When the leaves are falling and Arkansan Mitch Looper is on the water, chances are that several of his rods have crankbaits tied on. He knows the fish are hungry and making frequent trips to the shallows to feed as the water cools, so he keeps different sizes ready to reach a variety of depths and employs several techniques to fool fall’s feeding largemouth bass.
Crankbaits are top producers during fall for several reasons. They fish fast, meaning that you can quickly cover more water than with slower-styles of fishing. This is important during fall because fish locations can change by the minute. Even the basic “fall migration” of the majority of bass following the baitfish into necks and the backs of creeks means that you begin your day searching for moving fish. Bass also are normally more active and willing to take a moving bait during the fall, whether it’s a feeding strike or a reaction strike. Regardless of reason, crankbaits are simply what bass want to eat in the fall.
Looper, a lure designer and dedicated big-bass fanatic, says that when he’s focused on really big bass he ties on a Fat Free Shad BD7F, the largest and deepest running of the series. It’s got a big profile and quality components that stand up to the meanest bass, and the hundreds of 5-pound-plus bass he’s caught on the lure have given him the confidence to throw the bait every trip, but he admits that there are times when the BD7 runs too deep for the situation. That doesn’t mean he immediately reaches for a shallower-running lure, though.
“A lot of these flatland lakes and creek channels that I focus on in the fall are too shallow for the BD7,” he said, “but I have confidence in that lure and knows it’s one of the best you can use in the fall. I get the BD7 to run shallower by throwing it on heavier line.”
Looper will go up in line size all the way to 30-pound if the situation dictates. While the lure normally runs about 17-feet-deep on 12-pound line, he will fish it on 17 to keep the lure at the 13-foot-or-so level and 25-pound line to keep it at 10 feet.
“I use 30-pound line to run the bait in 7 feet or less when I still want that big bait and wobble,” Looper said. “In all my years of fishing I’ve found that there is no other crankbait that you can run on such heavy line yet retain the fish-catching action like the BD7. You still get all of the action but can use line size to alter the running depth – that makes the Fat Free unique.”
Looper doesn’t limit himself to just the biggest Fat Free during fall. Few other anglers “listen to the fish” as well as he does, and knows that to maximize his opportunities he has to adjust to what the fish want – not on what he wants or thinks they should be caught on.
When fish are extremely shallow a Fat Free Fingerling, Guppy or even Fry can produce more bass than the largest size. This is especially true under high skies and calm winds, which can make bass skittish and wary of the big profile and in-your-face action of a BD7. But even under optimal conditions Looper has discovered that very shallow fish often simply “want” a smaller crankbait.
“My prime time to go with a smaller crankbait is after you get that first good killing frost,” Looper said. “You’ll have a lot of bass up in 2-feet of water no matter where you’re fishing. I go to a smaller-sized crankbait because my experience tells me that’s what they’re feeding on, but I won’t rule out anything.”
Crankbait color pattern is always a decision for the bass angler trying to maximize his or her time on the water. Looper has two distinctly different color patterns to try each trip during fall. One will be a baitfish mimic and the other will have a crawfish look. He refines each of these to the water color and other factors. If the water has a lot of color to it he’ll often go with a baitfish pattern that has a chrome base to it, such as the Dance’s Citrus Shad, and a white base like the Foxy Shad if the water is clear or only medium-stained. If it’s super-clear he’ll often go to a more-realistic or “duller” baitfish look such as Rootbeer Float or Black Pearl. He uses the same reasoning with his crawfish patterns.
“Crawfish patterns are great during fall because the real craws are getting sluggish as the water cools,” he said. “They’re looking for a hibernating spot and become an easy meal for bass.”
Looper also always keeps a Fat Free Shad in Fire Tiger handy during fall to play as a wild card. He says he's not come to any firm conclusions on that color pattern, only that there are times and locations that it seems to work. He'll often start with that pattern and if it works he'll continue with it, but if it doesn't he'll quickly switch to one of the two patterns he knows the fish want during fall.