Gone Fishin' - Oct. 16, 1995

October 16, 1995                                        By Charlie Taylor

Fall is truly upon us, attested to by the cool, crisp days and the freezing nights. Hikers are tramping the trails, marveling at Mother Nature's Artwork--the beautifully colored landscapes. Kids are playing in the leaf piles. Hunters are getting blinds and tree stands ready, waiting for various seasons to start. Anglers are readying cold weather gear, preparing to chase fish, participating in the annual fall feeding frenzy.

This time of year is especially right for anglers, as nature is in her glory. The trees are turning glorious colors, right in front of your eyes. Plump persimmons are hanging on the trees, waiting for the nighttime frost to begin the ripening process. Muskrat and beaver are actively gathering food to maintain them through the winter. Birds are chattering in the trees and brush along the waterways and squirrels are busily throwing nuts at intruding anglers, or so it seems.

As water temperatures fall, bass and other gamefish are feeding heavily, fattening up for the cold weather ahead. They are also moving from the dying vegetation to the adjacent dropoffs and wood cover along the creek and river channels.

Although lots of leaves are littering the surface of the water, fish may be caught on crankbaits. The secret to crankbait fishing at this time of year is to think small and slow. The size of the available forage during this period of the year is greatly reduced, as the shad and alewives have left the shallows, leaving minnows and crayfish as food. When trying to "match the hatch", we must therefore select the smallest crankbaits available. Since the available forage does not normally inhabit the depths, we must also select shallow running crankbaits. Best choices are normally 2-3 inches in length, and run 4-6 feet deep.

These baits, when cast onto shallow banks, and retrieved very slowly beyond the edge of the dropoff, will trigger strikes from largemouth bass throughout the day. Some anglers will never feel the strike, however, as bass, feeding in cold water, are not aggressive. They will swim up behind the bait, open their mouths, flare their gills and swim toward the boat with the bait in their mouth. Anglers not familiar with this, will never feel the fish, and the fish will expel the bait before the angler gets wise.

The best bet here, is to feel the bait vibrating through the rod tip. When the rod tip stops vibrating, it will normally indicate that the bait has contacted submerged aquatic vegetation or a fish's mouth. The hook should be set immediately. Although most of these hook sets will result in the bait flying through the air, with a piece of lily pad or grass attached, some will result in five pound bass churning the water at the other end of the line.

The best action will come on the tail end of the outgoing tide and the first part of the incoming tide. After the tide has come in for two hours, pack up here and head for a very shallow bank with some downed wood. This cover will hold bass during the incoming and high portions of the outgoing tide. The best baits here are jig 'n pig and small plastic worms or grubs. Some of the best action on this type of cover has come on the Berkley Power Finesse Worms, with pumpkinseed, blue flake and black/chartreuse bringing the most strikes.

The baits should be cast to the point where the first limb out from the bank, touches the water. The largest fish should be positioned on the downtide side of this branch. If no strike is felt, come out to the next limb and flip the bait again. Continue this process until a fish strikes. Using this method, the largest fish will be taken first and each succeeding fish will be smaller. When a 12 inch fish is caught, move on to the next blowdown, as the remaining fish, if any, will be smaller than the legal limit. It is not inconceivable to catch 4-5 fish from a downed tree under these conditions. One particular tree gave up nine fish to this writer and his partner, ranging from 11 inches to over eight pounds.

Another pattern that results in lots of bass during this period of the year, is to find a gravel bank that drops immediately into 10-15 feet of water. Try tossing 1/16th ounce jig heads with one inch tube baits or grubs, up onto the shore and bringing them very slowly down the dropoff. Although this writer initially used this method for catching crappie, it was amazing how many bass were caught. Using ultra-light spinning gear, one trip netted 26 bass, from 11 inches to over three pounds. White or pearl tube baits produced the greatest number of bass, although Berkley Power Grubs in black and chartreuse, also resulted in a good number of bass. Crappie, to just over a pound, were also included in the catches.

As the sun warms the water during the afternoon, a trip to the main river grass beds is in order. Although the grass is dying from the cold water temperatures, the sun tends to revive it slightly. This causes the fish to move out of the depths up into the grass to feed. This is the time to fish small spinnerbaits, throwing them into the grass and working them out. As the baits leave the grass, allow them to fall out of sight and use the slowest retrieve possible.

Larger fish are most frequently holding on the dropoff adjacent to the grass. Working a jig 'n pig combination very slowly down this drop will entice some bruisers during this season. Patience is necessary, however, as small fish will not take the offering. When a fish is hooked, it is normally a good one. Better colors are black/blue and black/red. The same fish may also be taken on crankbaits, worked parallel to the grass edges, about 3-5 feet outside the grass. This method will pick up some of the fish that are staging to feed in the grass.

Once again, remember to pay attention to the rod vibrations. When the rod stops vibrating, set the hook.

Good fishin'.....