have a sandwich and rig some rods while the bass rest. Yelas said leaving doesn't have to mean traveling far. If you're fishing a key 25-yard stretch of river-channel ledge, for example, try fishing beyond it for 15 or 20 minutes then fishing back to it. "And by the time you return [to the sweet spot], you'll find them biting again," he said.
Give Them A New Look:
Yelas fishes fast during tournament practice. He rigs up a few lures that his experience tells him bass will bite under the current conditions and seasonal patterns and keeps moving, searching for productive spots. When he finds one, he sticks only a couple bass before moving on to the next spot.Tournament days make Yelas more thorough. He makes many casts to each spot, slowing his retrieves in an attempt to catch every bass that will bite. He rigs extra rods, each sporting a different lure that will work the depth and cover that he's targeting. "The first lure you catch them on isn't always the best," he said. "There may be one that they will bite better. It's always good to ask yourself what would work better than this?"Even if you catch five bass on five casts, don't dismiss the chance that there's a lure that works better, Yelas cautions. You should continuously experiment with different lures to fine-tune your presentation. Five or 10 minutes of fishing is enough time with one lure, as long as you know you are around bass. "It doesn't take long to catch a feeding bass," he said.
Bass will begin to ignore certain lures faster than others. Yelas said spinnerbaits and topwaters lead that list. When the bite slows on those, he tries vibrating jigs, swimbaits or square-bill crankbaits. While he is fishing them over the same spots at the same speed, they show bass a different profile and vibration, which ignite their curiosity. Yelas doesn't always make a big change when it comes to selecting a different lure. If he's throwing a spinnerbait, for example, he might pick up a swimbait. Both imitate baitfish, though the latter in a subtler way. It's the same move when he changes from a jig to a Texas-rigged soft-plastic lure. On Northern fisheries, for example, where smallmouth have seen a steady stream of dropshots, showing them a Ned rig or Carolina rig, which ride lower in the water column, can trigger more bites. Other tackle changes will make more bass bite. Yelas said switching to a smaller diameter line is a good move. Smaller line is harder for bass to see in clear water and allow your lures more depth and freedom to wobble or wiggle. But don't be so quick to change your lure's color. While that's most important in clear water, he said finding the right profile, retrieve speed, action, sound and depth usually is more important.
Change Your Retreive:
Bass can grow numb to your casting angle, too. Once the bites on a crankbait dragged over an offshore brush pile stop, for example, they often begin again if you pull your crankbait from the opposite side. Yelas said casting your lure to deeper water then working it to shallow water creates a slower retrieve than working it shallow to deep. That can make a huge difference when bass are lethargic in cold water. There are other alternatives, too. Yelas said cranking into current or with it, or even throwing into open water and cranking your lure into a weed edge, are options. Creating more bites also can be as simple as changing the speed of your retrieve or adding pauses. "Always keep an open mind," he said.
Sticking to one lure or technique can work sometimes. Yelas said a big spinnerbait, for example, will catch more weight in fewer bites than other techniques on occasion. And that's how some anglers prefer to fish. But day in and day out, the most bites go to the most versatile anglers. So, before giving up on a spot, take the time to fish it differently. Leaving it without trying other lures or techniques to overcome changing conditions or growing fishing pressure means leaving its true potential unlocked. "I never want to leave fish behind when I leave a spot," Yelas said.
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Don't Leave Any Bass Behind Fall 2020 Bass Angler Magazine (Pete M. Anderson pg. 38 - 39).
Fall Fishing With Tim Horton
Horton maintains that bass school all summer, just deeper, out of sight, and around structure. On most highland reservoirs, when the water temperature drops and the thermocline breaks up, predatory fish start to use the surface to trap their prey. "What happens is that they don't have that oxygen-rich layer at a specific depth," he said. "The oxygen becomes the same throughout the lake and that's when the shad come to the surface."
Where To Look For School Bass:
"The backs of pockets and creeks are usually going to be the best," Horton said. "Anywhere baitfish can get trapped and hemmed up is prime territory." Being filter feeders, shad must swim continually in order to breathe and eat. Solid barriers such as bluff walls, vegetation, or the surface, can all corner baitfish and make them more vulnerable."If a lake has vegetation, like Pickwick or Guntersville, solid grass walls can create edges," the popular pro continued. "Bass will often school on those grass walls."Horton also looks for bird activity as they will often pluck off baitfish being driven to the surface. He also notes that smallmouth and spotted bass behave and position a little differently than largemouth.
"On Pickwick, smallmouth sit out in the current and push baitfish up on gravel bars," Horton continued. "Spotted bass lakes are the same way. On Lake Martin, big spotted bass will hold in 30 feet of water and will relate to the same type of structure and cover, like submerged timber, and when they come up, it'll be within proximity of that structure."The final ingredient is water clarity. "You are going to have more schooling activity with clear water," Horton said. "The clearer the lake the more schooling action you're going to have." While searching structure with electronics is an effective tool throughout the warmer months, as fall sets in, Horton utilizes his Raymarine Axiom units more for finding the baitfish. "With side-imaging, you can go into a pocket and tell if baitfish are there, even if they aren't being pushed to the surface," he said. "I also use my Hydrowave on a schooling-shad setting to help keep them get fired up."
Increasing Your Odds:
Horton tells us that patience is a key factor in dialing in schoolies. With adrenaline flowing from the chaos, anglers have to muster a lot of self-discipline not to fan-cast between blowups. While it's true fish can't be caught unless a bait is in the water, a well-placed cast is the only way to fool nomadic bass on the chase and more often than not, the window of opportunity is narrow. "Probably the biggest tip I could give you is when on schooling fish, you have to sit and wait for them to come up," Horton said. "You don't want to have your lure out there when they surface 20 feet away. I always hold my horses until they start busting, that way I can land right on them when they do." The seasoned pro tells us he won't stick around if the blowups are slow coming."It needs to be a location where they are constantly coming up," he said. "If it's not happening every 5 to 10 minutes, I'll probably look for another area."
Mixed predators also send Horton packing. "If there are white bass and stripers schooling, I'm going to leave and go look for bass," he said. "Even if there are bass mixed in, stripers are so aggressive they're going to beat the bass to the bait nine out of ten times." The ability to bomb a long cast is also a key to maximizing efficiency. "I use a 7-foot, 3-inch medium heavy Duckett Pro Series Timmy Horton Signature Series rod," Horton said. "You need a rod with a soft tip and some length to allow you to really reach out there." The Alabama pro uses 20-pound XPS Braided line for distance casting and his go-to bait is an Azuma Z-Dog. "I really like the clearer, shad-type colors in the fall," Horton said. "We have one that's called 'Clear' and has a feather on the back. I also use a color called Bone White and Mirror Shad."
On the rare occasion when bass are busting shad but won't bust a topwater, a sub-surface presentation may be needed. For Horton, that's a Klone 4-inch bass grub on a 1/2-ounce Swampers Timmy Horton Elite Jig Head. "What I'll do is cast it in there and count it down about ten seconds and slowly swim it through," Horton said. "I've done really well at places like Bull Shoals and Lake of the Ozarks with that technique." While the wind is your friend during the heat of the summer, it makes targeting surface schoolers much more challenging. "If you get wind blowing into an area, it can make it a lot tougher," he said. "You've then got to move around and find calmer water. If they are dialed into that pattern, other options are very limited." Horton believes nomadic bass chasing shad are the same bass that were caught on the bank weeks prior. "When the shad leave the bank, the bass do, too," he concluded. "When they start busting in open water, I won't waste time fishing the bank because I believe the bass are no longer there."
