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Go Small Before Fall

By Nathan Coker
In Fishing with Kenny
Sep 1st, 2023
0 Comments
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article by  KENNY COVINGTON

As I have noted in many of my Bayou Life “Fishing with Kenny” articles over the years, September is the hardest month in a calendar year to catch bass.  In August and September, when most people are in the woods preparing for the upcoming hunting season, I have spent many hours on uncrowded waters trying to figure out the how’s and why’s of the late summer/early fall bass and the difficulty trying to catch them.  Even after all these years, it is still quite the challenge.

The reasons why even the best anglers find this time of the year a challenge can be numerous, but I have pinpointed five I believe to be the most important.  They are water level, water temperature, oxygen content, the size and abundance of shad, and the mood of the bass.  All five have a hand in the successes, as well as the failures, of September bass fishing.  Let’s take a closer look at why these are so important.

When I launch my boat on a body of water, the first thing I take into consideration is the lake level.  Many times this time of year, due to excessive heat and lack of rain in the previous months, the water levels will be as much as two foot lower than the normal pool stage.  This can change the overall complexion of a lake, but it doesn’t have to change your approach when determining the best way to fish it.

The next factor I consider, regardless of the lower water levels, is that a lot of fish on any given body of water will migrate to shallower water, even with water temperatures over 90 degrees, due to the better oxygen content.  Anglers often overlook, and have a hard time understanding, the oxygen content in shallow water often being much better than the water found in the deeper areas of the lake due to the lake’s thermocline.

This thermocline, and the abundance of oxygen created in shallow water, is what causes the mass movement of shad to the surface and shallow water areas.  Of all the factors, I believe the presence of baitfish to be the #1 factor to catching bass this time of year.  The fluctuating water levels, the excessive presence of pleasure boaters, and adjustments required to deal with the higher water temperatures, causes bass to become very finicky and even more difficult to catch.  But there are still ways to catch them!

One of the things I do this time of year, I try to make each day on the water equivalent to a six-rod fishing trip.  My choice of lures is very simple and based on the fact I am usually targeting bass that are feeding on extremely small shad, I rarely go through a multiple choice of lures.  I stick to the ones I have found to be tried and true, and I keep them wet until I can find a concentration of fish.  My six lure choices: a Japanese Shad colored Yellow Magic, a ¼ chrome/blue Rat L Trap, a ¼ white buzzbait, an 1/8 Firecracker colored spinnerbait, a small shad pattern squarebill crankbait and a bitsy flip jig, allow me to thoroughly cover the shallow water depths, from the surface down to about six feet.

My daily plan or my tournament practice day is simple: pick an area of the lake, turn my trolling motor on medium, and cover as much water as I can.  To me, this time of year is about covering water until I find shad or run into a concentration of actively feeding fish, making note of any irregularities I may come across as I fish.  Simple changes in contour or cover can be bass magnets.

I like to start out each morning with the spinnerbait/buzzbait combination, to get a feel for what might be going on in the part of the lake I am fishing.  I like to use the Rat L Trap and Squarebill as complementary lures, especially in areas I may have already covered.  I use the Yellow Magic as more of a specific or individual cover type of lure and it is especially effective when fished around grass.  My bitsy flip jig is a bream pattern with a matching trailer, and is used as a follow up lure in areas covered by faster moving lures.  

A few other things to keep in mind this time of year: depth change, available cover, and water clarity.  Always remember, fish can never be too shallow and if fish are located in a foot of water, two foot of water can be the only depth change they need to hold them.  Cover, or a lack there of, is not always a bad thing.  Bass this time of year are notorious for moving around in packs, chasing bait and not relating to anything, especially when they are found on vast grass flats.  Isolated wood cover can be a big fish magnet and should always be targeted, no matter how isolated it may be.

While it can be important in other times of the year, water clarity is the one variable I seldom consider this time of year.  With water levels low, and little fluctuation, the water will usually be more on the clear side.  One thing about clearer water is you want to make sure your retrieves are faster than you might normally consider, you don’t want the fish to get too good of a look at your offering.  Please note: if I am dealing with highly stained or muddy water, I will adjust my lure colors accordingly, but I will still use the smaller versions.  

Well, it looks as though we have run out of space and time for another month.  I hope we were able to share with you some information that will help put more fish in your boat the next time you hit the water.  Please be mindful of everyone you share the water with and leave your lake better than the way you found it.

Catch one for me and I will see you next month!