As we move away from the dog days of summer, anglers are faced with a whole new set of conditions and challenges. The days are getting shorter, the mornings are noticeably cooler and the bass will undoubtedly be starting their fall transition.
Fall fishing can be tricky to figure out, but if you spend time at it and cover enough water, you will find that autumn can offer some of the best fishing seen all year. Many anglers will be storing their boats, while others will have their sights set on a whitetail and their minds in the woods. Leaving the water open to those willing to unlock the puzzle that can be early fall fishing.
I recently jumped in the boat with Elite Series rookies Jordan and Matt Lee to discuss this phenomenon beginning across much of the country. The Lee brothers depend on being able to find bass and put them in the boat no matter the time of year, whether they are competing on the Bassmaster Elite Series or taking guide clients on Lake Guntersville.
When the leaves start to change, the Lee brothers generally handle the bass in one simple way; they fish fast. Whether targeting smallmouth in the North, fickle river bass in the Midwest, or Guntersville giants at home, they know their best chances at running into bass in the early fall is by covering water.
Where to Start
Anywhere they go in the country, Matt and Jordan Lee look to break the lake or river down into manageable sections. Matt Lee looks wind first in the early fall.
“You can make catching bass a whole lot easier on yourself, if you chase the wind,” Matt said. “The wind is going to churn up the water some and get the baitfish more active in that area, which in turn is going to bring in the bass. Especially in fall, because bass are moving around so much anyway.”
By listening to this logic, finding an area to start your efforts in the fall can be as easy as licking your finger and throwing it in the air, whichever way the wind is blowing is where you should be headed. More than wind, another easy to notice, yet important and overlooked factor that can put more bass in your boat is finding stained water.
“In the fall I am always going to start with the most colored water I can find,” Jordan added. “From my experience, stained water will make those roaming bass relate to targets better. That way you can cast to individual docks, rocks, or laydowns and you have a better chance of a bass being around it.”
Making a decision like following the wind or finding dirty water may not seem like huge deal, but these can be details to “make or break” a day of fishing so to speak. Bass are moving a lot during the fall, you simply aren’t going to find them everywhere throughout a lake or river.
Paying attention to the little details can greatly tip the odds in your favor for catching a lot of bass versus scratching your head and wondering where you went wrong.
Baitfish Key but not only key
“Follow the baitfish” is mentioned almost every time fall fishing is discussed, mostly because it is tried and true. Some nomadic fall bass will undoubtedly be following schools of baitfish around, whether it is shad, herring, or some other tasty morsel.
While the Lee brothers know following the baitfish works, they admit it is not always necessarily the cure-all to fall fishing, especially early fall.
“All lakes are going to fish differently; it’s not like you can just graph for a school of baitfish, and boom, you’ve found the bass,” Matt said. “I’ve seen times where you can be around swarms of baitfish and still can’t catch a bass. I tend to cover water on a fishery until I get a few bites in the same general area. The fish may not be ganged up directly with baitfish, but they’ll be here and there in a certain section.
“Don’t get me wrong, you want to be around bait if you can help it. But focus on isolated cover on a flat, or something like a lone stretch of docks, and you’ll catch more bass in early fall.”
When schools of baitfish get shallow in the backs of creeks during mid to late fall it is often extremely easy to catch bass feeding on them because they have the bait trapped. In late August and early September, however, not all those baitfish are going to rush to shallow water. Jordan echoed much of what his brother said.
“I’m going to run and gun fishing things like rip-rap, grass lines, or laydowns to find them in the early transitional period,” Jordan agreed. “Those fish tend to favor one type of cover to the others that time of year and you can figure them out better with each bite. Every bite is a clue.”
Coupling wind, stained water, and covering these favorable types of cover for early fall bass gives the Lee brothers the confidence to put their head down and fish without second guessing what they’re doing.
Lee Brothers’ Fall Bass Lure Selection
Every bit important as the area(s) and the cover types the Lee brothers focus on is the gear they use to attack theses structures.
“Instead of pitching a jig or soaking a worm like a lot of other anglers, I’m gonna pick up a moving bait and throw the trolling motor on high,” Jordan said. “You make yourself so much more efficient at covering water and will put the bait in front of more fish throughout the day.”
