Understanding the various stages of bass movement can increase your catch.
Seasonal migrations of bass take place during four periods throughout the year. Fall-in any part of the country-is a time of change as waters begin to cool and bass migrate from deep, summertime haunts to shallow, backwater creeks and flats. Bass that were more summer-oriented (preferred deep water), will now follow the baitfish schools into the shallow backwaters of major feeder creeks and along main-lake flats and pockets. Many summer bass (that were already shallow) merely wait until the schools of baitfish arrive.
This period usually lasts from one to three months. This is a time to pinpoint baitfish locations and their daily movement. It’s a sure fact, that wherever there are concentrations of evident forage activity, there are bass. Staying in contact with the prey and predators can begin at the mouths of feeder creeks, advance towards the shallow backwaters as fall progresses and dissolve over deep structure, as winter bass return to deeper water.
In between these nomadic days of bassin’ the persistent angler will encounter many locations, various methods and several problems as he (or she) attempts to fool some of the years biggest bass while fishing from shallow to deep water. Fall turnover, lake drawdown, dying weeds, cold fronts, or the presence of (or lack of) current, will all have a strong influence on the bass and the way they respond to the seasonal shift of cool weather. Looking at these and other fall factors individually will help increase your knowledge of bass movement, while in turn help eliminate unproductive water this fall.
Summertime and most lakes deeper than 20 feet will stratify into three thermal layers. The upper layer-high in oxygen-usually has the most active bass. This layer is technically called the ‘epilimnion’. Wind-blown qualities or the presence of weeds or aquatic plant life helps create this upper water layer comfort zone. This is often where the baitfish is located as they travel about the lake in search of plankton
Below this level is a transition zone with decreased temperatures and lower oxygen levels. It is referred to as the ‘thermocline’ and is a barrier that separates the three layers. Bass avoiding bright, sunny days or requiring less energy (thus lower oxygen levels) may suspend in this zone while not actively feeding.
Below the thermocline is a third layer of uncirculated water called the ‘hypolimnion’. This lower, water table level is usually depleted in oxygen due to decaying plant life and decomposition of animal waste. Although cooler water is available at this lowest level, it will often hold few if any bass. As waters begin to cool the heavier surface water will fall, mixing with the less oxygenated third layer (hypolimnion) thus disintegrating the thermocline. As waters mix this creates a notable drop in the entire oxygen content from top to bottom. Wind and wave action will re-oxygenate the water in time.
Meanwhile bass are stressed out due to the sudden change in water chemistry and take time to adjust. This can also scatter schools of bass. For now they have no need to bunch up in preferred areas as they find the water qualities the same from top to bottom. Most of these bass affected by the turnover simply go into an off-feeding period expending little energy until conditions improve. This period can last several weeks with cool days and little sunlight or be cut short with consecutive sunny days and high temperatures.
Glacially formed lakes go through this turnover period and are often the toughest to fish. Man-made impoundments with a constant source of current, creek and Lake Headwaters, or small coves and pockets off the main lake, are less affected since they have no turnover in the first place. Current creates constant water temperatures from top to bottom, coupled with higher oxygen levels. Therefore until the middle of the fall turnover period you should concentrate your fishing near Lake Headwaters, in the backs of creeks or fish river-type situations.
WEEDS AND VEGETATION
Lakes with a major presence of aquatic weeds have an abundance of bass and baitfish during summer. Their day-to-day life evolves around this vegetation as it offers both cover and oxygen. The weed edges provide ambush spots for the bass as they feed on unsuspecting prey. With these ‘bass holding attributes’ many bass remain here for the duration, until cold weather begins to kill of some species of weeds. Hardier types of aquatic weeds will grow as long as there is an ample amount of daily sunlight. These dying weeds coupled with cool nights and shorter days can send the bass and their prey on a new home mission.
