Fishing the Fall Transition
Bass fishing is an art and a science. Each year, our knowledge of the sport increases exponentially with new products, technology, and time on the water.
However, one aspect remains the same; bass behavior and locations always change with the seasons. Understanding these underlying seasonal patterns are critical to becoming a better fall bass angler.
Right now, in many parts of the country, we are beginning to see the early stages of the fall transition. Depending upon the area of the country, this can start as early as September in the northern tier states and November in southern waters.
Two keys that trigger this transition are water temperatures and daylight hours. Both factors contribute to location changes and technique modifications.
The key to locating bass as the fall transition begins depends on your geographical location and type of lake. Bass stay closer to summer haunts in natural lakes like the Great lakes, tidal waters and Florida lakes. They tend to use the same cover and structure from about June into November on these waters.
Man Made Lakes
The most noticeable transitions happen on man-made lakes. Water levels, current, water temperature and daylight hours will cause a migration of bass into the shallower water—such as the backs of coves and creek arms. Much of this is due to bass following threadfin and gizzard shad into these areas. Baitfish movement is a key pattern, and early in the fall, the shad will be at their shallowest. By the time the water temperature has cooled off below 50 degrees, they will begin moving deeper. This baitfish movement can be very unpredictable. That is why it’s important to follow the bait and keep an eye out for it visually and with your electronics.
These transitions occur slowly, as surface water temperatures must begin cooling at a consistent rate every week to see movement. For example, let’s take Lake of the Ozarks, in Missouri. This is a textbook man-made lake with distinct fall transition features.
On Ozarks, the water temperature in early September is usually around 80 degrees. By the end of September, it will be closer to 70. And by the end of October, around 60.
Climate change is keeping the water warmer later into the year, so the fall transitions come later now than they did 30 years ago. Given this, an angler should focus their transition efforts on the specific water temperature—rather than a given month.
On Ozark, and lakes like it, a typical transition goes like this: In early September, an angler might be catching bass in brush piles located in 15 feet of water. Maybe a few around deeper docks and points.
At this time, there is not much activity in the back of the coves or creek arms. Once October rolls around, anglers begin to see a decrease in activity in brush piles and deeper points and start catching some fish on shallower docks midway back in the coves and creeks, in—for example—7 feet of water.
As the water temperature falls into the upper 50’s to low 60’s, few bass are on points and brush piles, and the dock fish in the coves have moved even shallower and further back into the coves and creeks in pursuit of shad.
On natural lakes, the movement will be more subtle. For example, on Lake St. Clair in Michigan, many of the bass are living in 15-20 feet of water in the first week of September. By mid-October, those same bass have moved onto shallower flats in 5-8 feet of water. In Florida lakes like Kissimmee and in tidal waters like the Potomac River, bass in early September will be living in heavy cover like matted grass and pads.
As fall moves along, these natural lake bass will leave this thick cover and transition onto more open flats.
Lure selection on man-made lakes favors moving hard baits. The WIGGLE GRIFFON, VIBRATION-X ULTRA and new DEEP-X100 LBO are great choices as the bass move into the coves and creek arms. Covering water and paying close attention to isolated wood and rock with these baits will produce good results. If the water has over 2 feet of visibility, topwater lures like the POPMAX and DIAMANTE are also excellent choices.
On natural lakes down south, frogs like the BIG GABOT (still in development) fished around shallow grass are great producers. One of the best baits for open water or sparse grass situations is the KNUCKLE LD.
On Northern lakes, the transition from early September to November will see lure choices like drop-shotting or swim-shotting a HAZEDONG SHAD, burning spinnerbaits like the V-9 or full-throttle DIAMANTE fast-walking becoming increasingly productive as the water cools and bass move shallow.
And finally, fall fishing has a wide window of time during the day for opportunities. Early can always be good, but as the water cools, mid-day can also provide some of the best fishing.
So, while so many other anglers are off watching football or are on hunting trips, take advantage of the fall transition. It can be some of the best hard bait fishing of the year!