Follow the Shad… Find the Bass
article by Kenny Covington
I love hunting season. The days are getting shorter, the nights cooler, but even better the lakes are void of fishermen. It is a time to catch numbers of bass but also a time to catch big bass. As lake temperatures begin to drop, bass realize it is time to feed up for the upcoming winter, often times doing so in large schools, and when you find such a scenario, it is bass fishing at its finest.
The key element in the fall has always been the presence of shad. Threadfin shad will travel in giant schools and are not hard to locate with a keen eye. During this time, bass will follow these schools of baitfish up creek channels, into sloughs or over and around shallow flats, gorging themselves preparing for the upcoming winter.
So now that we have established the importance of shad in our fall fishing, the next question is what are the keys to finding the bass that are feeding on them? First, it depends on what type of water I am fishing. If I am fishing the Ouachita River system, I will go to one of the major creeks or river lakes and begin fishing my way towards the back of it. If I am not seeing evidence of the presence of shad or their surface activity, I will not stay in an area for very long.
If I am on Lake Claiborne, I will run to the very backs of the creek arms and begin working my way to the front. I realize this is the opposite of what I said about fishing rivers, but it is my experience that while fishing lakes the very back ends consistently are more productive do to the natural set up of flats and available vegetation. In river systems, they can be in one area one day and gone the next.
The idea is to cover water based on the availability of the shad in an area, by doing so, the better the chances I have for my success rate to go up. Fall bass are usually very active, and I want to use their aggressiveness to my benefit. In the springtime, bass are concerned with spawning; in summer, they are largely nocturnal and can be hard to catch; in winter time, they eat less and move very little making them harder to locate. Rest assured, wherever you find bass in the fall, they are usually active and have one thing on their minds, eating!
Tools of the trade:
I will use search lures for most of my fall fishing. I like to cover water, and while doing so, present my lure to as many possible active fish as I can. Here are five lures I will use throughout the fall months:
Spinnerbait: I generally like a white or chartreuse/white 3/8 ounce double willow leaf combination for my starting point, when I choose my spinnerbait for this type of fishing. The blades closely represent the size and shape of the shad in our waters, and it allows for versatility with its presentation. As a rule, I generally keep the bait high in the water column where I can see the lure, allowing me to see the fish when it strikes.
Spook: Probably the best all round fall topwater bait, the Spook is also a good way to catch a better than average size fish. One of the common complaints about fishing a spook is the difficulty in learning the correct presentation. I have found that throwing this lure on 30 lb. braided line tends to make walking the bait much easier while also increasing your hook up ratio due to no line stretch on the hook set.
Crankbait: Fall is a great time to fish a crankbait, and I generally have at least 2 rods rigged with different styles. One will be a square billed variety, such as the Luck E Strike RC2 in Green Minnow, and the other will be a Norman Middle N in the same color scheme.
Rat L Trap: A fall bass fishing standard, the Rat L Trap has arguably caught more schooling bass than any other lure. Often times, I will have both the ½ ounce and ¼ ounce versions tied on and will 98% be chrome/blue in color.
Carolina Rig: The one bottom based technique that is killer in the fall is the Carolina rig. Once I have an area located with active fish, before I leave it I will take a few minutes and probe around with the C-rig. Bait size can be critical as well as color, but I tend to have my best luck using a four-inch, cotton candy finesse worm with the tail dipped in chartreuse. This set up will allow you to catch a few extra fish not willing to chase a more active presentation.
In closing, I want to remind you that fall is an excellent time to catch bass on our local waters. Cover water until you find an active school of bass, and you can have the type of day you will remember for years to come. Please be careful, and catch one for me! Until next month, see you on the water!