With several types of vegetation in one area, some weeds may live longer and attract nearby residents of much poorer quality and oxygen-depleted weeds. This can bunch up both prey and predator while producing some excellent fishing, often for several weeks at a time. As some weed varieties die and thin out baitfish are exposed to the bass and intense feeding activity can occur.
Weed edges will now hold some big bass and many will inhabit the same areas. Weeds on northern banks that receive a lot of sunshine will live much longer during this period. Any vegetation near warm water areas such as water discharge areas around water treatment plants or up in spring-fed creeks, will stay greener longer, attracting both bass and forage.
As the weedy cover slowly dies and thins out the bass will begin to retrace their travels along the next available breakline or cover whether it is wood, rock or a change in bottom composition. This cover next to shallow water just out from the dying weeds should be fished accordingly until water temperatures plunge and send bass back to the deep or in search of more comfortable surroundings.
FALLING WATER LEVELS
When bass begin to feed consistently and waters have cooled considerably many lakes will be drawn down to winter pool. This is in anticipation of upcoming winter rains in the southern regions and further north during winter snow runoffs. This interruption in the fantastic days of fall fishing doesn’t mean that bass will stop feeding. It normally concentrates the fish and feeding activity increases, as baitfish are susceptible to open water attacks.
If this drawdown takes place while you have been catching bass in the shallow backwaters of feeder creeks, falling water levels can move the bass towards the middle portions of the creeks. Or in some cases where the creek has no defined channel or features a series of silted in flats, a move towards the security of the nearest deeper water, such as holes or depressions, may take place.
According to the severity of the water level drop the bass will either move to the nearest drop-off or head for deeper creek and river channel ledges nearer the main lake. In lakes that have banks normally lined with thick weeds this can mean a total relocation to nearby wood or rock cover away from the original shoreline. Lakes void of any aquatic weeds will show bass moving to the edge of creek flats, points, isolated rocks, boulders and rock piles, stumprows and deep water humps.
If water temperatures remain stable the bass will remain shallow. However, if very cool nights take place and severe cold fronts exist the bass may make a major move towards the security of deep water. When lake levels stabilize the bass will resume feeding. Schooling and busting baitfish on top will take place during these times, only now in shallow water much nearer deep-water drop-offs.
To the bass angler, the mere mention of the words ‘cold front’ envisions tough fishing conditions, bright bluebird skies, and generally, very slow lure presentations. Although these negatives can hold true, it doesn’t mean the bass are severally affected. Many times a cold front can increase the shallow water bite. Its according to how severe the cold front is and the timing of your fishing trip. During the early fall period, rain accompanying these cold fronts will drop the barometer inducing bass to feed. In addition to cooler days and cloudy conditions the bass can feed all day or several days in a row.
Sometimes a front can immediately follow a previous front. As in most cold front situations the bass can go into a feeding frenzy prior to the approaching front. In this case the bass that were off the bite could be induced into feeding when you assumed they were not. Bass generally are not affected in deep water as much as shallow water. Severe cold fronts, clear water, and a very cold night proceeding the day of your fishing trip can slow the fishing considerably. This is the time to probe shallow water cover very thoroughly, making repeated casts to likely looking cover and downsizing your offerings.
Flipping or pitching is a soft approach technique for fishing with jigs, plastics or a number of other lures. This usually takes place in thick, shallow cover or in very tight quarters. Enticing a bass with these techniques often works when other lures or conventional means won’t produce a bite.
Stout rods in lengths of 6 to 7 feet coupled with strong line are needed to muscle the bass from cover. In stained or muddy water conditions you can flip the lure on a short line into the thickest cover available without being detected by these bigger bass. When faced with clear water conditions tight-holding bass are very spooky, you can pitch the lure from a distance around or into the cover. A shady boat dock, piers, thick brush, stumps or logjams with an abundance of washed-in debris are excellent to practice this silent approach. Leaving the lure in place and shaking it or a slow lifting up and down will aggravate the bass into striking.
