By Adam Johnson
Fishing in the fall is a lesson in transitions. The shallow water is cooling off and gamefish that found comfort in the cool confines of the deeper water don't mind moving shallow in search of food. Those big schools of suspended fish have slid higher in the water column and migrated to the shoreline points and inside turns. Fall spawning forage fish are moving into the shallow flats covered with vegetation and gamefish are following right along. Fall is a time of transition and anglers must adapt to find fish.
When I'm setting up a fall profile my main considerations are surface water temperature and available deep structure.
When the cool nights drop surface temperatures in the shallow bays and along the shoreline structure to levels that the gamefish find favorable you can give the mid-lake structure a break and target that shoreline cover and structure. From sixty-eight degrees and cooler I know that the bass, pike, and walleyes that were hiding on the deep mid-lake structure will once again be utilizing the shallower shoreline regions.
Not only will gamefish move up onto the shallower shoreline zones, since many of the lakes and reservoirs have "turned over" the thermocline is no longer a factor and fish that were limited by low oxygen levels under the thermocline can go anywhere in the water column. This makes deep structure an important place to expend some effort.
When fishing shallow cover and structure anticipate that the fish will be spread out. Those tightly-schooled pods of fish that you held the boat over the top of just a few weeks earlier are busted up in the fall and individual fish are meandering looking for a baitfish here or there to feast on. In a situation like this it's best to use techniques that allow you to cover ground and strain the water. Don't feel compelled to hold in one spot for long, although you will want to cast back to a spot a few times if you catch one there.
Deeper structure will tend to consolidate the fish better, but don't expect to find big schools of fish like you did earlier, even on the deep stuff. Every species, including the baitfish, are in a migration mode so expect this transitional period to display a, catch one here - catch one there profile and adjust tactics to compensate for this.
I know it's tough to have to make a change when the fall profile begins. You've been catching fish in all the textbook spots using textbook techniques and then all of a sudden those spots go cold and nothing works. In the fall there are two extremes. Anglers that can't catch fish and those that can. The anglers that are successful during this time of transition are those that modify their search and set up a profile that revolves around the conditions they face in the fall.
I'll give you an example of a late fall trip I took to a south-central reservoir for largemouth bass.
The surface temperature along the shoreline was sixty-four to sixty-eight degrees. Perfect. I tied on a spinnerbait and started casting to the downed trees. After an hour I only boated a couple small bass.
I moved to some man-made structure in 22 feet of water, but all that was there were crappies and bluegills.
I knew of a rock pile in 45 feet of water that doesn't get any pressure. I tied up a Carolina Rig with a half-ounce egg sinker and a seven-inch scented plastic worm. In a half hour I hooked and landed three nice bass.
Forty minutes after I had hooked that third fish I was searching the map to find another spot just like the one I was on. Fifteen minutes after I punched in the GPS coordinates I was there, fighting another nice bass.
Two days later I was on that same reservoir and the bass had moved into the shoreline cover. I set the bow-mount electric motor speed to cover some ground and caught a bunch of nice bass with a spinnerbait in those trees. Sure, I tried that deep water first, but never got a bite. The fish had transitioned off the deep structure to somewhere else. Who knows; in a couple more days they might be back.
So you can see the fall is a time of transition and anglers must be prepared to take this into consideration when putting together that fall profile.
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