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It's Fall: School is in Session! Featuring MLF Pro Tim Horton Fall 2020 Bass Angler Magazine (Rob Bryant pg. 34 - 36).
Fall In Line For Transitioning Bass
Bernie Schultz - Find The Food:
Knowing that fall is gorging time, Schultz will start his day by locating the groceries. "My first consideration is 'where is the bait'? Wherever the shad or herring are, that's where I want to be. Some of the places I'll be looking are the backs of creeks and long, tapering, mainlake points, and maybe free-roaming schools of bait in areas with some current flow - natural or wind-generated. Stressing the wisdom of nonintrusive approaches for shallow fall fish, Schultz suggests generous spacing. "I prefer to use a lengthy cast to keep some distance between me and the fish." Schultz notes the importance of a through approach based on trying several baits and techniques. Subtle changes can keep a bite going or trigger one to start.
Baits & Tackle:
His first baits is a topwater (Rapala Skitter V or Hildebrandt SqueakEasy buzzbait). Schultz's second bait is a shallow crankbait like a DT-4 or DT-6 in shad patterns.
Dale Hightower - Hardheaded Approach:
Hightower favors creeks in the fall, but he guards against the limitations of one-dimensional thinking. As he points out, shad probably account for the majority of fall forage on southern reservoirs, but Hightower knows that bass seeking to fill their bellies aren't picky, so checking riprap banks where crawfish also abroad is time well spent. Hightower likes riprap close to bridges, creeks and channels, along with windblown flats. In either case, he wants to be right on the break where he makes 45-degree casts. "Sometimes when I'm throwing a spinnerbait, I'll change gear ratios. I'll use a 5.3:1 early in the morning and then speed up to a 7:1 later in the day, when the wind picks up."
Baits & Tackle:
For calm mornings, Hightower selects a 3/8oz black Booyah buzzbait. For later in the day, especially if the wind increases, he goes with a 3/8oz white/chartreuse War Eagle spinnerbait with a willowleaf blade and red Colorado kicker blade.
Tyler Carriere - Pads & Points:
Channeling his southern Lousiana background, Carriere's going to start on the pads, where he's confident he can get the ball rolling with a couple of good bites. "I like the pads that lay flat on the water because they usually have more depth below them, and I'll look for some that have a creek swing into them,: he said. "I try to head right at the point. "That way, I can throw right down the sides of the point and bring the bait right through the strike zone, parallel to the bank." Carriere looks for isolated rocks, stumps or laydowns on his points - fish magnets that provide high-percentage casting targets. Electronics play an obvious role, but he'll weed out his opportunities with visual recon, structure on the bank implies the same below the surface.
Baits & Tackle:
For the pads, he likes a Spro Poppin' Frog. For the points, Carriere selects a 1/4oz white Strike King Toad Buzz.
Fall In Line For Transitioning Bass 2020 September/October Bassmaster (David A. Brown pg. 64)
Fall Peak: Trophy Time For Bass
Water Temperature Defines Fall Peak:
The stages of fall will be based on various prime times, depending on the geographical region of the country. They coincide with water temperature and weather patterns throughout the US and Canada. As the water temperature drops from 62 down to 54 degrees, this signifies the peak of the fall time frame regardless of geographic location. This could be a two- to three-week variation between different parts of the country. In the northeast for instance, the fall peak could start as early as the first week of October and last from two to four weeks, depending on how fast air and water temperatures would drop each particular year. Here in the southwest however, the peak fall bite usually begins around Halloween and runs right through late November. But no matter where you hunt for trophy bass, look for that drop of water temperature from around 62 to 54 degrees. As the turnover completes its cycles and the water temperature stabilizes from top to bottom, it's a great opportunity to spend as much time as possible searching for monster fish.
On deeper bodies of water, I start searching for consolidated groups of big fish on offshore structures as they feed heavily before winter. Depending on the variety of lakes, rivers and ponds, depth and structural elements are primary keys when searching for consolidated fall giants. Smaller waters will offer a peak bite earlier in the season as the water temperatures drop faster and structure in small lakes and ponds may be limited. Forage on these types of waters can also be limited compared to deep, clear lakes loaded with a multitude of food sources and a diverse amount of various structure including deep weed beds, wood, rock, and ledge areas near main-lake basins. As long as the water you choose holds the gene pool to produce giant bass, plenty of forage, and good areas for the fall peak consolidation, your chances of boating multiple big fish is greatly improved. Fat fall bass create a lifetime of memories. The tactics on each body of water will be different depending on which type of cover the water offers you. Waters with a combination of expansive weed flats that border main-lake basin zones, areas of deep rock humps and steep ledges, or river channels with deep bends and wood will offer you the best options for finding consolidated bass. Locating these groups of fish or solitary giants throughout the water column will increase your chances throughout the stages of fall.
For waters harboring a variety of structure, including those in deep-water zones, I'll start with five groups of baits and vary my presentations to depict what big bass want at specific times. This also depends on exact water temperatures. These include a variety of jig combos and bladed swim jigs from 1/2- to 1-ounce, 1/2- to 3/4-ounce short-arm spinnerbaits for working around structure in various parts of the water column, S-wavers and larger swimbait options in 5-inch to 10-inch models, squarebill crankbaits and larger deep-running crankbaits, and suspending jerkbaits. As the water temperature drops below 54 degrees, I add a variety of jigging spoons and larger casting spoons to my arsenal. These groups of baits will cover any type of structure the waters you fish have to offer. There are other productive baits and presentations that can be effective, but this group of baits for the fall peak has proven themselves for decades on any waters I've fished across the country. I try and keep it as simple as possible.
Lure Presentation & Tactics:
The most important factor when hunting big bass is location; the second key factor is presentation. Lakes containing a large amount of rock structures and grass with deep main-lake channels nearby are the first thing I look for. The aforementioned bait groups will cover the entire water column around these zones perfectly. Bite windows will be shorter but more intense during the fall's prime peak. At times you'll need to either change up weight and size of baits to trigger more bites. This depends on the intensity of the bite, phase of the bite window, and wind velocity and weather.
When big fish are taking baits with a subtle, less intense reaction to the bait, dead-stick your presentation or downsize your bait. During the intense feed of a prime bite window you will notice how these fish are inhaling baits. Fewer short-striking fish and solid intense bites from big fish signifies the bite window is peaking. As fish start to slow down, the bites will be less intense indicating the time to switch presentations or downsize. On calm days or nights, a slow-falling bait will trigger additional bites as a peak feeding window will start to slow down. Deadsticking for trophy bass has been in my arsenal for decades as a main presentation, not just during the fall, but all through the season and for good reason. Recognizing when to deadstick is always important to trigger a lot more strikes from big, lazy bass. These fish will feed intensely during specific times during the fall peak. The mid-morning hours and late afternoon hours during late fall have always been a productive period for me. Back in the northeast, we would fish at night for these bass until around the middle of October, then utilize the late morning and late afternoon bite windows as key times to be in the water.
