I think a thousand pages could be written about bass fishing in general, and even Fall bass fishing in particular. This article is not an exhaustive, in-depth guide to everything you can know about Fall bass fishing, but I hope it will give you just enough information to give you confidence in your pursuit of both Smallmouth Bass and Largemouth Bass the next time the leaves start to change color.
To be a successful Fall Bass fisherman, it is crucial to pay attention to the water temperature, the types of lures that are best to use, the types of features or submerged structures present in the lake, and the specific timing of the fishing trip during the Fall season.
5 Tips You Need to Know for Fall Bass Fishing!
- Bass spend more time in the shallows in early Fall.
- Bass retreat to deeper water in late Fall or early Winter.
- Water temperatures below 50℉ make bass sluggish and tougher to catch.
- Focus your attention on shoreline structures like fallen trees, rocks, weed beds, docks and other structures that break up an otherwise predictable shoreline.
- Stick with top water or shallow running lures in early Fall, then switch to deep water lures like jigs for the last part of the Fall fishing season and into the Winter.
- Make sure it’s legal to be fishing in your area during the Fall season.
Which Bass Are We Talking About?
First of all, we need to define what exactly is a bass? It may seem obvious to you, but the species of “bass” can range from striped bass, yellow bass and European bass, to rock bass, spotted sea bass and of course the better known largemouth and smallmouth bass.
For the sake of this article, we’ll be focusing on Fresh water Largemouth and Smallmouth bass so coveted by freshwater anglers in North America.
Is it Legal?
It’s your responsibility to be sure of the exact season for legal bass fishing in your area, and what various licenses will allow you to do in that region. It’s pointless to know how to catch ’em if you’re not allowed to by law anyway because you don’t have the necessary permits/licenses or because the fishing season has ended for bass.
In some jurisdictions, you catch and release during the off-season, while in other areas, even the act of trying to catch a bass (no matter whether you intended to release it or not) is illegal.
What is “FALL?”
This sounds almost like a joke, but I assure you, it’s important to understand what we mean when we talk about Fall. Fall, in this article, is less about a date on a calendar, and more about water temperature.
Temperatures change drastically on lakes in Northern Ontario in early September, while those same changes may not happen until November in places like Georgia or Alabama.
Where Can I find Bass in the Fall?
Fall Locations – Stage 1 (during the first half of Autumn when water starts to cool)
LAKES – Depending on the lake, there may be a dominant type of bass that inhabits the water. As a general rule, Largemouth bass often hang around lily pads, reeds, and other water plants and are often associated with soft bottoms of mud and sediment.
Smallmouth are known to frequent faster waters in rivers (where you’d expect to find brook and rainbow trout), or in very rocky, clear water with steep underwater cliffs and dropoffs. There is most often some overlap between the two species habitats, and there is absolutely a similarity in their general habits during the various seasons.
One of things that both species of bass have in common is that both will start to move into shallow waters more when the water temperatures cool.
That is not to say they don’t regularly come into shallow water during warm weather months, but during warmer weather, they tend to only spend less time in shallow waters because the water can be a bit too warm and the sun is a bit too bright.
In Summer, bass spend most of the entire daylight hours in deeper water (especially if it’s sunny on a clear lake), and only coming into shallows to feed at dusk.
In Fall, they will spend much of every day and night in shallower water where their food is, and where the bright sun is lower on the horizon so brightness and sunlight are less of a deterrent.
RIVERS – In rivers, bass behave a bit differently, and even different sizes of rivers will see a difference in how bass move during the Fall. In a nutshell, here’s what to expect; In rivers, as water temperatures decrease in the Fall, bass will move from the shallows into deeper pools.
They will typically look for structures like large boulders to protect them from the current, and they tend to stay there through most of the Winter season. While they are not actively feeding once the water gets colder than about 40℉, there is a chance to catch them with a slow and targeted presentation of bait.
Fall Locations – Stage 2 (as surface water becomes colder than deeper lake water)
Towards the middle of the Fall season, the warmer surface water starts to approach the temperature of the deeper water and when the deeper water (below the thermocline or the area of water temperature transition) is at the same temperature as surface water, fishing is difficult because finding the bass is more difficult.
You could catch a bass in shallow water or down below 30 feet.
As the water above the thermocline gets colder than the deeper water, bass will move to the deeper water and feeding starts to slow.
Overall, it’s more difficult to fish given the bass’ more sedentary demeanor and more difficult to find locations. However, bass are not impossible to catch under these conditions.
If you can find them, a slower presentation will likely get a few bites, and the odds are you’ll get some of the bigger bass in a school of deep, pre-winter bass.
