Great fall fishing has finally arrived
During October, surface water temperatures on reservoirs in East Tennessee begin to drop. As falling temperatures approach seventy degrees, shad move from deep summer holding areas toward the cooling surface. Observant anglers can see this happen when shad begin ringing and flipping along the surface in high numbers. Wind and current soon scatter schools of shad along shorelines and into coves and creek mouths
attracting many species of game fish to shallow water. Therefore, as water temperature drops from high summer peaks toward seventy degrees the variety and density of bait and game fish increases in shallow water. Game fish concentrate and feed most aggressively where water temperature is in their preferred range so warm water fish like large and smallmouth bass are among the first to follow shad into the shallows. When the water temperature reaches the low seventies and shad move shallow, it marks the beginning of some of the best fishing of the year. Then it’s time to cash in some vacation, put that “Honey-Do” list on hold and enjoy some great fall fishing. It’s a wonderful time to be on the water with mild temperatures and beautiful autumn foliage. Though water and air temperatures are similar to those in spring, fishing pressure and recreational boating are much lower so it’s not uncommon to have the fish to yourself after you find them.
Fall is my favorite time of year to fish for largemouth bass. Boone Lake is close to my home and holds a good population of largemouths so I started checking water temperature and baitfish location on Boone the first week of October. Several days later, schools of shad were surfacing in many places on mid-lake areas. By the beginning of the second week, shad schools were plentiful in shallow water so I respooled my reels with fresh line, broke out a selection of bass lures and prepared to fish for largemouth bass. Boone is moderately clear and receives much fishing pressure so I chose lures in smaller sizes in natural shad colors. My first choice in tackle was a medium heavy baitcasting combo with green 14-pound test monofilament line and a 1/4-ounce Lunker Lure buzzbait with a silver blade. I replaced the white
rubber skirt on the buzzbait with a pearl blue glimmer/black pepper skirt to closely match the subtle color and flash of resident shad in Boone’s clear water and added a red 1/0 trailer hook to increase the lures hooking capabilities. Buzzbaits make excellent search baits for bass in shallow water because they can be steered over and through sparse cover where many bass hold. And because they are designed to be retrieved quickly, they often trigger reaction strikes from cautious fish that may not react to slower moving presentations. Buzzbaits also have a reputation for attracting strikes from larger fish. On a medium action spinning combo with 10-pound test clear monofilament line, I tied a five-inch soft-plastic stickbait in blue glimmer/pearl belly rigged weedless on a 1/16-ounce 3/0 Gamakatsu Weighted Superline EWG (Extra Wide Gap) hook to use as a follow-up lure when bass strike and miss the buzz bait. Stickbaits rigged weedless are also effective tools for fishing fallen trees along the shoreline. On a heavy baitcasting combo with 15-pound test P-line Floroclear, I added a five-and-a-half-inch Shad-A-Licious swimbait in Blue Gizzard Shad rigged weedless on a 1/4-ounce 6/0 Yum Money Minnow Swimbait Hook. I often fish this weedless soft-plastic swimbait in places many anglers throw spinnerbaits and it’s a good choice for exploring deeper water. I also packed other reliable bass lures to give me flexibility including spinnerbaits, soft plastics and additional topwater lures. After the three combos were rigged and other tackle stored in the boat, I headed for the lake to spend the afternoon searching for largemouth bass.
I went to the back of a major creek arm at mid-lake, dropped the trolling motor, set it on a low steady setting, and started casting the buzzbait as I worked my way back toward the main channel. After several hundred yards of dissecting ever visible piece of cover along shore with no success, I began to wonder if the bass had moved up yet. When I moved closer to the junction with the main lake, I came upon a small shallow cove. As I rounded the point at the mouth a boil rose behind the buzzbait, so I turned off the trolling motor and began drifting into the center of the cove.
Soon I could see rocks and scattered wood on the bottom in very shallow water. Before I could turn the motor to leave, a four-and-a-half pound largemouth exploded on my buzzbait. While I fought the fish, I noticed several shad rushing by the boat toward deeper water. As I released that big largemouth I realized the bass had moved shallow, but perhaps shallower than I had expected. So I took a moment and carefully studied the cove before I left. The banks surrounding the cove were gradually sloped leaving no more than two or three feet of water in the deepest sections. A few large rocks, a stump or two and some additional wood on the bottom provided good stalking cover for hungry bass. This cove was an ideal place for largemouths to corral and catch shad. So I fired up the outboard and went looking for other coves or shallow cuts with similar features. In minutes, I held another struggling largemouth in my hands. For the remainder of the afternoon, I moved from one shallow cove to another. Out of the eight or nine small coves I fished, six produced strikes from hungry bass and several were good-size fish. A return trip several days later confirmed the pattern was consistent and plenty of good bass were holding on similar structures. On the one early morning trip I made, I found most fish holding on points at the mouth of small coves. But as the sun climbed and water temperature began to rise, many fish moved shallow. By mid to late afternoon, most bass were cruising inside coves in very shallow water.
The buzzbait was an excellent tool for finding fish and making them strike but I missed several. The five-inch stick bait I used as a follow-up lure delivered a low success rate with only one fish caught after many casts to fish I knew were there. I attribute the low success rate to pressured fish in shallow, clear water. The next time I fish Boone for largemouth bass I’ll use smaller stick baits or other lightly weighted soft plastics like tubes or curly-tailed grubs as follow-up lures. In my experience, a properly presented follow-up lure should produce strikes about half the time. The swimbait I took saw limited duty because the buzzbait proved so effective. But I’ll continue to take it for times when conditions are less favorable and bass pull back and hold deeper on points leading into the shallows; though I’ve decided to change to a smaller size on this lure as well. If the water in your favorite bass lake has dropped to the seventy degree range and you see an increase in baitfish activity along the surface, call in sick, pack your favorite tackle and lures and head for the lake because good fall largemouth fishing is underway. Plan to fish the first few hours in the morning, the last couple as the sun sets or all day on overcast days when light levels are low. Stack the odds for success in your favor by focusing on periods of stable weather or a falling barometer three days before or after a major moon phase. And as you fish, watch and listen for surface-feeding fish because as water temperatures continue to drop striped and hybrid bass will join the feeding frenzy. It’s a wonderful time of year to be on the water because great fall fishing is only beginning!