As I previously stated, it differs according to your regional location, but those prime water temperatures for the fall peak must be taken into consideration no matter where you fish. Florida would be the exception. Water temperatures don't fluctuate that drastically in central and southern parts of the state, but Florida-strain bass react negatively to even a minor cold front or subtle barometric change. In states participating in stocking programs of rainbow trout in the fall and early winter, or in power plant lakes with warm water inflow, the fall peak bite can last even longer. If you're a fall fishing fanatic and enjoy being on the water through the months of beautiful weather during autumn, watch the water temperature changes after turnover and be ready for the intense feeding period on your favorite trophy bass waters. It's short-lived in most locations so stay right on it. You won't be disappointed.
Fall Transition With Tactical Bassin
The fall transition is not a slow transition. It comes much earlier and happens a lot quicker than most anglers realize. Transition movements can happen seemingly overnight with the falling temperatures. To figure out and locate a school of fish, you need to ask yourself one question: Where are the baitfish? Bass movements are highly motivated by their food source. As the baitfish school up, so will the bass. The offshore or ledge fish that you have targeted all summer will begin to congregate into larger schools. The shallow fish you were flippin' and froggin' in the grass will vacate their summer vegetation in search of new locations. How the transition occurs depends on the type of fishery and the cover or structure bass frequent. Deeper offshore fish begin gathering on the best structure and ambush points. They congregate on the corners of ledges that are close to deep water and long tapering points that extend out to deep water.Later, you can expect them to transition toward the backs of deeper coves for the sole purpose of corralling big balls of bait. If you can find a ledge or point that is located on or near a current break or bend in the river, the spot can be very special.
Reservoir fishermen should look for main-lake points that separate the different arms of the lake. Main-lake and secondary points with relatively easy deep water access and narrow bays close by tend to be the most productive. Shallow fish will begin abandoning the sparse, dying weedbeds that you've been catching them in all summer. They move to remaining thick weed clumps or hard structure suchas rock piles and chunk rock. We've found that the biggest fish tend to beon either the deepest weedbeds or, asthe weedbeds eventually die, on hard structure such as rock piles and wood. This is where side-viewing sonar and a good topographic map chip can really help with finding the key locations. As the fall season progresses, bass will begin bunching up along ambush points and pockets. The shallow fish will use the backs of bays or cuts to corral schooled-up baitfish. Early morning andlater in the evening are the best times totarget big fish up in the shallow waterbecause larger, wary fish tend to get alittle skittish once the sun gets up. Once you find the bass, fall fishing is as good a time to catch a personal best as in spring, especially once you understand how to ignite the school.
Firing Up The School:
When bass school up in the fall, our most productive way to catch bigfish is to "trigger" them with reaction baits. Triggering a bass or school of bass is best achieved when fishing reaction baits quickly. The key is to not give the fish ample timeto be picky or indecisive about eatingthe lure. Bass are natural predators and impressive killing machines. When you can tap into a bass' natural instinct to feed, the results can be amazing. All you have to do is convince one of the many fish in the school to eat, which kicks in a giant bass' predatory instincts, and it won't want to miss out on an opportunity to feed. It doesn't even matter if you catch the smallest fish in the school first. The result is often that the entire school will trigger into a feeding frenzy for a short period of time. At that point, you no longer have to try to fool a giant bassinto eating. The biggest fish, which are usually very wary and skeptical, become easier to catch because they get caught up in the moment with the school going crazy around them. Believe me, it works. On more than one occasion, I've caught a double-digit bass only because I caught a small bass the cast before. You can literally catch a 10-incher and a 10-pounder on consecutive casts. Once you get the first bite, it's very important to make quick follow-up casts to keep the school fired up to capitalize on the flurry of activity.
Techniques For The Transition:
My two favorite techniques to take advantage of schooled-up bass during the fall transition are cranking and topwater. For shallow cranking, I turn to a squarebill. A little flash goes a long way when trying to stand out from thousands of real shad, and Lucky Craft's American shad color is where I start when I need that extra flash. A skirtless buzzbait is a good realistic presentation, too. I find that a 1/2-ounce buzzbait tracks better than other weights. When paired with a River2Sea D Walker swimbait, you get great action and durability that will last through countless fish. For the deeper fish, I typically start with a deep-diving crankbait. The flash fades away in the deeper water, so I prefer bold colors such as sexy shad. My favorite deep diving crankbait for fall largemouth bass is the Strike King 10XD, but for smallmouth and spotted bass it's the River2Sea Tactical DD. This season, if you find yourself wondering how your epic summer topwater bite vanished, remember that the fall transition happens quickly. Pay attention to the length of days and the overnight temperatures. As soon as the days get shorter and the overnight temps start to drop, start thinking about these tips. Follow the baitfish to shallow bays or deep ledges to find the mega-schools. Tie on a quick-moving crankbait or topwater to ignite the school. Then hang on, because you just might catch the fish of a lifetime.
Take Advantage Of Fall Transtition 2020 August-September Bass Fishing (Matt Allen,Tim Little pg. 26 - 27)
Jacob Wheeler's 5 Faves
Buzzin' To Cover Water:
The five lures Wheeler discussed for this article aren't ranked, but if they were, chances are the buzzbait would take one of the top couple spots. "The buzzbait is high, high on my list," he says. "It's the most efficient way for me to cover water, and it's something that I have so much confidence in." Wheeler is so fond of the buzzbait because he can fish it quickly, making it one of his top lures for covering water in search of active fish. "I always have one tied on anytime the water is above 52 degrees," he adds. "It generates bites and will also catch big ones. It's also one of my best tools for practice when I'm try-ing to locate groups of fish because I can go down the bank with my trolling motor on high and still fish it right."The pro never fishes a buzzbait with a standard skirt and will always either modify the skirt � trimming it way back so it doesn't reach the hook point � or remove it entirely and replace it with a soft plastic. "If you have a soft plastic on the buzzbait, the bass will hold it much longer, almost like a jig," he says. "I've seen fish come up and grab it by the boat and hold onto it, and they don't do that without a soft plastic on it. That makes it much easier to get a good hookset.
"I'll adjust the plastics to get a different look, and I'll either use a toad, craw or swimbait," Wheeler adds. "I use the craw trailers on river systems when the bait is small and the toad may be too big for the caliber of fish in those waters." If he goes with a trimmed skirt, Wheeler will often use contrasting colors for the skirt and soft plastic. "I may have a white craw on a black buzzbait just to change the look," he says. "I also sometimes use a translu-cent skirt with a black or chartreuse soft plastic." Not surprisingly, Wheeler's favorite buzzbait is his signa-ture series from Accent Fishing Products because all the details have been thought out to make the buzzbait exactly how he wants it. "The key to a good buzzbait is having the right blade,hook and a crimped rivet," Wheeler says. "Accent is a smallcompany, so they can pay attention to the little details andget the best sound from a buzzbait. The blades are special-ly anodized, and they sand down each rivet to create aunique sound."
