Fall is in full swing. The temperatures are cooling rapidly, the leaves have sped through their colorful transformations and many naïve fishermen are getting ready to haul their ice fishing gear out of the garage. Opportunistic anglers can capitalize on this time of the season if they stay committed, as late season fishing can produce big largemouth and smallmouth bass.
What’s the deal?
As the water temperature cools down, bass are going to begin to move deeper. However, this doesn't mean the fishing has turned off! Bass are still feeding, and with the proper focus and know-how, you can still catch quality fish. Since the feeding process has moved down to the depths, you will just need to get your bait in the right spot to start filling those live wells!
Where are the fish?
To summarize this time of year concisely: if you find the bait schools, you will find the fish. These fish are going to school up, but don’t assume that just because the water is cooling down that the fish will too. You will still find aggressive late-season strikes.
One of your best options for finding fish this time of year is deep-water structure. There have been tons of studies done in the scientific community centered on fish relation to structure, and there’s a singular fundamental principle you should take from them – fish relate to any structure they can find. This doesn’t mean you have to find the holy grail of rock piles – a single boulder, or sunken tree stump could do the trick. Use your GPS to find your spots, and fish them until you catch. If you catch on a specific spot, take your time and fish it thoroughly, it means there is bait (and most likely a lot more fish) in that area.
While quality deep-water structures are great choices for hunting down fall bass, you should also be able to find schools of fish staged on steep drops. If you get some nice late-season weather, the mid-day sun will start to heat up surface waters. During this stretch, some fish on the edge will move up on to a shallower point on the shelf to feed. Anglers should focus on the bends of these drops or other contour changes. Look for points and cuts, these are the same spots fish like to use as ambush points on bait.
If you don’t have the GPS technology to truly dissect the lake, take a look at Fishidy as a resource to find spots. Their mapping tools, partnered with Fishing Hotspots maps, provides some valuable intel for spot searching before you hit the water. Try to find deep drop-offs, where fish can stack up on to feed but also have convenient access to deeper water.
How do you catch them?
There are a couple different options for late-season baits that will consistently produce if put in the right spot. You can work deep running crankbaits at a steady pace, slow-rolling them in a path parallel to the edge you’re fishing. You can do the same thing with spinner baits, taking breaks in your retrieve to let the bait sink before giving it a slight jerk motion to get it back on track.
Lighter-profile soft plastics will produce bites if you “match the hatch” – just do a little research into what baitfish reside in the waters you’re fishing. A simple Google search should provide all the information you need. Dropshot rigs can do the trick on deep structure, using plastics from companies like Berkley to draw a power strike. Silver buddies are another great baitfish imitation lure for deeper fish. Try to position yourself on top of the bait school and work this lure vertically.
Just because you’re fishing deep doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take wind into consideration. The wind can still be your friend when it comes to getting a school of fish biting. The concept of wind-blown shores helps in picking an ideal spot to spend your time (wind currents will carry baitfish towards the shore). What most people don’t consider* is that a heavy wind duration (how long the wind blows) and fetch (the distance over which the wind blows) can generate enough force on water to produce an opposing shore counter-current. You can take advantage of this by staging yourself on any points or edges just off shore of the windblown side of the waterway.
*Note: the contour of the windblown shore, such as how steep of a drop-off precedes it, will determine the strength of the deep-water countercurrent.