How to find fish in fall transition

Editor’s note: Our former blogger Trey Schroeder finished his first semester at McKendree University and his mom reported he is doing great balancing school and fishing. She said he always struggled with writing until he started writing about what he loved. He started with a writing strategies class at McKendree to help him with his writing and the professor told him he could write about fishing.  Here is the last essay from his writing class.

How to find fish in fall transition

By Trey Schroeder

Whether I’m creeping my way along a crunchy gray gravel road or speeding with anticipation down a windy asphalt paved road, fishing is agonizing in 102 degrees or in blistering 20 degrees. Hunting and scratching for one bite or catching so many fish my thumbs bleed from their sandpaper stitched mouths. I always find myself changing my perspective on how I approach a day on the water in the fall.

Waking up in my frigid lair that most people would just call a carriage house, I wipe the grog from eyes and check the time. It’s 5:37 a.m., immediately I spring out of my bed to walk outside and I am welcomed to a shocking wall of cold air. I layer up for a chilly day, because the last thing you want to do is be underdressed on the water. Next I start to sort through my tackle boxes. Bass fishing in the fall is very unpredictable, and nothing is guaranteed. The fish are scattered so I grab my top waters, jigs, medium and shallow crankbaits and throw my jerk bait box in too. Most of these baits are reaction style baits. In the fall I try to keep a bait wet and keep moving. I try to stay away from slow-moving bottom baits, but every bait has a special niche during the day of fishing.

I load the beaten burgundy Ford Expedition with my baits and a rod for each bait, with the appropriate action for every application. Today I am on familiar water and like any other day I contemplate a game plan. I plan to start the day hunting down the wary and keen smallmouth bass. Smallmouth are sight feeders that thrive in Aquafina clear water. Their bronze-golden horizontal streaks equip them with the perfect camouflage to feast on unwary prey or my crankbait. If the smallmouth are thinking harder than me today then I will chase after largemouth with top waters in the dingier waters up the creeks. The dingy water makes my bait silhouette and acts sort of as a camouflage for my bait, making the fish eat the bait better and aggressively.

I hitch up to my white and blue Ranger boat, and begin my journey down the gravel road to the community boat ramp. I arrive at the ramp in about five minutes, and launch my boat into the water. This morning is a perfect morning to be out on the lake. I check the weather to see the barometric pressure and if it is rising or falling. This will clue me into what lure I should start my day throwing. The pressure is falling which is ideal for reaction-style baits. There is a chilly north wind cooling the surface temp of the water as I speak. What I did not want to see was a rising barometric pressure because that means bluebird skies and that a low pressure system has recently passed. Bass or any species of fish want it nasty outside. Normally the lower the pressure the better the fishing gets. Clicking my fish finder on I pull up a chart of the lake and look for the river channel. The channel acts like a highway for bass, they follow the channel in and out of creeks and coves. Weather, structure, water color and time of year dictate where the fish will hold in a given area. The water is clean so I look for north facing banks that the wind will be blowing into. The wind acts as a camouflage for me since the water surface will be broken up. The wind will also drive bait into the bank which in theory the bass will follow. Bass become nomadic in the fall and relate more towards bait than structure.

With the clues I have gained I fire up my outboard and blast to my first stop. Thankfully the bone chilling drive only takes five minutes to reach my destination. Although finding the perfect spots sometimes takes making unbearable runs, but staying close is the best way to go out when fun fishing in my eyes. Now comes finding and catching these finned little freaks. When trying to locate bass I always like to start where the fish are going and backtrack my way into summer patterns. This shows me what stage the fish are actually in, and what part of the creeks or coves I should focus the most on. The bass want to migrate from their summer and winter haunts, and onto the flats and into the ends of creeks to chase bait so that is where I will begin my hunt. I don’t want to assume where the fish are, I need at least three bites to develop a pattern. My favorite saying that I always apply when fishing is “one is just a bite, two is luck, and three is a pattern”.

In clean water once the sun gets high bass move to shaded banks or deeper water to avoid light penetration because they don’t have eyelids and their eyes a sensitive to light. So once the sun is high follow the wind and find shade on the bank. Fishing in the bright sun with no wind will seal your fate, and you will waste time looking for fish that aren’t there. Dingy water has a little more forgiveness and, will bring fish to the bank since the light cannot penetrate as far as it would in clear water. Another factor that plays a huge role in any water color and wary fish is current direction. Being I’m on a man-made reservoir, the only current in the lake is when the bottom dam is pulling water or when the top dam is releasing water. In this case neither is happening so this leaves me with wind direction as my current, its faint but it plays an enormous role in catching and patterning fish. Bass that are mindful of current won’t touch your bait if it is going against the flow. Facing into the wind makes it hard to cast far, but it’s pointless to cast far if the bass aren’t going to eat the bait going that direction anyway. So I bear down, reach into my rod locker and grab my top water rod and tie on a buzz bait. This is a pretty heavy bait so I can throw it into the wind relatively easy. The main reason I tied on a buzz bait is because it’s a reaction-style bait that moves relatively fast so the fish don’t get a good look at the bait. Reaction-style baits force the bass to make a split-second decision whether they want to eat or let the bait pass. While using reaction baits you want to keep the trolling motor battery on high and cover as much water as possible. This results in more bites and more presentations throughout the time on the water, which in theory will give you the most shots at a fish in a day. After running my trolling motor on high into the wind for about four hours it ran out of juice so I called it a day and headed in.

This time of the year can humble even the most seasoned fishermen, but also gives opportunities to all anglers of every skill level to catch dozens even hundreds of bass. Unfortunately not every day is the same and fish constantly change so anglers must change with them, and sometimes we flat out complicate it. Keeping your bait selection to these simple baits will cover every stage in fall fishing.