Jigs For Bigs:
"You always have to have a jig tied on, no matter where you go," says Wheeler, echoing pretty common sentiment among top professional anglers. There are countless head designs for jigs, but for Wheeler, who has no sponsor connection with a jig company, the best all-around jig (which he buys just like everyone else) is the ER Lures Flipping jig, a modified version of the old-standard Arky head. "They're hand-tied, and you can do it all with them, from flipping cover to skipping docks or fishing offshore," explains Wheeler. "That head design is the most versatile for me, and it goes through cover great. "I've had great tournaments flipping it into bushes and laydowns, and it can also be fished offshore. I've started to go away from the football head offshore and started to drag this jig away from the bank, and it does a great job." Color selection is pretty simple, too. "I use a green pumpkin, black and blue, brown, and a green pumpkin with blue. Those four will cover all of the dif-ferent water clarities," Wheeler says.
"You always have to have a jig tied on, no matter where you go," says Wheeler, echoing pretty common sentiment among top professional anglers. There are countless head designs for jigs, but for Wheeler, who has no sponsor connection with a jig company, the best all-around jig (which he buys just like everyone else) is the ER Lures Flipping jig, a modified version of the old-standard Arky head. "They're hand-tied, and you can do it all with them, from flipping cover to skipping docks or fishing offshore," explains Wheeler. "That head design is the most versatile for me, and it goes through cover great. "I've had great tournaments flipping it into bushes and laydowns, and it can also be fished offshore. I've started to go away from the football head offshore and started to drag this jig away from the bank, and it does a great job." Color selection is pretty simple, too. "I use a green pumpkin, black and blue, brown, and a green pumpkin with blue. Those four will cover all of the dif-ferent water clarities," Wheeler says. 3. CREATURE COMFORTSAnother versatile bait in Wheeler's arsenal is a creature bait. His current pick is the Googan Baits Bandito Bug, which he uses in a variety of ways. "That is my favorite jig trailer, but it's also an excellent flip-ping bait," he says. "I'll also fish it on a Tokyo Rig. "There are a lot of scenarios where I use the Bandito Bug, and it just gets bit." The advantage of the creature bait is its ability to be fished anywhere from deep brush to shallow cover. Really, nothing is off limits due to Wheeler's extreme confidence in this style of bait. "If I need to get a bite or two, I know I can do it with a Bandito Bug, no matter where I am in the country," he adds. Though he rotates through six or seven colors, Wheeler says blue baby is his top pick for its versatility. "My next favorite would be Bama bug, and I'll use Alabamacraw when I want to add an orange flair to my jigs."
Crank It Up:
Wheeler can't go anywhere without a crankbait, and because of the depth ranges he encounters, there isn't just one he'd use for any given situation. He does have it nar-rowed down to one popular family of crankbaits. "The whole Rapala DT family are baits that I use every-where in all seasons," he says. "The DT6 and DT10 are two that I know most people know well. They're tried-and-true, but the whole DT series covers water from 4 to 20 feet and can do so much for you. "Two of my favorites are probably the two least popular in the lineup," Wheelers adds. "The DT20 is a Tennessee River ledge sleeper, and I think it's the best deep-diver out there. The DT14 has a bigger profile and will get down to that 14- to 16-foot range."
Each bait serves a specific purpose based on the depth and desired action. "The DT4 has a wide wobble, and the DT6 and DT10 are much more subtle," he says. "I like the DT14 and DT16 because they have the bigger profile, and I use the DT20 when I need to get down deep." The key to the effectiveness of the DT series, according to Wheeler, is the build. "The No. 1 best thing about the Rapala DT crankbaits is they run true right out of the package, and you don't have to tune them to get them dialed in," he explains. "And, even though they're balsa, they still cast great. "There's also something about that balsa action. They aren't as durable as a plastic bait, and you have to take care of them a little more and not slap them on the water to remove grass on the trebles, but they have a much more nat-ural look in the water."
The final of the five baits Wheeler often relies on more than most is a soft-plastic swimbait called the Storm 360GT Largo Shad. Wheeler says he's found himself using it more and more in the past few seasons, as have others who've discovered (and tried to keep it hush) that the Largo Shad, which was originally marketed for saltwater, is actually an effective bass bait. It was part of Wheeler's arsenal when he won the 2019 MLF Bass Pro Tour Bad Boy Mowers Stage Seven presented by Covercraft at Table Rock Lake.
"It has a unique profile, and it's very durable," he says. "It's pretty affordable compared to other swimbaits, and you can catch a bunch of fish on the same bait." That event on Table Rock was tailor-made for a swimbaitbite with clear water and groups of spotted bass offshore, butWheeler says a swimbait is much more versatile than that."A swimbait works great when the water is clear, but it's not just for clear water," Wheeler says. "I'll fish a white bait in more stained water, and the fish can still see it just fine." Wheeler fishes his Largo Shad on a standard ball-head jig, but will also add it to a bladed swimbait hook, an under-spin and on the back of a vibrating jig, and mixes it up between the 3- and 4-inch versions based on the baitfish size and body of water he's fishing. "Looking back, I caught fish with it in about half of the events last year," he adds. "It is a must during the prespawn and also anytime the bass are offshore."
Jacob Wheeler's 5 Faves 2020 August-September Bass Fishing (Tyler Brinks pg. 44 - 48)
John Cox What's On My Line
Berkely Choppo 90:
I will use it everywhere, on main-lake pockets, backs of creks, anywhere shad are moving up shallow or even when there's a bluegill spawn. It's awesome in open water. You can throw it around docks, laydowns and riprap. Every fish I have caught on it has it down their throat. For me, it replaces the buzzbait and you can cover a ton of water with it. I really like the ghost bluegill color.
Dirty Jigs Swim Jig With MaxScent Chunk:
Everyody swims it, but I've found you can swim it going down the bank and then I'll come to something that I would normally pick up my flipping stick for, but now I go to the MaxScent Meaty Chunk and it's awesome for flipping. It's a good all-around bait for palce in the bank where I can't throw the Choppo. For September I would go with a bluegill pattern and I normally throw it on 40-pound Berkley X5 Braid.
Berkley Powerbait MaxScent The General:
It's endless the techniques you can use with it. I drop shot it, Neko rig with it, wacky rig it, Texas rig it and you can put it on a ned head. You name it you can do it with this bait. It has been incredible the last few years for me and I've learned a lot with it. It has opened my eyes to how well the MaxScent stuff actually works.
What's On My Line.... John Cox BASS Times September 2020 (John Cox pg. 5).
Matt Allen's Fabulous Fall Finesse Football Jigs
I pitched my jig, with its black and bright blue skirt and pork rind trailer straight to one of those tree trunks. (Actually, it was more of an awkward and clumsy sideways cast.) My jig resonated a deep thud-like tone upon impact with the trunk, and then proceeded to drop directly into the water, slipping into a narrow gap between the floating mat of debris and the trunk. Right on target. I do not think I could have made that cast a second time even if I had to. A moment later, I could see the coiled, blue fluorescent monofilament line begin to straighten as it was pulled under the water through the sticks. Instinctively, I reared back on my six-foot baitcasting rod and set the hook. I could feel the weight of that bass underneath the stick mat, and it was a good one. The bass immediately surfaced, breaking through the floating stick mat, and gave what seemed to be one hard headshake. This was one of the first times that I was a part of the magical moment when a large bass surfaces and head shakes.
