“It’s all about the shad during the fall.”

That quote isn’t attributed because it has been said by countless pros and is pretty much just a fact of fall fishing. Few things in bass fishing are more dependable or important to a seasonal bite than the fall shad migration into creek arms of reservoirs through much of bass country. That said, few things in bass fishing are tougher to tightly define because the timing and nature of the baitfish’s movements varies enormously from water body to water body and often from year to year.

The common denominator is that as summer starts giving way to fall, some shad begin moving into creek arms and bass follow. As the season progresses, more shad gather in bigger schools and move farther up the creeks and shallower. They often spread across big flats on sunny days and move into deeper holes on cool, cloudy days, especially during late fall. Water color, water levels, species of shad present and the amount of creek habitat in a reservoir are among many factors that influence the number of shad that move up and how far they go.

More important than knowing dates or depths to search is simply recognizing the significance of shad to bass locations and behavior and beginning your day moving into a major creek and searching for schools of shad. Unless you already know where the shad are, spend significant time looking in order to figure out the parts of the creek and the depths that are holding the most bait.

The shad might be at the top and defy their own presence by making rings on the surface (or when they flee chasing bass), or you might have to search with electronics. The presence of wading birds or gulls also provides a clue that shad are nearby.

A crankbait is tough to top for covering water in order to find bass once you get in the vicinity of the bait and for imitating a shad. Bass might be out along creek channels or tight to shoreline cover, so keep a few crankbaits rigged and keep moving. Also note that while the presence of shad in an area usually points to bass nearby, the bass may not be immediately with the shad. For example the main shad school might be along the channel edge, and the bass might be mostly in adjacent vegetation or on a stump flat in the same area.

Alabama bass pro Jimmy Mason likes a Middle N for fairly shallow fall cranking and a Deep Little N or DD14 for fishing along creek channel edges. Oklahoma pro Eric Porterfield prefers to go extra small with Deep Baby N or Deep Tiny N. Both pros sometimes turn to a Fat Boy or Mad N for banging shallow cover. Norman has many good shad-imitating color patterns. The best pick varies according to the color of the water and the weather.

Watch for more clues about the shad and the bass as you fish and keep moving until you get bit. When you do catch a fish, repeat the exact same cast and fish that area more before moving along. Also take mental notes about everything from the depth to the cover to your retrieve any time a fish bites.

Follow the shad and listen to the bass, and you can find great fall fishing action.