Bass Fishing During the Summer to Fall Transition
By: Shaye Baker
It seems a bit premature to start talking about fall fishing with temperatures across much of the country still popping in and out of the 90s, but in reality, we are just a few days from the official start of fall. And with those first couple of cool nights, you’ll see anglers start dusting off their hoodies and rigging up their topwaters and spinnerbaits.
So, let’s go over the first few things to consider as fall fishing ramps up. Knowing what to fish with is just as important as knowing what to look for. Especially as the shad start to push back into pockets and creeks on their way to the shallow flats where they’ll spend most of the fall trying to avoid busting bass. But first, let’s get prepared.
What To Get Ready
In preparation for the fall, while the weather is still quite balmy out, it’s a good time to get your gear ready. It’s around this time of year that I replace a lot of my line. I don’t slow down to do this a lot, so it’s times like this when it’s either super-hot or so cold outside that the fishing isn’t really all that enjoyable that I’ll sit down and re-spool my reels.
Topwaters are a big deal in the fall, so having fresh braid is a big deal. I’ll also throw a topwater on monofilament sometimes, so it’s good to freshen that up a bit too since I haven’t usually used my reels spooled with mono much since the previous fall. But getting your gear ready doesn’t just have to do with line either. It’s a good time to clean and oil your reels and re-organize your tackle boxes as well.
It’s a good idea to go through all your topwaters, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits to make sure they’ve survived their time stowed away in the tackle boxes without the skirts rotting or the metal rusting. Doing a quick once over is a good idea, but look closely too. Make sure you don’t have any bent or dull hooks on your baits and replace them if you do. The last thing you want to do is tie that topwater on for the first time in a year based on a hunch, make a cast and lose a big one.
Where To Look First
Though it’s not the case everywhere in the country, breaking down the migration of shad does set the scene for the majority of the anglers out there when it comes to fall fishing. If your fish are more focused on goby or golden shiners, you should focus on those as well, but for most of the fishing population, look to the shad to know when and where you need to make your move.
As the summer temps begin to decline, huge schools of shad move from the extreme depths they’ve visited over the summer to the mouths of pockets and creeks. This transition only takes a few days for a particular school of shad, but it takes weeks (sometimes months) for the majority of the baitfish to move shallow.
And the bass follow the shad. So as the shad make their way into the mouths of pockets and creeks and up to the surface in some areas over deep water, the bass are right on their tails. Use medium diving crankbaits, lipless crankbaits and topwaters to target these bass. All of these are obvious shad imitators. But this is also a good time of year to offer up something a little different to the bass as well, as they can become a little bored with shad.
This is a great time to use a half-ounce football or casting jig to offer the bass something different that are relating to shad in 12- to 15- feet of water around cover. I’ve often caught more and better fish in this time frame by going in the exact opposite direction of the match-the-hatch mentality that seems to work so well during other times of the year.
Where To Look Next
Pretty quickly, within the first couple weeks of fall, you’ll start to run into those first few schools of shad pushing shallow, into the 5- foot and less range. Getting ahead of some of the other anglers by looking to the shallows early, you’ll catch fish gorging on shad that aren’t as hesitant to nail your spinnerbait or squarebill as they will soon be when the fishing pressure picks up.
Look for big pockets with 45-degree banks that lead back to ditches with flats along the sides. Or follow creeks as they meander back to a similar setup where the creek channel rolls up into shallow water. These are the highways that shad and bass will both use to push further and further back into the shallows as the waters continue to cool through the fall.
Lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits, squarebills, buzzbaits and other topwaters all work well in these areas. Once the bass and shad get this far along in the fall migration, I rarely use a worm or jig anymore. Matching the hatch is typically the way to go at this point, trying to find a bait that does the best job possible of mimicking the size, action, and color of the baitfish present.
It’s a good idea at times to shake things up once there gets to be an overabundance of shad. Try baits that are a little smaller than the baitfish or perhaps mix in something like a chartreuse and black back squarebill—even in clear water—to give the fish just a little something different to look. But only do this if you can’t get bit trying to force feed them the obvious choices that do match the baitfish well.
The fall bite is nearly here, so it’s time to start thinking in that direction. Dust off some of the gear you haven’t used in a while. Make sure your hooks are sharp, your boxes are organized and you’re all stocked up on the fall essentials. Then when you set out on the water, you’ll be well-equipped to hunt down shad and start following their migration until you intersect the bass.