October and November are synonymous across much of North America with bright foliage and falling leaves, pumpkins and the harvest moon, fog and frosts, football games and soccer games, and – what have I left out? Fishing?
Yes, fall does mean fishing for some people, especially bass fishing, though you wouldn’t know it since many bodies of water seem deserted in fall.
If the weather and the water are still warm where you fish for bass in these months, think late-summer patterns and deep fishing, especially on reservoirs.
You can find some small bass in shallow areas where there’s cover, and around vegetation, but bigger fish are likely to be in deep ambush spots – creek channels, humps, and dropoffs – where you need to use a jigging spoon, Carolina-rigged worm, jig and pork, or possibly a deep-diving crankbait.
The Herding Phenomenon
In big reservoirs, shad will soon start to move and this will likely get bass to act more like schooling fish than they do at other times, following massive pods of bait. When bass, which are normally object- and cover-oriented, start to react to the shad, which are not object- and cover-oriented, several things are likely to happen.
One is that you may find bass chasing schools of baitfish in open water, that is, away from the banks. This may occur near or along the edges of cover, especially vegetation. Surface lures, lipless crankbaits, and some lead- or metal-bodied lures, are good for schooling bass that chase shad. Be observant and watch for this activity; sometimes schooling action occurs suddenly, so keep a rod ready and rigged with an appropriate lure that you can fire quickly to the edges of the breaking fish.
If you just want to chase shad schools on the theory that bass will be around them, then you must rely on sonar to find and stay with the schools. But this is only marginally effective. Shad are here and there so quickly that you lose the schools often, spend too much time searching, and are likely to spook them or nearby bass with persistent electric or outboard motor noise.
Another scenario is that as the water starts to cool, baitfish schools move from open areas back into creeks and coves, and may get herded into these areas by bass, so your focus should shift to the mouths of such places and then to the interior or upper portions. This is also the time to pay attention to main lake points, which are a natural edge passage point and which often find bass and baitfish gathered.
Again, use fast-moving lures in these locations. This is also a time when lures with some sparkle and glitter -- in effect having flash that might suggest a moving baitfish -- are likely to be especially productive.
Structure and Shallow Water
When you don’t find a lot of baitfish in creeks and coves it doesn’t necessarily mean that the bass aren’t there or that the baitfish won’t come around eventually. Thus, shoreline structure, like brush, logs, fallen trees, etc., are places to work, perhaps with surface lures if the light is low, and otherwise with a spinnerbait, jig, or Texas-rigged soft worm. Bass stay in these places waiting for shad to come by, since ambushing is more in their nature and there is a lot of shad movement. Retrieve worms and jigs slowly, perhaps flipping them into thick cover if the water is dinghy; fish spinnerbaits slower as the water cools, even slow-rolling them in places.
In many natural lakes and ponds, especially in northern latitudes, there is no shad population and thus no pattern of bass following huge schools of these baitfish. There may be sporadic activity in which bass bust schools of shiners (or, less occasionally, alewives), but this is more a situation in which bass react in a sudden moment to a mobile school of shiners rather than aggressively follow them.
Bass do move into shallower areas of natural lakes and ponds, however, as the water cools, and they can also be receptive to lures with a flashy, suggestive appeal. Sand and rock points likewise become feeding locations, and the edges of weeds deserve special attention.
Not Too Fast
In smaller bodies of water, I don’t find a fast retrieve much of a benefit. And with surface lures it’s just the opposite. Fall is a great time to enjoy surface fishing, but if you work poppers, chuggers, and stickbaits too hurriedly in waters where the fish aren’t accustomed to the frenzy of plundering schools of baitfish, you’ll mostly be ignored.
One of my most preferred lures for these places is a minnow plug with a single tailspinner, which is often fished without any movement other than an occasional twitch that darts the plug forward a smidgeon and causes the spinner to briefly whirl and splash the surface; I can’t tell you how many fish just slurp this kind of lure instead of slam it, and, as a result in clear water, I especially like to light-line such a lure with a spinning outfit.
When the water is cooling, I also like minnow plugs without spinners, fished very slowly on the surface or, especially over thick and now-dying weeds, a suspending minnow plug that is twitched just under the surface. September bass in natural lakes and ponds may be getting paunchier, but that doesn’t mean they’re swimming around like food vacuums.
Here Comes the Wind
One thing that eventually occurs on all but the smallest bass waters in early to late fall is wind. Changing weather patterns bring wind, which can whip up the surface. This can help super-oxygenate wind-blown areas, which is especially helpful in larger lakes that experience fall turnover. Otherwise it helps stack up plankton, which draws numbers of baitfish and also bass. So, even though it’s more comfortable to get out of the wind, and more difficult to maneuver for casting when rocked by the wind, pay attention to windward shores. This is especially true in places where baitfish are likely to get stacked up because of natural funneling (like between islands). Minnow plugs are good here, and also shallow-running crankbaits or lipless crankbaits.
I’ve mentioned a number of different lures for early fall bass fishing, albeit for different situations, as well as a variety of places to seek early fall bass. Which brings up a closing thought: use your head and be adaptable during this season. Nothing is guaranteed, except nice foliage.