Understanding Fall Bass Fishing Techniques: Follow the Baitfish
Bass fishing in the fall can be a seriously tough task. Fall is a time of change, and fish are on the move. Fall is marked by dropping air and water temperatures, and this creates a shift in behavior in both baitfish and bass. This season can however be a time of successful days on the water, as bass are feeding aggressively as they prepare for the winter.
Two Key Periods
The fall fishing season is divided into two different periods or sections. Namely: Early Fall and Late Fall. These periods are significantly different, however, they have one thing in common, and that is that fish are moving throughout both periods.
One needs to acknowledge each of these periods and adjust their approach for each. I’ll be discussing the key processes within each period, as well as techniques to catch more fish in both.
The end of the summer days, and it starts off with a few cold fronts which ultimately bring a gradual drop in both air and water temperatures. Water temperatures are between the low 70’s and low 50’s, and this will continue to drop throughout the season.
This drop in temperature brings about the movement of baitfish, which is essential to understand when fishing throughout this season. Baitfish start moving from deeper, main channels into shallower, warmer waters. They will generally cruise up the back of creeks and into more narrow pockets.
Bass will notice this movement very quickly, and as they realize that winter is potentially near, their lust for feeding increases. This results in bass following baitfish into these shallower areas. As Mike Iaconelli says: “Bass will follow baitfish like wolves”. For this reason, anglers need to focus on finding baitfish. Where there are baitfish, there will be bass - especially during fall.
Rather than fishing deeper channels as you did in the summer, rather move in on shallower flats and pockets. The chances are, baitfish have moved off into these areas as the temperature gradually decreases.
Lures for Early Fall
Lure selection is essential during the early fall period, and this again should be split up into two different sections or approaches.
Once I’ve found shoals of baitfish in shallower areas, the first kind of lure I’ll be throwing is a reaction bait. This way I can cover plenty of water quickly, and increase my chances of finding bass. The water temperature should still be warm enough to get consistent bites on these patterns.
These are the kind of reaction baits you should look to throw during early fall:
- Crankbaits and Lipless Crankbaits: Imitate baitfish very well and have a great chance of eliciting a reaction bite.
- Spinnerbaits: An amazing lure during this period. Can imitate a small shoal of baitfish. Spinnerbaits are more effective when there is wind - so keep an eye out for this.
- Topwaters: Outside of post-spawn, early fall could be one of the better times to throw a topwater. Walking baits and Buzzbaits are both great options.
- Swimbaits: Shad or any other baitfish imitations are going to work well in this period.
- Jerkbaits: The perfect imitation of a wounded baitfish - bass struggle to resist a jerkbait in this time of change.
In terms of colors, you’ll want to match the natural color of the baitfish in your lake. Shock colors also work well as they’ll stand out amongst the huge shoals of baitfish.
Once the bite quietens down, but you’re still in and amongst baitfish, turning to your spinning rod may be your best bet - it’s finesse time.
If the fishing slows down, or you’re just not getting any bites on the reaction baits - it may be a better call to throw finesse presentations. I always like to start with reaction baits, and then move to finesse afterward. Again, your best bet is to imitate baitfish, even when throwing light.
In my opinion, these are some of the better finesse options during early fall:
- Fluke: A classic. Thrown weightless will imitate a baitfish accordingly.
- Finesse Swimbaits: Also a great baitfish imitation, and there are several ways you can rig it.
- Wacky Rig: Although not the ideal imitation, the wacky rig is an epic follow-up bait.
- Caffeine Shad: Not exactly finesse, but this bait can stiff imitate a baitfish. A Caffeine Shad in a clearer color thrown weightless is one of my go-to soft plastics.
- Drop Shot: A finesse worm on drop shot rig can often imitate a wounded baitfish at the bottom of the water column.
Once again, your key focus needs to be on baitfish during this period. Base most of your bait selection on what the bass are feeding on in the shallower creeks/flats.