And suddenly... crack! The 14-pound clear-blue monofilament line had snapped. I couldn't move, my reactions were numb, and I tried to process what had just happened. Slowly, with deep breaths, I turned the handle of my baitcaster, bringing in the line. My mind was still whirling from all that just happened. The jig was gone, that pulling sensation was gone, the line laid limp on the surface of the water. In my mind, I could still see the image of the majestic jumping bass. Casting my gaze out to the ceaseless flowing waters, I caught a last glimpse of a splash. That bass surfaced again, this time out in the main current flow of the creek. With a final headshake, and crashing of water, I watched the bass toss my jig into the air. It was as if this action was in total defiance. The entire event ended with a bloop�the final sound of that jig as it slapped the water's surface and disappeared.
Football jigs, specifically the finesse football jig, is the focus of Allen's streamlined approach to jig fishing in the fall season. A quick online search of football jigs from the Tackle Warehouse webpage yields over 80 choices for bass anglers, which merely scratches the surface. Factor in numerous color options and differing weights, all paired with multiple trailer options, and now you're talking some serious number crunching possibilities.Where are bass anglers to begin? You could invest a substantial amount of time and money to fish all of those jig options. The great news is that with today's competitive tackle marketplace, leading-edge hook technology, lead-molding processes, improved head painting and skirt materials, nearly every jig listed on Tackle Warehouse's page would serve a bass angler well. However, subtle differences between jigs abound.
"Jigs have a primary and secondary action," Allen explained. Anglers impart primary action with rod and reel movements. Then, when a bass moves in to examine a jig, the pressure waves from the bass puff the skirt, make the jig tip sideways, or activate the trailer appendages. This secondary movement allows the jig to resemble living prey. "All living prey have subtle, almost unnoticeable actions, like gills opening and closing, or crawfish legs that scurry along," Allen reminds anglers.
Allen's One-Two Punch For Fall:
A primary goal for TacticalBassin' is to keep information streamlined and manageable for all anglers, regardless of experience. Allen's approach to jig fishing in the fall is no different.Allen selects two types of jigs for his system of fall fishing. Both of these jigs are made by Dirty Jigs, a Wisconsin-based company. The Tour Level Finesse Football Jig and Tour Level Pitchin' Jig each serve a role in two distinctly different fall fishing patterns. One pattern involves bass that are "out" and the other to find bass that are located on hard, shallow cover, mostly wood. "A common fall bass pattern is fish that are out. Out away from the bank, out in deeper water, main-lake points, channel bends, humps, and ledges are all places that can be considered out," explains Allen. When the bass are out, Allen turns to dragging a 1/2-ounce Finesse Football jig to tempt these fall bass. His trailer of choice is a 5-inch Yamamoto double tail grub. This grub offers a subtle "ticking" action when the football jig is dragged along the bottom. TacticalBassin' has confirmed this action of the Yamamoto grub in an underwater video of jig trailers.
"The finesse football jig is all about dragging with the rod tip," Allen said. "Lifting the rod up and back in a smooth and controlled short stroke will drag the finesse football jig along the bottom. This football dragging is an effective presentation for the entire fall season and will continue to work through the coldest waters of the winter season as well." A finesse football jig is a class of football jigs, with the familiar rounded and elongated head tipped with a thinner or more compact hook. This allows the finesse football jig to be fished effectively on 10- or 12-pound test lines and leaders as opposed to the 14- to 20-pound used for a jig with a stouter hook. On the TackleWarehouse website, Dirty Jigs states their Tour Level finesse football jig has a 1X VMC hook, as compared to their Tour Level football jig that brandishes a strong 3X Custom VMC hook. Allen's philosophy on jig skirts can be summed up in three colors: Go-To, Super Matt Brown, and Hematoma. These are the same three colors that Allen has recommended for both his spring and summer jig fishing system. By keeping his colors subtle and natural, Allen can then select the trailers to either match the jigs or stand out boldly. This reduces the total amount of jigs an angler needs to carry and offers a simplified approach.
A second pattern develops in the fall and coincides with the onset of the first of consecutive cooler nights. This usually happens in late August or early September. When these nights arrive, they trigger a reaction in the submerged grass in the form of a die-off. "Most anglers miss the subtle beginning of this transition," Allen explains. When aquatic plants die, there is a depletion of oxygen in the water. A bass can sense this decreasing oxygen level and will vacate the grass flat for other wood cover in the form of stumps, laydowns, or stumps. On Allen's home waters of Clear Lake, California, he describes a popular shallow creek arm that can be completely overgrown from bank to bank with submerged aquatic grass in the heat of August. The bass are difficult to locate in this creek because they have such a large area to roam and search for food. Once those cooler nights arrive, all of the bass seem to head straight for any stump, laydown, dock piling or brush pile they can find. This makes locating the bass much easier because they will locate into a limited amount of real estate. This shallow wood pattern will hold bass through this period of increasingly cooler water into the late fall transition when those bass leave the shallows for deeper wintering locations.
This is target fishing. Allen will use the Pitchin' jig to cast, pitch, and flip to each and every piece of wood cover in search of fall bass. "That 1/2-ounce pitchin' jig with its rounded head will bounce and pop over the branches in the cover, and it can be used around every hard target," says Allen. "It is also a great time to build a pattern. Cast to a laydown or dock piling, then either shake the jig or drag it along the bottom. If a bass bites while you are shaking the jig, then shake on every dock piling you come across. The same goes for dragging." Allen will keep with the same three colors for his pitching jig: Go-To, Hematoma, Super Matt Brown. Most often Allen selects a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver to pair with the pitching jig. "A green pumpkin and red flake beaver trimmed and threaded onto the hook of a Go-To colored jig will catch a bass anywhere in the United States," proclaimed Allen. By simplifying jig choices and limiting colors, anglers can build their confidence and success with jig fishing in the fall. A natural and simple skirt color paired to a natural trailer will allow anglers to spend more time focused on catching bass.
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Fabulous Fall Finesse Football Jigs With Matt Allen Fall 2020 Bass Angler Magazine (Dave Ruckdeschel pg. 22 - 24).
Popper Lessons With Zell Rowland
Rowland always has a popper tied on, regardless of the season, but he's more likely to reach for it at certain times of the year than others. "If I suspect there are fish in shallow water, it's going to be on the deck at all times," he says. "I won't say I'll use it all the time, but I'll definitely use it a lot, especially from late spring right on through the fall." Prime windows are when postspawn bass are guarding fry, patrolling bream beds or gorging their bellies around the shad spawn. Rowland says the popper also can pay off any time schooling bass are active or during the sweltering heat of summer, particularly when much of the tournament field might head offshore to play the ledge game with crankbaits and Carolina rigs.
"There are always going to be fish shallow in summer provided there's cover, and those fish may not be near as pressured," Rowland adds. Another factor he considers is wind velocity. "The popper isn't a good choice in really rough water," he says. "I've had some success when the surface is slick, but where it really tends to shine is when there is a little ripple to break up the surface, especially in clear water. The ripple prevents the fish from getting too good of a look at the bait."