CURRENT AND FLOWAGES
Bass tend to avoid current the more the water temperature drops. In early fall bass that have gathered in the backs of tributaries or below upriver dams may be induced to feed as rain and water generation bring in the edibles. This is usually for a short time as fall progresses and instincts tell the bass to search out areas with limited current and warmer water.
However, there are exceptions to this rule, as during early fall when some lakes go through a turnover period.
This is when fishing pockets in the backs of creeks or focusing on the upper river-type terrain of most impoundment’s (where there is no thermocline and a turnover doesn’t exist) can be an option. If an angler is fishing a feeder river or large tributary with a natural current flow, searching for slack water areas will reveal active bass. Pockets with no feeders, small cuts out of the main current, and the mouths of creeks, are all excellent choices to begin your search as the waters begin to cool. Bass may position themselves behind such objects as pier posts, standing timber, seawalls, wingdams and long, main-lake points, until water temperatures drop into the low fifties.
Backwaters or swamps with little current may have the slackest and often the warmest water for the most active bass before cooler days and nights drop the water temperatures. Spring-fed creeks are magnets to these bass as they seek out warmer water areas in winter.
Some of these creek backwaters may have water temperatures as warm as 10 degrees higher than surrounding waters. In addition are the warm waters from water treatment or steam plants along the main river. These warmer waters attract all species of fish and baitfish with water temperatures that are discharged into the lake as high as 20 degrees warmer. The main-lake water can heat up as far as one mile along the banks down stream from these warm water discharges.
BAITFISH AND OTHER FORAGE
While there are plenty of edibles on the summer menu for bass to choose from, cooling waters can induce relocation as the shad, minnows, bream, crayfish and other forage move towards the creeks in their search for plankton and warmer water. Dying weeds, lake drawdown, wind-blown areas and current, all affect the many types of forage as they are shifted about to new locations around the lake each day. They must go wherever the prevailing conditions take them.
These are end-of-the-year species and many have grown to full size. The bigger bass are now on the prowl for these tasty mouthfuls, along with schooling bass (usually of the smaller size) looking to fill a small belly fast. As the lake waters cool the baitfish and even crustaceans will gather in huge schools along shallow backwater flats, coves, pockets, along riprap and the headwaters of feeder creeks and streams. Usually out of the wind and current in calmer areas, the baitfish will show signs of bass below as they skip across the surface of the water. Schooling bass, so common during fall, will herd up the baitfish on points, islands, shallow flats and creek backwaters as they fatten up on these and other shallow water delicacies.
When the weather transforms from hot to cold the bass are triggered to feed and build up fat reserves for the upcoming winter. Baitfish, crayfish, small minnows, shad, bream, frogs and a variety of insects, will be voraciously consumed during these ravenous times, even to a degree of regurgitating and then eating more. During this period relocation is inevitable, for most of these bass will eventually move to deeper water as the waters cool. As during the spring, the bass are temporarily shallow and lures from top to bottom will fool even the age-old lunker as they feed in reckless fashion.
Crankbaits with shallow-to-deep running qualities, rattletraps, burned through schooling bass or slow-rolled along the bottom, spoons, cast into busting bass or vertical-jigged under the boat, even grubs, shad imitations and small worms, all hopped along the bottom, are all excellent choices when searching for these fall bass.
On top, many lures will trigger a strike. Try zara super spooks, pop-r’s, chuggers and prop-baits. When cast into schooling bass, these heavy, wind-resistant lures can be the ticket to some fast and furious action. Jigs & trailers, worms, lizards and crayfish imitations will get the bigger, bass bite from the more cautious (and laziest) bass. These bottom-bumping lures are usually better for tougher times. Very shallow bass will nail a spinnerbait or buzzbait as waters cool during this fall period. Be sure to include trailer hooks for some bass are short strikers, but often many return for the kill. Keep a “backup” lure ready when a missed strike calls for getting another offering in there fast.
Experiment, for now is the time of roaming, nomadic bass and for bass anglers that pursue them, as each stays on the move in search of the schools of baitfish that invade the shallows this fall.