Autumn is a time of power-eating for largemouth and smallmouth bass, as they pack on as much weight as possible in preparation for the coming winter. It’s also a beautiful time to be on the water. The trees are in full color and pleasure boat traffic is minimal. Add to that the fact that bass ought to be pretty cooperative and you’d better get out there before the snow flies.
Five lures cover the bases for fall fishing. Starting off the day with these five, a big topwater, a shallow running crankbait, a big deep running crankbait, a castable umbrella rig and a jig, and anglers can rest assured they hit every level of the water column to locate fish and identify a productive pattern.
It's important to remember that bass move a lot during fall, but much of it is in relation to the biggest schools of baitfish. In general, bass begin the late summer on the main lake, and work their way back into creeks and river arms as fall progresses. Then, they return back to the mainlake as winter sets in.
Here’s a quick guide on each of the lures and somewhat of a “script” for a good day on the water.
1. Big Topwaters
Everything is bigger in the fall and your lure-choice should reflect that. A big topwater like a Heddon Spook, makes a ruckus and provides a big meal for fall bass. For searching, start off the early morning by working the Spook quickly and covering water.
Depending on your conditions and situations, a switch to a larger-sized popper or chugger may be called for, especially if you get a few strikes while the Spook is motionless.
A key area in Autumn is the backs of creeks and river arms. Depending on the stage of the fall, motor through several creek arms and begin looking for activity starting about half way to the back (earlier in fall, start closer to the creek mouth). Look for schools of baitfish and even schooling fish.
Bass and other predator fish will herd baitfish to the backs of the creeks, then pull back to the main lake when winter kicks in. It's important to check several areas to hit the ones with the most baitfish.
2. Shallow-Running Crankbait
Fall is a great time to fish a shallow running crankbait like the XCalibur Square Lip. Shallow runners are best fished in relatively shallow water and near woody cover, as well as shallow rocky humps with current flowing over them. It's also a great time to just put the trolling motor on high and pound the banks.
Experiment with retrieve speed to find what the bass are looking for on that day. Sometimes it's a lazy retrieve with the lure rolling from side-to-side and other times you must crank like mad to get a strike. Don't be afraid to speed-crank with the XCS Square Lip like some anglers do for smallmouth with a spinnerbait. You'll be cranking along and a bass will dart out of nowhere to snag the lure.
Color patterns can mimic the basic forage such as shad or crawfish, but patterns that feature chartreuse and red can produce more on any given day. Like with retrieves, experiment with various color patterns to define the best for the day.
3. Big Deep Running Crankbait
Say you’ve worked the top and maybe had some success early, but the surface fish have turned off. A big, deep running crankbait such as the Bomber Fat Free Shad BD7 gives the angler so much versatility that it has to be included in this discussion. Just because the BD7 dives to 18 feet doesn't mean you have to work it in deep water. Sometimes slowly working the big crankbait over rock piles and through cover while it digs into the bottom can produce bass, especially if there's some current running through the area.
That's not to say you shouldn't give deeper water a chance. Depending on the stage of the fall, crank the BD7F across long points, starting up shallow and working out to 20 feet or more. Ledges, bars, shell beds and any other similar structure also are prime areas for the big deep runner.
Like with the shallow-running crankbaits, it's often baitfish and crawfish color patterns that produce best in fall, but don't neglect the unnatural ones. Retrieve should be varied until you hit the right one, from cranking fast to slowly dredging. Pause when you encounter cover to mimic a stunned baitfish.
4. Castable Umbrella Rig
The YUM YUMbrella castable umbrella rig and its little brother the Flash Mob Jr. really come into their own during fall and into winter. In truth, the smaller Flash Mob Jr. is effective nearly year-round. Most anglers rig it out with small "crappie-sized" jigheads in 1/8 ounce or so, with pearl or white curltails threaded on each one. A drop of angler's glue will keep them on the jigheads all day long.
But as fall works its way into winter, the big hoss takes over. The full-sized YUMbrella has a knack for finding the biggest bass in the lake and convincing it to bite. It's set lake records ever since its creation, most recently the Grand Lake O' The Cherokees new record bass that weighed more than 12 pounds.
Best rigging for the YUMbrella includes 3- to 5-inch swimbaits, with the biggest reserved for the center lure arm. Most fish strike the center arm, and by using a slightly larger swimbait on it, the rig creates the appearance of a school of fish with a straggler that may be wounded and can't keep up with the rest. It's proven to be a strike trigger that bass have a hard time resisting.
The YUMbrella Flash Mob Jr. can be worked through all but the shallowest water, but the full sized version is best worked in water 8 feet or more. It's perfect for those deep-water areas where big fish hold, such as submerged roadbeds, the ends of long, tapering points and isolated deep-water brushpiles.
Some say there are two kinds of fishermen, jig fishermen and the rest of them. Many anglers always have a jig tied on, and they should, because the jig-and-trailer has probably caught more big bass than any other lure.
While flipping a jig into wood cover is always a good option, low-water levels during fall at reservoirs across the South (and natural lakes up North) often eliminate all but the occasional flipping target. Depending on bottom structure, anglers should select a jig for easy swimming or for crawling over a rocky bottom during fall.
Design for a swimming jig is often left to an angler's preference, but for rocky bottoms nothing performs as well as a football head jig like the Booyah Pigskin. The football-head-shape keeps the jig from wedging into cracks and crevices in the rocks. Select jig and trailer colors depending on the water clarity and the depth you're fishing. For shallow, clear water, a realistic crawfish color can be best. Deeper and muddier water often requires a traditional black-and-blue jig.
Regardless of lure selection, fall is a tremendous time to be on the water. A good plan with these five fall lures is to start at the top and work downward, in other words, start the early morning with the Spook, then go to the shallow running crankbait, and so on. Bass move a lot during fall, so once you locate them, think of other similar areas nearby and check those, too.
Fast action and fall foliage can make for a memorable day and some of the best photos of the year, so don't forget the camera. And pack a lunch.