Types of Poppers:
Rowland divides "factory" poppers into three basic categories: baits that chug, baits that spit, and baits that spit and walk. Flat-faced poppers like the BOOYAH Boss Pop - a bait he helped design - are meant to spit or walk with the proper rod cadence. It has a shallow cup for a mouth. The standard Rebel Pop-R is a true chugger as dictated by its deeper cupped beak. It's a good idea to have a mix of poppers in your tackle box. More importantly, always be willing to experiment. If one bait style isn't cutting it, try something different. "There are a lot of variables that go into making those decisions on which popper to throw," Rowland adds. "Sound is important, but so is the action. That's why you see a lot of pros with 15 different rods on the deck instead of six. They'll have different baits rigged on different line sizes. Lighter lines give the bait more action than heavy lines. We'd fish with 20-pound line all the time if we could get away with it, but with topwaters, you can't do that."
Once he settles on the desired styleof popper, Rowland chooses the size based on two factors: the size of the baitfish and the size class of the bass the lake is known for producing. He points to the 2 1/2- and 3-inch Rebel Pop-R models to explain. "Right after the bass spawn, there are a lot of small fry in the water," he says. "That's when I'll throw the 2 1/2-inch model to match the hatch. Once the fry grow a little and move off the bank is when I'll go to the 3 inch. I'll stick with it all summer long. You can continue catching fish on the smaller bait, but the bigger bait will typically produce the bigger bites you want in a tournament situation. You definitely want to throw the bigger bait if a lake has a bunch of 3-plus-pounders." He sticks with basic colors. Chrome/black, bone and baby bass are his favorites in most situations. Black gets the call in muddy or stained water.
Change It Up:
Rowland says it's equally important to experiment with retrieve speeds and cadences. One day the fish might prefer a fast plop-plop-pause retrieve. Other times, they might want a slow walk or fast walk with an occasional spit-spit mixed in. "The fish are going to tell you what kind of sound and action they want," he says. "You just have to listen." Rowland says water clarity tells him a lot about how fast or slow he should work a popper, and how much action he should give the bait. On a gin-clear reservoir such as Lake Mead, where bass will crush a surface plug over 30 feet of water, he'll work the bait considerably faster than on a lake like Sam Rayburn, where visi-bility might be 3 feet in "clear" condi-tions. In dirty water, an even slower cadence rules. "As a rule of thumb, the clearer the water, the faster I'll work it and the more action I want the bait to have," Rowland says. "If I want to maximize the action, I'll go with 10- to 12-pound test, and 14- to 17-pound test for less action. I'll always use monofilament, because it floats. Fluorocarbon sinks and takes away from the action."
Rowland says the best rod for topwater fishing is one that marries the proper blend of parabolic action with strength. It starts with a lightweight blank with a forgiving tip and stouter middle and butt sections. The light tip helps keep bass hooked on small trebles and helps with achieving the proper action. "It helps feed slack back to a topwater while you're working it, which enhances the action," Rowland explains. Not surprisingly, he uses a Zell Rowland Signature Series topwater rod he helped design for Impulse Fishing Rods in Magnolia, Texas. It's a 6-foot, 8-inch model that features an 8 3/4-inch handle and extra-light tip.
Rowland, a longtime tackle designer, can't shake his insatiable itch for tinkering. He's a master of modification. In his mind, it seems like there should always be a better way. "It's in my blood," he says. "I love fishing a topwater, and I've always been intrigued by all the baits that different companies make. When I see a good bait, I automatically start thinking of ways that it could be made into a great bait." It's been the same way with the Rebel Pop-R, which Rowland has thrown - and modified - for decades with great success. He's particularly fond of his customized Pop-R. He proudly refers to it as "the bait that's never been made." "There aren't any others like it other than the ones I've shared with a few close friends," he says. "Hopefully, I'll get the chance to see it in production someday. I've got ideas for some other topwater baits that the industry hasn't seen yet." The tweaks change the way the bait slides through the water and the way it positions when at rest - tail down, instead of flatter on the surface. As a result, Rowland can make his modified Pop-R chug, spit or walk by merely altering the rod angle and cadence. "I can hold my rod tip up at about a 45-degree angle and speed the retrieve up and make it spit and make a sound like a shad, hold it down to make it chug or walk it like a Zara Spook," he says. "It's like having three different poppers in one. If I'm practicing, I can constantly change the cadence, action and sound without having to change baits to see what the fish prefer."
Rowland accomplishes the custom action through an intricate sanding process that involves shaving the bait down to a uniform smoothness all the way around. "Once the concave eyes are smooth, you're there," he says. "It changes the shape of the entire bait from round to oval. All I'll do to the lip is use fine sandpaper to give it a sharp edge like a boat prop. I've seen a lot of poppers, and there aren't many you can do all that to. The Pop-R is the perfect shape body." It takes Rowland about an hour to get a bait ready for paint, which he does with an airbrush using a quality oil-based product. Paint jobs can take up to 30 minutes to complete, depending on how intricate he wants it."I won't fish one without a feather on the rear treble," he adds. "That feather pulsates in the water. If a bass hits and misses, it doesn't run 30 feet away. He's probably just sitting there looking at it. Barely move the bait, and that feather will open and close. It's like turning a light bulb on. They can't stand it." There's a passel of ways to catch a bass, and Rowland has made a stellar career out of fooling them using a tactic that is often regarded as the most exciting of all. Topwater fishing - especially with poppers - is his passion. It has been ever since he launched that memorable cast into a still-water cove on Sardis Lake way back in 1965.
Popper Lessons With A Master 2020 August-September Bass Fishing (Matt Williams pg. 50 - 54)
Proven Pattern For Fall Reservoir Smallmouth
Intro To Late Fall / Winter Staging:
In general, smallmouth bass living in reservoirs spend most of the season in shallow water. From pre-spawn to early fall, current and food draw them shallow for a majority of the year. In the northern states that experience ice-up in winter, smallmouth bass tend to locate a deep wintering hole, typically a pool with depths between 10 to 30 feet. While many reservoirs have a main river channel with multiple deep pools, some unique bodies of water are shallow throughout the entire system, with an exception being the deep headwaters above the dam. This is a magnet in the late fall period as the smallmouth can sense that winter, hard water, and limited feeding opportunities are fast approaching. Wintering holes attract them as they stage and gorge on food. The pattern I'd like to share relates to reservoirs containing one deep headwater as the single winter pool available to bass. Research your local lakes and contour maps until you find a reservoir with this perfect scenario. If smallmouth live in that system, my strategy should help you land some incredible fish every fall.
Water temperature is a key factor in the fall. When I refer to "late fall" fishing in Wisconsin, I am referring to anytime the water temperature is below 50 degrees. In general, smallmouth bass are very aggressive when the water temperatures are falling - even to as low as 40 degrees. When the water cools below 50 degrees, smallmouth bass seem to key in on just one primary forage- baitfish - as they stage near their winter holes. I feel that fewer food sources and a smaller home range in the cold makes an angler's life much easier, eliminating most of the guesswork.