No matter where you go in the country, a squarebill crankbait will catch fish, especially when the leaves begin to change and fall begins.
“A Strike King 1.5 or 2.5 is probably the most versatile lure I have in my tackle box, you can throw that thing anywhere,” Jordan said. “Rip-rap, laydowns, grass, docks, open water; I mean those things just flat out catch fish, especially in the fall when bass like to key in on small baitfish. The name of the game with a squarebill is deflection; the more stuff you’re banging your bait off of, the more you’ll get bit.
“Use the angle of your rod and the size of your line to control how deep your plug is running. The heavier the line, the shallower it is going to run. Likewise, the higher you keep your rod on the retrieve, the shallower you can keep your bait. By toying around with these details you can literally put a squarebill in any cover you want. By throwing a plug where others would pitch a jig, you’re going to get more reaction strikes and catch more bass.”
Jordan throws his 1.5s or 2.5s Strike King crankbaits on a 7 foot, or less, Medium Quantum Tour KVD Cranking Rod coupled with a 6:1:1 Quantum Smoke. He likes a the shorter rod for close quarter, target fishing with a crankbait; and notes the Smoke throws baits even as small as a 1.0 sqaurebill effortlessly, even in the wind.
Jordan and Matt both believe the color of your crankbait is extremely important, even more so than most lures. For whatever reason, they have seen the right color of crankbait change an afternoon with five bites to 25 bites, with a slight change.
Jordan’s favorites change depending on the clarity of the water and whether there are clouds present or not. Leaning towards either chartreuse black back or sexy shad if there is stained to dirty water, which is what Jordan prefers to fish. Or switching to something like green gizzard or clear water minnow if the water if clear and the sun is shining.
Both of the young Alabama anglers agreed that a Strike King Red Eye Shad is simply hard to beat during the fall of the year. This is their go to bait if they are fishing large flats or keying in on any type of vegetation.
“The castability of a Red Eye Shad is just incredible, and allows an angler to cover so much water,” Matt said. “It depends on the depth I am fishing and the vegetation but I am usually going to stick with a 1/2-ounce model. I throw that on 7-foot, 4-inch medium-heavy Quantum Tour KVD Cranking Rod paired with a Quantum Smoke in 8:1:1. Using a longer rod allows me to make bomb casts but still have enough tip to get the hooks into the fish, and that high speed reel helps me cover more water.”
Matt tends to keep his color selection simple, sticking to bold or opaque colors if there is cloud cover, and switching to chrome sexy shad or something with some flash if the sun is present. Again noting that following the wind with your lipless crankbaits will lead to more bites and more bass.
Fall bass around the country become notoriously keen to a topwater lure. Topwaters can, and do, catch fish throughout the year but for whatever reason bass in the fall are likely to attack something surfing across the top.
Jordan and Matt absolutely love slinging topwaters, as they result in some of their biggest bass throughout the year. They take slightly different approaches, but the end result is the same; covering water and catching bass.
“I’m pretty much always going to have a buzzbait tied on in the fall, and I catch a bunch of giants on it,” Jordan grinned. “One mistake I think a lot of people make is they try to throw it on mono or fluorocarbon line. I throw mine on 30-pound braid, a 7-foot, 2-inch medium-heavy Quantum Tour KVD Casting rod, and an 8:1:1 Smoke, and I simply don’t lose many fish. I’ll just run down the bank and throw it at anything and everything that looks good, making long casts, and covering as much water as possible.”
Matt agreed you can’t go wrong with a buzzbait, but he favors a walking topwater in the fall, specifically the Strike King Sexy Dawg Jr.
“I like being able to speed up and slow down my bait when working a topwater depending on the mood of the fish,” Matt said. “You can still make long casts and cover an extreme amount of water, you just can slow it down a bit. I agree with Jordan in throwing it on braid; it floats and you can cast it a mile, it’s a win-win.”
As fall settles in around the country, you might want to halt putting up your rods and reels for a few more weeks. Charge up your trolling motor batteries, pick out your favorite moving baits, and follow these tips from the Lee brothers and you can have a fall ball catching bass all day long.