What is “Turnover?”
“Turnover” is something every angler should at least be aware of, and ESPECIALLY if you’re going after bass in the Fall. Thermocline, as we noted earlier, is the transition line between two layers of water with different densities and temperatures.
When the water above the thermocline (which is dramatically warmer in Summer than below the thermocline) reaches the same temperature as the water below, this is referred to as “turnover”. Specifically, turnover (a.k.a. “Fall Turnover) means that wind and currents circulate the water from top to bottom since all the water has the same qualities of temperature and density.
This Fall turnover lasts usually from 1 – 2 weeks in most parts of the country, and this is the time that bass are tougher to find and catch.
Structures or Features
In the world of fishing, the term structure or feature is used to describe anything that breaks up the “same-ness” of the underwater world.
This would include any man-made or natural “things” like fallen and sunken trees, logs and large boulders along an otherwise clean shoreline or lake bottom.
It can also include things like old vehicles and other “garbage” dumped into a lake, or a dock piling. Most fish and certainly all bass are attracted to such features since they offer both a place for a predator fish to hide, as well as being home to smaller fish that bass feed on.
One of the strategies that anglers use is to place such underwater structures to attract larger fish to a certain location if only for a short time as a transition cover area between larger areas of cover.
What Baits or Lures Should I Use for Fall Bass Fishing?
There is almost no wrong answer to this question … ALMOST! Generally speaking, shallow running lures are the best bait during early Fall as you concentrate your efforts in shallow water around submerged or semi-submerged features.
Some great examples of shallow water lures for early Fall would be swimming plugs like shallow running Rapala lures, buzz baits, spinners or plastic worms with no sinkers attached.
Though plastic worms are my “go-to” bait nearly always, I also like to use shallow-running, floating crankbaits to find bass hideouts. They allow me to cover more ground because of the speed with which they can be retrieved.
Remember, when fishing a floating crankbait, vary your speed of retrieval between very fast for a few cranks, to so slow that the lure floats on top of the water. A variable speed retrieval almost always gets a bass to strike if there’s one in the area.
If you fish for bass later in the evening or into the night, you may want to use surface lures like poppers or Jitterbugs.
However, it’s important that these types of lures work best when the water is totally calm and glassy in appearance, and bass are relying more on vibration and sound rather than sight to hunt.
We’ve found that water temperatures below 60℉ or slightly choppy water surface conditions make surface lures much less effective.
As bass move out into deeper water after the Fall turnover, they become harder to find. However, the good news here is that when you do find them using either trial and error, or a fish finder to determine underwater features, then you’ve hit the jackpot!
As late Fall rolls around and bass move deeper, you will focus attention on deep-running lures like jigs, deep-diving crankbaits and live bait with sinkers attached.
Once bass head to deep water, they gather in concentrated schools. Look for features like deep shorelines, underwater cliffs and any structure bordering deep water.
The best lures for this scenario are jigs of all kinds, deep-diving crankbaits and spoons that you’ll use like a jig.
The jigged spoon looks a lot like a dying baitfish which is the main diet of Fall Largemouth, and baitfish die in large numbers in late Autumn, so you’ll be mimicking an expected natural feeding phenomenon.
Live Bait is also an excellent choice, especially for very late Fall bass when water temperatures drop below 50℉. Bass tend not to chase fast lures once their metabolism slows due to the colder water. While live bait is often very effective in these conditions, it presents some unique challenges.
Live bait strikes are harder to determine since bass will often inhale the baitfish or worm, and then not move too far or fast, so you may not even notice any action on your rod tip.
Another problem or disadvantage with live bait is that you really can’t use it to cover a lot of area as an artificial lure can.
With a lure, you can cast it 40 feet or more all around you (fan cast) and cover an area the size of a basketball court in just a few minutes!
Good live bait options are 3″ – 5″ minnow or shiners, crayfish, nighcrawlers (earth worms), leeches, frogs, grasshoppers and even crickets.
One final note about live bait: many of the creatures used for live bait will be far less active in cold water, so the undulating action of a leech, which is so attractive to a bass, will virtually stop and they’ll curl into a ball. The same is true with worms and minnows. Because of this, I personally use artificial baits 99% of the time.
Fall bass fishing requires no special gear beyond what you’d use in the Summer. A 6 to 7-foot fast, medium action rod with a spinning reel and 6 lb – 12 lb test line is adequate for most Bass fishing all year.
You can use a bait-casting reel or even a good-quality spin-casting reel on a medium to heavy power rod with fast action.