Late Fall Lure Selection:
In late fall, you can leave your giant tackle box at home and bring one small tray of a few key baits. Your primary fish locations will be at the bottom range of the water column, but there are exceptions at times when smallmouth bass will suspend at this time of year. By far the most productive lure for me in this situation is an aggressive paddletail-style plastic swimbait rigged on a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce swimbait jig head, cranked just off the bottom. My personal choice is a 5-inch Bootykicker swimbait by James Gang Fishing Company. This lure does a great job covering water and triggering smallmouth bass. Always use colors that match the local forage. In our local systems, emerald shiners are the dominant forage, there are also golden shiners and redhorse.
Plastic swimbaits are available in a wide variety of colors so matching the hatch should not be a problem. I prefer using a fiberglass 7-foot crankbait rod for this presentation. Its parabolic bend not only increases casting distance, but the forgiving flex helps to reduce lost fish during the battle.A more finessed approach to the swimbait presentation would be a 3- to 4-inch plastic grub of your choice on a 1/4- to 3/8-ounce jig. If yellow perch are abundant in your reservoir, chartreuse is a fine choice. Silver or white will represent most baitfish, even in stained waters. A 7-foot graphite spinning combo will work quite well as the sensitivity will help you detect bites.Sometimes a reaction bite will fire up a school of smallmouths in the late fall, and two lures will cover that category. The first option is a 1/2-ounce bladed jig with a subtle swimming plastic trailer, fished slowly across the bottom. The other reaction bait that will draw strikes is a blade bait. The tight vibration of blade baits create quite a commotion, but not to the point that they are as intimidating as a lipless crankbait or bladed jig when the mood isn't quite right.
When the aggressive swimbaits, bladed jigs, and blade baits are too much on a tougher bite, an ultra-finesse approach might be the answer. There are two fine options regarding late fall finesse. These would be 1/4-ounce hair jigs or a soft plastic on a drop shot. Black is a great all-around color for hair jigs as it imitates larvae or crawfish quite well. For dropshotting, a small fluke-style minnow or Roboworm in a silver baitfish color will get the job done. The final must-have lure in fall is a suspending jerkbait. This will cover the mid-water column range when the fish are located off the bottom and chasing food. I recommend using a deep version, such as a Strike King KVD Deep or an #8 Rapala X-Rap Deep in forage-matching colors. Use light fluorocarbon, such as 8-pound test, to get the lure to dive deeper into the strike zone.
Quite often smallmouth bass will move quickly in the late fall and "sample" your lure with a light nip to the tail. On several late fall trips, I have found that applying scent to my lures was all I needed to get a smallmouth bass to fully commit to bite. I prefer to use the balm stick of Baitfish scent made by JB's Fish Sauce. I won't fish in cold water without applying scent as it has changed my trips from bad to incredible on so many occasions.
I have found that schooling smallmouth bass seem to avoid flats in late fall and congregate around the contour change, where shallow water meets the deep drop. Usually these are in the 8- to 15-foot depth range. If there are two sides of the winter hole and only one side has any current, choose the current over stagnant water. Any small shoreline points are a bonus area, and deep wood or rock cover will draw in food.
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Facts, Fiction & Feed Bags Fall 2020 Bass Angler Magazine (Jesse James Piontek pg. 62 - 64).
Proven Patterns For Fall Bass
As the lake begins to cool, bass gradually vacate their deep summer locales on the main lake and head into shallower tributaries and coves. They'll hold around scattered wood, rock and weed cover as well as docks, using these vantage points to ambush shad. If the summer was relatively dry, water clarity may be extreme now, necessitating the use of smaller lures like finesse worms and 1/4oz crankbaits.
Large numbers of baitfish will move into creek arms and coves, prompting more aggressive feeding by bass. "Wolf Packs" of bass will follow shad schools, eventually herding them into shallow water where classic "feeding frenzies" take place - topwater stickbaits and chuggers as well as fast-moving lipless crankbaits can provide fast action now. Seasonal reservoir drawdown will force baitfish and bass to exit the back of creeks and coves for deeper water.
As lake temperatures drop into the 50s, bass in clear/rocky highland lakes will suspend off tributary points and bluff banks in 25 to 50 feet of water, they'll move shallower on windy days and will hit jerkbaits and swimbaits. In shallow/murky flatland lakes, bass will relate strongly to shallow wood and and rock cover near deep dropoffs and will gorge on crawfish, squarebill crankbaits and jigs should provoke strikes.
Proven Patterns For Fall Bass Bassmaster September/October 2020 (Don Wirth pg. 62).
Stetsin Blaylock What's On My Line
Heddon Zara Spook:
It has a walk-the-dog action and I work it slow and steady. You are just to get their attention. They are already feeding, so you don't have to convince them to eat it. It will catch agressive fish. As for size, it's trila and error. You want to match what the fish are eating. If they are feeding on small baitfish, you might have to go down to a junior or even a smaller one. If you are on a lake that has bigger fish or they are feeding on bigger bait, you can get by with a Super Spook. Colorwise, I like a natural shad.
Booyah Hard Knocker:
I've had success throwing this bait on flats leading into the bays and creeks. The fish will be hanging out there and there isn't a better way to cover water and locate them. I fish a 1/4oz because you can fish it super shallow. If they are in 6 to 8 inches of water-busting shad, you can throw this through there really fast and trigger some key fish. I'll start with something shiny like chrome blue or chrome black and then I'll go to a more regular shad pattern like Tennessee Shad.
You can throw a Yum finesse worm in both sizes. I want to throw something that doesn't imitate a shad. They are feeding on shad and you are throwing topwater and lipless crankbaits. But if they aren't biting those, you can drag the shaky head and cast it a mile on spinning rod. In less than 3 feet I will throw a 1/8oz head. If I'm fishing rock or in a ditch heading into those key places I will throw a 3/16oz.
What's On My Line.... Stetson Blaylock BASS Times October 2020 (Stetson Blaylock pg. 5).
The Hunt For Fall Studs
Rick Clunn - Highland Reservoir:
Weather and forage guide the tactical decision for the four-time Bassmaster Classic champion, and if an early fall day brings cloudy, rainy prefrontal conditions, Clunn knows he can expect big results with a big spinnerbait - especially the tactics at the 1976 event on Lake Guntersville. Clunn's go-to is a Luck-E-Strike Trickster spinnerbait that he described as a 3/4oz plus, pushing 1 ounce." The size is key, Clunn said, because he needs that heavy head to manage the bait's Long Drop blades. A cross between willow-leaf and Indiana blades, the Long Drops deliver the big displacement he wants for enticing the giants. "Most of the time, I'm burning it and walking the spinnerbait, and if you use a smaller head with those blades, the bait rolls," Clunn said.
In stable conditions, Clunn holds high faith in the Rico popper, but if he's spotting good numbers of hefty gizzard shad, he'll upsize his topwater presentation to a Whopper Plopper or a buzzbait. "A topwater is a good bait for big bass year-round because it obeys the predatore-prey laws," Clunn said. "Big bass don't want to expend a lot of energy unnecessarily, so when nature presents a weak ness, they're programmed to eliminate that weakness.
He won't pass up sweet-looking logs and stumps, nut Clunn's main fall target will be areas of fractures vegetation. As he explains, shortening days and the cooling impacts of winter's approach will find grass mats breaking apart. Tattered edges and peripheral clumps allow him to pinpoint specific little isolated targets. "If you're on a lake that doesn't have grass, you may have main-lake points with broken rock. The key is finding where those gizzard shad are in the fall becuase that will bring more big fish to the area. In the fall of the year, they make a move to the creeks and banks for their final feed on the year, and your bigger fish will be around them."
