Finding the Best Fall Fishing

The fall period offers some of the best fishing of the year because most game fish feed heavily as day length decreases, many in shallow water where baitfish are attracted to cooling surface temperatures. However, finding good fishing is rarely that easy. Weather patterns, water temperature and condition are still important considerations when deciding when and where to fish. Ignore any of these factors and you may drive by great fishing on the way to a long day of poor results.

The impact of weather on fish activity during fall is similar to that in spring, though the effect of high-pressure systems and accompanying lower temperatures is less intense because falling water temperatures won’t drop below the preferred range of most game fish until late in the season. Nonetheless, most shallow water feeding activity decreases with clearing skies so anglers must make adjustments in time-of-day, location and presentations to enjoy good fishing success as weather patterns change. I monitor barometric pressure to help me decide when and where to fish and what species I’ll fish for based on whether the barometer is rising, falling or stable. Stable or falling pressure often supports the best shallow-water fishing but changes in location and target species can keep you catching fish when the barometer is rising and skies are clear and blue.

Fishing for largemouth bass moves to the top of my preference list this time of year. When surface temperatures begin falling and baitfish move shallow in October, I grab my tool box of largemouth lures and go to work. As water levels drop in reservoirs during fall, many bass move and feed closer to deep water along main-lake shorelines so shallow coves and smaller tributaries that produced good catches during spring often hold few fish. Because the best bass fishing occurs most around shallow structure, I have many lures that fish well through heavy cover so scattered floating leaves are little deterrent when choosing places to fish, though I avoid places where the surface is covered with mats of fallen leaves. In heavily fished waters, I use lures with natural finishes and actions like swimbaits, soft-plastic stickbaits and topwaters to fool educated fish conditioned by fishing pressure. Where floating leaves are present, I use weedless versions of these or similar lures. When deciding when to fish for largemouths, weather patterns must always be considered. Rising barometric pressure and bright clear skies offer poor conditions for largemouth fishing in shallow, open water anytime so I schedule my fishing time during periods when the barometer is falling or stable. Also, a major moon phase or lunar feeding period during time spent fishing for bass can make the difference between a good day and great day of fishing. Water temperature isn’t an important consideration for shallow-water largemouths during fall until surface temperatures begin dipping below about sixty degrees. Bass remain active and shallow in these and lower temperatures but deeper water and slower presentations begin to shine in cooler water. Also, as in spring, the colder the water the more likely the best fishing will occur in mid-afternoon when surface water temperature and the fish’s metabolism peaks.

Hybrid striped bass are another favorite target species during fall, and for good reason. Catching big fish on topwater lures is an adrenaline-pumping experience and hybrids offer some of the most exciting topwater fishing of the year throughout the fall period. In reservoirs where they’re present, you can find hybrids in places that hold the highest concentrations of baitfish in mid-lake sections or where large tributaries join the main lake. Dense baitfish concentrations always attract schools of game fish so be prepared to cover water with your depth finder on until you find them. Feeding hybrids are voracious predators that often circle and drive baitfish against the water’s surface before attacking. When feeding begins, it’s hard to miss jumping baitfish as they try to escape the onslaught among the splashes of feeding predators. My first choice in lures for surfacing hybrids is a Super Pop R or other popping lure. Zara Spooks are another good choice and similar rubber-bodied weedless versions work well where the water’s surface is littered with leaves. When surface feeding stops, it’s hard to beat a 1/2-ounce rattling lure like a Rat-L-Trap with a chrome finish. You can cast these lures a mile, cover water at various depths and they’ll attract strikes from many species of shallow-feeding game fish. Hybrids have a tendency to stay close to the dinner table so unless conditions change they frequently stay in the same area for extended periods and often becoming predictable in their feeding habits. If you see them smashing baitfish between five and seven o’clock in the evening, be in the same spot the next day by four-thirty with fresh line, sharp hooks and high expectations because the same scenario is likely to repeat. But hybrids, like largemouths, respond negatively to weather changes that bring clearing skies and a rising barometer. When this weather pattern develops, you may find some surface activity but feeding usually shifts into deeper water with less intensity.

So under stable weather, or when the barometer is falling, I prefer fishing in reservoirs with good populations of largemouth bass and hybrids during fall. I choose lake sections with the highest concentrations of baitfish and cast to main-lake flats, points and fallen trees for bass while I watch for signs of surface feeding along the main river channel. Fish this setup under stable weather or an approaching front and you’ll often find good mixed-bag fishing for bass, hybrids and other shallow feeding predators. But as in spring, the arrival of cold fronts is common so high blue-bird skies, falling temperatures and rising pressure are frequent visitors. When this weather pattern arrives I shift from shallow-feeding predators in still water to those in moving water. Smallmouth bass fishing in rivers is a good choice if you use lures weedless enough to fish through the plentiful fallen leaves and other floating vegetation. Leave lures with exposed hooks at home, pack your most reliable weedless soft plastics and you can enjoy good fishing for smallmouth bass in rivers throughout fall when water clarity is normal. However, when skies are clear and blue, I prefer to move to cleaner water in tail-waters where trout are plentiful and active.

My good friend Andy Barnes caught this big tail-water brown under clear skies and a rising barometer soon after the sun fell below the horizon.

Trout fishing in tail-waters is a more reliable choice during cold-front conditions when most shallow water fishing is poor. Moving water negates some of the affect of clear skies and rising pressure and trout are less affected by clearing conditions because of their feeding habits. So when a high-pressure system moves in during fall, I start checking generation schedules below local dams to find the right combination of water flow and time of day. When generators are off or flow is lowest I fish for trout during low-light periods in early morning or the last few hours before dark. Under these conditions, thin low-visibility lines and small lures are the best choice in tackle and trolling is the best approach for covering water to find feeding fish. When generation is moderate to high, I move to swift water closer to the dam and cast to current edges with larger lures and heavier tackle. In high swift water rainbows and browns may feed all day under the clearest skies though periods of low light often produce the most and largest fish, especially big browns. Hard-bodied minnow lures in natural baitfish colors are top choices for tail-water trout throughout fall if you match lure size to the rate of flow. Smaller sizes fool feeding fish in slow current where visibility is best; larger sizes often run better in swift current and are easier for trout to see in turbulent water. Where floating leaves are present, swimbaits rigged weedless in similar sizes and colors are good choices. Tail-water trout fishing remains good well into winter because these fish prefer a lower range of temperatures than most game fish. Then, as water temperatures continue to fall, tail-water trout become a more reliable choice for good fishing.

So weather patterns, water temperature and condition are important factors to consider when deciding where and when to fish as well as which species to target. Make the correct decisions and adjustments in tackle and lure selection and you’ll catch more fish during this beautiful season of change. If you’d like to learn more about how I apply changing weather, water temperature and other environmental factors to my seasonal fishing game plan, pick up a copy of book and refer to Chapter 4: Peak Fishing Periods. With a basic understanding of how various fish react to changes in their environment, you’ll enjoy greater fishing success.

Posted on November 7, 2012, in Fall Fishing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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