GONE FISHIN' - 10/2/1995

By Charlie Taylor

Fall is here with it's cooler temperatures and winds to plague anglers. But, on the plus side, water skiers and most pleasure boats have also hung it up for the year. This leaves the waters for anglers in this, the best season of the year.

As the water temperatures fall and daylight becomes shorter, predatory fish begin to feed heavily and "fatten up" for the long winter. This means that most of the fish will be more aggressive, striking lures on instinct and not just for food. Aggravation becomes the goal, rather than great presentation, etc.

Topwater baits provide this aggravation, goading bass and stripers alike, to try to destroy the thing that is invading their territory. The angler who uses topwater baits to his advantage will end up catching lots of fish during this season. Some of the better baits are buzzbaits, poppers, stick baits and minnow imitating lures. Each of these baits has it's supporters and detractors, but each of them will catch fish at the right time, in the right place.

Buzzbaits are at their best near vegetation, particularly grassbeds and lily pad fields. Each of these areas hold bass, due to the presence of baitfish, security and shade. The baits should be cast back into the vegetation as far as possible, retrieving them as slowly as possible, keeping the bait on the surface. Sizes, colors and blades vary from bait to bait, but in general, buzzbaits are a lot alike. Bass in the tidal Potomac River seem to prefer white baits, even though blade colors may vary from copper to silver. Sizes range from 1/8 oz. through 3/4 oz. Some have noisemaking clickers, while other do not. These features do not seem to be important to the fish, only to the fishermen. When the angler has confidence in a bait, he will fish it properly, and consequently, catch fish. If he has no such confidence, his presentation is sloppy and the fish react by avoiding the bait.

The field of poppers has exploded in the last couple of years, with new lures coming on the market almost daily, it seems. Most of the major manufacturers have come out with a popper, with many of them carrying a retail price of over $15. When everything is taken into consideration however, all poppers are basically the same. They are small floating lures, with concave faces and treble hooks. They are fished with an erratic ripping motion and then allowed to sit for an interminable length of time. This aggravates the fish into busting the lure just to kill it. Although there are many different brands, colors, sizes and materials, most anglers opt for shad imitating colors. Some examples of poppers are: Rebel's Pop-R, Storm's Chug Bug, Bill Lewis's Spitfire, Arbogast's Hula Popper and Mann's Chug-N-Spit.

Stick baits are known for catching large fish. These baits are cast to or beyond suitable cover, such as stickups, points, dock corners, etc. and retrieved by "walking the dog". This method causes the bait to zig-zag from side to side as it is retrieved. Each time the bait is reversed, it creates a bit of commotion on the surface, drawing fish from long distances or from deep water. Perhaps the best known stick bait is the Zara Spook, although there are many other similar baits on the market.

Minnow imitating lures are available with or without propellers. Some have no prop at all, some have a prop at the tail, and some have them at both ends. All of the baits catch fish, although fishing techniques vary with the lure selected. The most common prop baits are the Devil's Horse and the Tiny Torpedo. The Devil's Horse has a prop at both ends, while the Tiny Torpedo has a prop at the tail only. Since the baits catch fish, there are many other brands with similar configurations. Each of the baits is cast to or beyond suitable cover, allowed to rest for a short time, then twitched and again allowed to rest. When the fish are unusually aggressive or unusually passive, it sometimes pays to work the baits faster, almost churning the water taking it away from the cover. This, on occasion, aggravates the fish into striking when they won't otherwise take the bait. The prime example of a bait without a prop is the Rapala minnow. This bait is normally cast to a likely looking area, allowed to sit until all the ripples die out, then twitched slightly and again allowed to sit until all the ripples die out. If no strike is forthcoming, the lure is retrieved slowly and cast to another area. As with each of the other baits, there are many other manufacturers of minnow imitating baits, such as Storm's Thunderstick, Smithwick's Rattling Rogue, Bagley's Bang-O-Lure, Rebel's Minnow, Cotton Cordell's Redfin and Bomber's Long A.

In addition to these classes of lures, an angler must not forget one of the greatest topwater baits of all time, the Jitterbug. This bait looks like a mouse with a pie plate in it's mouth. The bait is cast parallel to the outside edge of lily pad fields or grass beds, and retrieved at a slow, steady pace. As it is retrieved, the bait swings from side to side, emitting a steady "plop-plop" sound. This bait has accounted for an extremely large number of large fish over the years, and is just as good today as it was in the year of it's creation. Fish never tire of the bait. All of these baits will catch fish during the fall season and they are among the most exciting baits to fish. Strong hearts stop beating for an instant when lunker largemouth bass blow up on topwater baits. Even stronger hearts stop beating for an instant when stripers suck in the same baits. Be sure that you are using stout tackle and have a strong heart when using these baits in the fall.