By Brad Wiegmann



The witching hour was quickly approaching. Less than an hour ago the cove we had entered was like a ghost town with no life anywhere, but just before sunset a ghoulish event took place.

Schools of baitfish had moved into the cove like trick-or-treaters and we had the porch light on. As the baitfish feasted on zooplankton like Candy-Corn, predator fish started picking them off like a horror-movie slasher on a pack of teens.

This cycle of gore continues until just about dark when baitfish and bass disappear into the night. The life-and-death scene plays out each evening for a few weeks every October for me here in Arkansas, a little earlier up north and into November down south.

This pattern begins each fall as the leaves begin to die and the water turns over to show its ugly side. When the water temperatures drop below 50 it’s over, gone for another year.
bass jump
The turnover positions fish in certain areas of the lake, usually major feeder creeks or huge flats. It’s always an area with plentiful baitfish nearby.

Early morning and late evening, these clueless minnows move to creeks and coves to feed and bass aren’t far behind. Low-light conditions give bass a feeding advantage and the action can get brutal. As the sun gets up higher in the mornings, the baitfish and bass head to more mainlake areas like middepth flats.

Wind plays a big part in determining where the most violent action will occur. It's not because the wind has physically pushed the baitfish to wind-beaten banks. Instead, it’s the baitfish food that’s pushed to these areas and the shad simply follow this buffet of free-floating zooplankton.

It's the same situation on the flats. Nomadic bass gang up and stalk schools of baitfish throughout the lake. When bass attack baitfish on the flats, however, the melee can get haphazard and you might see bloody, panicked baitfish surfacing anywhere in the main lake.  

It’s logical at this time of year to grab a Spook to throw into the frothing October massacre, but topwater may not be the best option if you’re after big fish. Smaller fish are more apt to chase down their victims, while larger fish wait patiently below for wounded, easy-to-catch baitfish to stagger down to them.

A better option for turning the tables on these murderous bass is a lipless crankbait. You’ll fool plenty of fish with a simple cast-and-crank retrieve, but a few tricks can make your October trips a treat.

Every reincarnation of lipless crankbait has its own unique sound. Some are packed with multiple BBs like the XCalibur Rattle Bait, and make a high-pitched noise that mimics the sound of a feeding school of baitfish.

The XCalibur One Knocker has a distinctive “thunk-thunk-thunk” when retrieved. This lower-pitched sound is pure poison on bass that have seen plenty of regular, multi-rattle baits.

Sound is one aspect, and size is another. Get a look at the size of the shad and try to match it as closely as possible.
xrk
Your retrieve will dictate your success, both in numbers and quality. Here on Beaver Lake where I guide, a lift-and-drop retrieve targets bigger fish than straight cranking. The best thing about the lift-and-drop retrieve is that it's easy to learn.

Cast out and let the lure sink to the bottom, then lift the rod tip upward pulling the bait enough for it to vibrate. Stop once the rod reaches about 11 o'clock and let it fall on a semi-slack line. Watch and feel for the strike since almost every strike happens on the fall.

The countdown technique is another productive way to fish a lipless crankbait. Like the lift-and-drop retrieve, it targets fish that never crash the surface, but simply stay below the school to feast the bodies as they slowly die and sink.

Essential for the countdown retrieve is determining the depth these bass are holding. Once you see the arches on your sonar, just cast and count down 1 second for every foot or so of depth. When you reach the depth of the fish, begin your retrieve.

If the fishing is slow, one tactic that often produces is burning the bait as fast as possible. It's scary how violent strikes are when you’re cranking that bait as fast as you can.

This technique works best with a heavy 1/2- or 3/4-ounce lipless bait. It's also best when utilized in shallow water and around cover or structure.

Because you never know where the fish will surface, casting distance is important and you may need to add some weight to the front of the bait. The best way to this in late October is – of course – with a Boo Rig!

Brad Wiegmann is a talented fishing guide and outdoor writer living in Springdale, Ark. If you’d like to fish with Wiegmann, drop him an email at bwiegmann@cox.net.