Rob Dingh - Brushy Lake:
The North Carolina pro catches a lot of stout fish by throwing jigs into brushpiles, but it's Digh's technical proficiency and adjustment insights that prove advantageous. Jigs are often an easy sell, but experience has taught him the value of very international presentations. Digh typically starts with a 1/2oz Shooter Jig, which sports a hand-tied skirt for a more lifelike appearance. and adds a 3.5" Zoom Super Chunk or 2" Super Chunk Jr., depending on what type of profile he wants. He Always hangs the smaller trailer, but if he wants the Super Chunk's size with a shorter overall bait length, Dihg threads the trailer onto his jig's hook and superglues it to the head. "This also gives you a little more hook exposure," he said. "If I do tip it on the back, I'll slide a piece of finesse worm onto the hook shank to keep the chunk from sliding up and down. So, when I cast, I know that chunk is laying where I want it to."
Digh's technique tip: "A lot of times when you throw into a brushpile, you may hit a limb. Instead of just pulling the bait across, I just tickle my rod to seesaw the bait back and forth on that limb. I'll work each limb slowly, because this time of year if the water hasn't cooled off, they get kind of lazy and you have to let them look at your bait a little while." If the area's getting pounded, Digh knows those big, smart fish will often shun the bulkier presentations. This, he said makes them vulnerable to a subtler look. "When fish are highly pressured, they tend to want a smaller bait, so I'll downsize to a 1/4oz homemade football jig with a wide gap Gamakatsu hook and a Zoom Trickworm," Digh said. "Sometimes, I'll throw around the outside edge of the brushpile and slowly drag along the bottom because the fish don't always lay in the brush."
Jeff Gustafson - Deep Northern Lake:
Fall finds jumbo smallmouth gorging hefty meals and Gustafson is happy to spoon-feed them - literally. The Elite angler from Keewatin, Canada knows a big chunk of shiny metal offers his best bet for nabbing a brown bomber. "I like a 5", 1 1/8oz Lake Fork Flutter Spoon, that's been my go-to in the fall," Gustafson said. "This time of year, the fish get keyed on eating big baits and up north that could be shad, smelt of herring. "A lot of the bait is suspended so the bass follow them, but they're going to be close to some type of structure like a hump or a point. The fish will drift off the structure sometimes to chase a bait, and the spoon is good because if falls erratically and it has a lof of flash. It's something you can use to attract a fish that's hunting with its eyes."
Gustafson said short measured casts are best. No need for a heaving missile launch - in fact that's actually counterproductive. "You don't want to long bomb these things, a fast cast is best," he said. "That way you have a vertical angle on the bait when it gets down there. You get better hook sets and the spoon has the vertical action the we want. Gustafson throws his spoon on a 7'6" heavy G. Loomis rod with a Shimano Metanium 7:1 reel. Spooling with 20-pound fluoro allows him the strength he needs for slinging a big bait. "I'll pitch it out, keep my eye on the line and when the spoon hits the bottom I'm going to lift 3 to 4 feet with pretty sharp rips and let it flutter back to the bottom," Gustafson said. "I'll just continue that all the way back to the boat. "You really want to pay attention to your line, you'll see your line jump when they bite it sometimes when it's falling. But often, when you go to rip it back up you're setting the hook into one." Treble hooks and smallmouth are constant recipe for heartbreak, but Gustafson said he usually expects a solid connection as these voracious fall fish really "get" the bait. That being said , he''l use the smallmouth tendencies to his advantage. "Those fish are going to come up and jump close to the boat, so you should be prepared to boat flip them," Gustafson said. "You definitely don't want to baby them because if they have a lot of time to play around with it, the spoon is an easy bait for them to throw."
Stetson Blaylock - Shallow River:
High adept at the river game, the Bassmaster Elite Series angler from Arkansas plans his big-fish strategy based on current. In a stagnant, low-flow senario before the fall fronts begin, Blaylock knows the big fish are hanging out on that main river, waiting on the first fronts to push shad back into the creeks. Here he stakes his fortunes on a surprisingly modest presentation."I'll throw a green pumpkin / purple Yum finesse worm on a 3/16oz shaky head on a spinning rod with braid and an 8 to 10 pounder fluorocarbon leader and fish the main river - rock jetties, current breaks, even sand." he said. "You're throwing it around cover just like you'd be flipping ot pitching a bigger bait, but that time of year those big ones will eat that small shaky head just as good. "That time of year if there's no flow, those fish suspend along the side of rock jetties or those sandbar drops where the sand has built up from the spring and summer rains. The fish just get out there and roam and look for baitfish and shaky head is a presentation that you can bomb cast over those flats and sandbars and pitch or flip it like a finesse powerbait."
If the seasonal progression has pushed past the lethargic stuff - maybe the early fronts have brought enough rain to boost current flow - Blaylock's supremely confident in a Booyah Pad Crasher frog in black or shad frog colors. This presentation allows him to efficiently work through some of the key areas fall fish will use for their seasonal feeding. "I feel like those bigger fish are going to move back off the river and into those places where they can chase the shad," he said. "In a shallow river, it's going to be water willow, bank grass - those areas where they can ambush. I feel like throwing a frog is your best option if those fish have started making that move."
Scott Canterbury - Grass Lake:
Expecting a strong schooling tendency, Canterbury's going to keep himself around the migrating biat schools and keep a bold topwater bait handy. His main choice is a 3/8oz to 1/2oz Canterbury Pro Buzz. Other times of the year he likes the 1/4oz version, but the heavier baits bring larger blades and that's just what Canterbury wants to provoking the giants. "I'll use a white trailer and I'll start out with a toad and then go to a swimbait or a fluke if they're not hitting the toad," Canterbury said. "I'm throwing this on 40-pound braided line with a 7'6" medium-heavy Halo rod and a 7.3:1 Ardent reel.
"Big fish tend to be in isolated clumps of grass, so be sure to hit every piece of isolated cover. Also look for points, indentations and irregularities in the grass, that's where a big bass will ambush baitfish." If the schooling subsides either from fishing pressure or midday sun, Canterbury reaches into the water column with a Netbait Big Bopper paddle tail worm rigged on a 5/0 hook with a 5/16oz weight. Swimming this enticing bait through the brass often triggers a whopper that's less inclined to run topside. "That worm is really good if fish are up on a flat in stuff that you can't really see and you're just covering a massive area," Canterbury said. "September in the south is still later summer, so with both of these baits I'd stay in the main lake, but as we move into October the fish will start moving back into the creeks and pockets." Worm bites are pretty straightforward, but Canterbury warns about missing a buzzbait opportunity. The strikes can be thrilling but discipline puts giants in the boat. Plastic trailers help the fish get a better grip on the bait, but Canterbury's big on a measured response. "A lot of people don't like using braid with a buzzbaits because they take it away from the fish, but the rod I use has a soft tip so it lets them get the bait better," he said. "Don't set the hook as soon as you get a blowup, reel down until you feel the fish and then set the hook."
The Hunt For Fall Studs Bassmaster September/October 2020 (David A. Brown pg. 28 - 31).