THE SHAD, CRAWFISH CONNECTION FOR FALL BASS FISHING
article by Kenny Covington
One of the more common beliefs held in bass fishing is when fall sets in is that, bass focus their feeding habits on the overabundance of shad that appear throughout our lakes and rivers. While to a certain degree this is true, I have also found this time of year is an excellent opportunity to use crawfish imitations and colors.
While shad are usually the dominant forage during the fall and early winter, crawfish are still a valuable resource in a bass’ diet. Crawfish provide more nutrients, aren’t digested as quickly as a shad or other baitfish and are much easier for a bass to catch. In addition, bass feeding on crawfish don’t have to spend near the energy as a bass chasing shad, so fish targeting crawfish don’t have to feed as often.
I have noticed the bigger fish I catch this time of year, especially when it gets colder, often times are feeding on crawfish. That’s not to say that larger bass don’t feed on shad because they do, but the crawfish scenario has happened enough for me to take notice. One of my #1 theories in my fall and winter tournaments has always been: shad lures for numbers of bass, crawfish lures for quality bass.
So now that we have put this month’s column in motion, let’s explore the lures I use to exploit this particular theory I have. First of all, the number of lures I choose to use this time of year is probably less than any other time and are all you would need on the deck of your boat regardless of the body of water you fish. These select lures can be effectively used as crawfish or shad imitations and have proven to be solid fish catchers:
The most effective lure ever created for cool or cold water bass fishing is a jig. I have found it to be deadly in the fall. To keep things simple, I keep the size of my jigs basic, it is either a 3/8 or a ½ ounce version and usually have both tied on. I determine my jig size based on water clarity. The clearer the water, the heavier jig I prefer. In stained or muddy water I will use the lighter version. When you are jig fishing the rate of fall is critical, no matter if you are fishing trees, docks or casting it in treetops.
As far as colors go, my first choice is always black/blue this time of year. I will use other colors such as Texas craw in dirty water or a California 420 skirt that I make for clear water lakes like Caney or Claiborne. When it comes to picking out jig trailers, keep things basic. I try to match my trailer to the jig I am throwing, for example, if I am using a Texas craw colored jig, I like a black neon colored trailer. I don’t contrast my colors too much however, I have had good luck using a green pumpkin or a junebug colored trailer with a black/blue jig.
One additional jig note in fall fishing, don’t forget a swim jig. This is deadly when fished around dying grass, lily pad stems, shallow banks or laydowns. The swim jig is an excellent shad imitation and a great tool when bass no longer hit moving baits like a spinnerbait or a Rat L Trap. I use shad color skirts paired with a white crawfish trailer. Once the water temperature goes below 55 degrees I switch to a boot style swimbait trailer.
I target bigger bass when I am throwing a jig, but the true workhorse this time of year is a crankbait. The squarebill crankbait craze we have seen over the past several years has made a lot of fishermen put down their standard crankbaits. I think this is a mistake because I believe I catch more fish on a standard crankbait this time of year than I do with a squarebilled one.
When I use the term “standard crankbait,” I am referring to those styles such as the 200 Series Bandit or the Norman Middle N. The former of the two has caught more fish in this state than probably any other crankbait ever made, the latter of the two is my personal favorite. Both lures are effective fish catchers and allow you to cover a lot of water effectively.
What makes crankbait fishing so effective is you can mimic a crawfish or a baitfish based strictly on the color of the lure you are using and in the depth of water you are fishing. If I am focused on shad I can throw it around areas such as creek channels, flats, standing timber, where shad are in abundance. If I want to mimic crawfish I can choose a crawfish color and pick areas where my bait can dig up the bottom and leave a trail such as an escaping crawfish would do.
For whatever reason I have found, no matter if I am targeting a crawfish or shad forage, a chartreuse color based crankbait will catch fish no matter what body of water you are fishing in the fall. A lot of fishermen I know like a chartreuse with a black back crankbait but my personal favorite color is Firetiger. Another key to this lure is to fish it on 10-12 lb. monofilament, this line size will definitely catch you more fish.
For whatever the reason, if I am catching fish on a spinnerbait, I can’t catch them on a chatterbait and vice versa. I am still learning the nuances of the chatterbait and I must say, it is a lure that stands on its own. As late fall turns to early winter, I have found the chatterbait to be another exceptional fish catching tool. It not only catches numbers but it also can catch the biggest bass in the area you are fishing. And what’s even better? It’s easy to fish.
A chatterbait is the ultimate cast and retrieve lure. I have fished it every way you can imagine but I still catch more fish just simply fishing it. No fancy rod movements or stop and go retrieves, just throw it out and slowly bring it back to the boat. I believe this natural presentation is what makes it such an effective fish catcher once the water cools down. Because of the blade movement, no matter the water clarity, the fish can find it and eat it.
Now the question of “does it resemble a shad or a crawfish.” To me it does both. With the chatterbait I can throw either shad (spot remover or chartreuse/white) or crawfish (orange or red) colors. The chatterbait is an excellent complement to a jig and surprisingly both lures are very similar in how they can be fished. I can crawl them along the bottom or I can swim them in and around grass and both can be very effective when fished around shallow laydowns and isolated tree tops.
Well, it looks like we have run out of space for another month. I hope we were able to share some information with you that will make your next trip to the water more productive. With the weather turning colder and hunting season in full swing, please be careful in the woods and on the water.
Remember, catch one for me! See you next month!