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"Late fall transitions"
By Duke Jenkel


As you sit and read this article, you may be remembering some of the better fishing trips you experienced this fall, prior to the opening of deer or waterfowl season.  With those trips in mind, let’s take a minute to look at the changes that have taken place to your favorite fishing water in the last few weeks, and a few changes that are yet to come. 

By now you’ve realized the conditions that existed on your favorite body of water just three weeks ago, are long gone.  Just as in the spring, when water conditions can rapidly change, the same thing will take place in late fall.  As nighttime temperatures begin to drop into the 30’s and low 40’s, combined with daytime highs in the 50’s and low 60’s it doesn’t take long for water temperatures to plummet.  Accompanying this drop in water temperature is the shortening of daytime hours.  When the daylight hours begin to shorten, this equates into shorter time span for the suns solar rays to heat the lake or river.  This also begins another change in your favorite water, a change that will definitely affect your fishing.  These changes and some of the techniques I use to catch fish during this time are broken down below:

Aquatic vegetation
Everyone has their favorite aquatic vegetation, lily pads (commonly referred to as “Pads”), coontail, milfoil, hydrilla (all three usually referred to as “grass”), deer tongue, pond weed, water willow the list goes on.  All of these types of vegetation have one thing in common, as the daylight hours shorten and the water temperatures cool, their growth begins to curtail, slowing growth on some of the weeds, and stopping the growth of some, if not most of the vegetation altogether.  When the plant life begins to die, oxygen production by these weeds also begins to curtail.  Although I’m not a plant biologist, it is my understanding that carbon dioxide is produced as these plants die and decay, which in turn can reduce the oxygen levels in the water for that specific area.  This is the first step and a major one in the change experienced during late fall transitions.

Water Temperatures
We touched on the subject of water temperatures at the start of this article, but let’s explore a little a deeper into that subject.  We all know that fish are cold-blooded animals, as their body temperature cools, their metabolism also diminishes.  So how does that relate to fishing?  As a fish’s metabolism decreases, so does their need to feed as regularly as they once did.  It is imperative to remember this reduced need for feeding; a fish is an opportunistic feeder, when they do not feel the need to feed, or are lethargic, you have to incorporate methods into your fishing that will trigger them to bite.  Often larger baits and reaction type baits are needed to trigger these bites.  

Fish Positions
By now you’ve realized this article relates specifically to lakes and rivers that contain vegetation.  The majority of my experience lies with largemouth bass, so that’s where we will stay when discussing patterns and techniques.  Let’s go back to the point in time where are vegetation is beginning to stop growing and/or decay.  Take a minute to think what you do as a person when the room or building your in begins to get a little “Stuffy”, it’s a little too smoky, the air is a little thin, you get that slight suffocated feel.  What do you do?  You usually go outside the room, or the building to get some “fresh air”.  Well, that is exactly some of the conditions our fish are faced with as the vegetation they once lived in for 3 or 4 months begins to die-off.  So how do they combat the issue, they go outside.  Most of the time the fish will move to the outside edge of the weed bed, or move towards the deeper edge, where there is still good green grass and more readily available oxygen.  This is the second key item to remember about fall transitions.  So how do we approach these fish?  Remember, when the fish go outside of the vegetation that may mean right outside, on the edge of the emergent vegetation, or all the way out to the very deep edge where the grass stops growing and bare bottom begins.  Also remember that as the fish progress from fall locations to their winter homes, areas of quick depth transitions are high percentage areas.   This is where you have to spend a little time searching for the fish again, just as you did when they left their springtime haunts to go to their summer locations.   

So how does an angler look for these fish?  What baits and equipment work the best?  It all depends on your favorite method of fishing, but here are few that are proven winners.

Go to an area you have confidence in, one that you know normally holds a fair population of fish.  If you’re unfamiliar with the water your fishing, try a little research on the internet to see what areas of the lake are most productive. 

Once you’re on the water, start by finding a defined weed edge somewhere near the last 1/3 of the creek arm you’re in, a secondary point near the back end is an excellent place to start, and fish towards the back end.  If that is unproductive come back to that point and fish out towards the mouth of the bay.  Once the weed edge is located, I like to use a Lunker Lure Grass Monster Jig, tipped with a Zoom Super Chunk.  The jig size ranges anywhere from ½ oz to 1 ¼ ounces, it is all dependent on how thick the remaining grass is, and where the fish are located.  You will need a rod with a lot of back bone for this method of fishing.  I use a 7’5” GLoomis GLX Flipping Stick model number BCFR894, paired with a Shimano Castaic flipping reel.  I spool the reel with either 65lb braided line, or with 20 or 25 lb Maxima fluorocarbon. Remember, even the edge of the vegetation can be pretty thick, you need to have the equipment to not only pull a good fish out, but you also need to be able to deliver enough energy to the bait to set the hook properly.  Now, just follow the weed edge using your depth finder and make short pitches either to the edge of the emergent vegetation, or ahead of the boat into the edge of the submergent vegetation and work the bait back by gently hopping the bait out of the vegetation.  You have to let the fish tell you where they are located, so fish from the edge of the matted or emergent grass all the way out to the bare edge of the grass line, and pay attention to where your bites come from.

If it is apparent that a lot of your bites are coming from the outer edge of the grass line, or the deeper, shorter grass, another method you can employ is a lipless crankbait.  My set-up for this type of fishing consists of a 7’ Heavy action GLoomis Crankbait Rod model number CBR847, a Shimano Chronarch reel (6.2 to 1 retrieve) and 15lb Maxima monofilament line.  Again you want to be fishing parallel to the grass bed or grass line, following the edge of the grass with your depth finder.  Cast ahead of the boat at a slight angle towards the emergent grass, or cast directly ahead of the boat to cover the very edge of the grass.  Don’t forget when using this method we have already determined that the fish are positioned on the outside edge of the emergent grass.  When retrieving your bait, if it comes into contact with any vegetation, simply snap your rod upwards to free it from the grass and continue your retrieve.  Most often you will feel the fish hit your lure as your bait snaps free of the vegetation.  The size of lipless crankbait you use is directly related to how deep the weed edge is your fishing.  I commonly use a ½ oz weighted bait and go to a ¾ oz bait as needed.  In shallow applications, I will downsize to a ¼ oz bait.

The last approach I use often comes with colder water temperatures, this when the fish become extremely lethargic, at this time bass often look for the opportunity to feed on one big item as to chase multiple smaller baitfish.  This is where the suspending jerkbait plays a major role in catching bass.  For this approach I use a 6’6” medium action GLoomis Crankbait Rod model number CBR 783, a Shimano Curado reel (6.2 to 1 retrieve) and 8-10 lb Maxima fluorocarbon or Maxima Monofilament.  The type of line is dependent on water clarity, I find that monofilament works just fine except for gin-clear water.  Fishing a suspending jerkbait, you will essentially fish the same portions of the grass line you fished with the lipless crankbait.  You just have to slow down your rate of retrieve as well as your boat speed as you travel down the grass edge. 

Try these techniques the next time you venture out on the water, Late fall fishing can result in some of the biggest fish you catch all year, you just have to put down the hunting equipment and dust off the reels to experience it.

Please bear in mind one specific note, most of this article was written relating to largemouth bass in lowland or mid-land lakes and river systems.

Be safe on the water and Good fishing,

Duke Jenkel