Summary and Tricks for Early Fall
- Move into creeks and pockets where there is shallower water - the baitfish head this way as water temperature drops.
- Your primary focus should be on finding baitfish.
- Slightly stained water is a better option than perfectly clear water. Baitfish will hug the stained water for nutrients and protection.
- Lure color selection should be based on the baitfish within your lake. Shock colors should be tried, as they may stand out amongst the many shoals of baitfish.
- Shock color flukes or finesse swimbaits are a great option when there are plenty of baitfish around.
- Color-bladed spinnerbaits will also stand out more in the huge shoals.
The second key period and definitely the harder one when it comes to catching fish. This period is close to winter, as water temperatures are moving toward the lower 40’s. As we know, bass become a lot less active in winter - but this isn’t quite winter yet, so they are still feeding pretty actively.
Late Fall is marked by the continual plummet of both air and water temperatures. Vegetation is pretty much gone, and the days are feeling a lot shorter. The continuous drop in water temperatures results in baitfish moving back into deeper channels or main drop-off areas. They may stay within the deeper creeks, or they may move back into the main lake channels.
The bass’s reaction to this is similar. They notice that their abundance of food is slowly dropping, so they also make the move back into deeper channels, as they know winter is near. Bass will group together in this period, and migrate onto well-defined transition areas, hugging cover objects such as logs or rocks. Rather than rushing to deeper waters, bass will naturally follow contours, and slowly make their way to their more stationary winter zones.
One will notice the significant drop in baitfish within the shallower areas and should look to find deeper channels.
Lures for Late Fall
Lure selection will change considerably in late fall compared to early fall, but again, this should be divided into two different sections or approaches.
Finding bait balls in deeper channels can be a difficult task, but once its done, the chances are there will be bass grouped up in a similar area. I still like to try my luck with reaction baits during this period - even though the water is considerably colder. I tend to slow down my retrieve - as bass are definitely more lethargic.
Here are some of my favorite reaction baits for late fall:
- Deep/Medium Crankbaits: Again, they imitate baitfish very well, and if you find bass - you’ve got a chance of a reaction hit.
- Suspending Jerkbaits: The erratic action that imitates a wounded baitfish is a great call during this period. I like a slow rise.
- Jigs: Bass aren’t focused purely on baitfish anymore - and craw-like jigs become more prevalent in this period.
Again, if there is little action - I’ll turn to some sort of finesse presentation. I’ll switch to this faster in late fall compared to early fall.
A slower, lazier action may be a better option during the late fall period. As you’ll be fishing deeper channels, bottom contact becomes increasingly important.
Here are some options for finesse baits during the late fall period:
- Shaky Head: One of my favorite finesse applications. A slightly heavier jighead may be a better option when fishing a shaky head in this period- especially when fishing deep.
- Drop Shot: One of the better options when fishing deep channels.
- Wacky Rig: A weighted wacky rig may be a good call - to ensure you get deep enough.
- Ned Rig: The ned rig is one of a finest craw imitators out there - perfect for both smallmouth and largemouth
Although this is starting to look like winter lure selection, bass will still be looking to feed - as they gear up for the winter.
Summary and Tricks for Late Fall
- Baitfish will move back into deeper channels.
- Bass will also return to deeper areas, with less desire to feed because of lower water temperatures.
- Move away from shallower zones - look for isolated cover points in deeper areas.
- Bass will group up and sit amongst large cover points.
- Once a sweet spot has been found (bait balls and isolated points), keep switching presentations.
- Marked isolated cover with GPS.
- Take note of warm rain events. This can result in baitfish and bass reversing their actions and tracking back to shallow areas.
Although winter is right around the corner, fall is a season where plenty of fishing can be done. One can find bass in a feeding frenzy during the fall, which is always an exciting time. Another bonus of this season, as that there is a drastic decrease in fishing pressure (hunting season).
Learn what works best for you during this period, and use this guide as a starting point. Taking note of factors such as water temperature and air temperature will also play a key role in determining where the baitfish are located.