The Ups and Downs of Fall Bass Fishing

Big BassBig Bass on Zara Spook

Every fall season bass anglers (and the bass they pursue) face a set of circumstances way beyond their control. Either rising or falling lake levels. Adjusting to these ever-changing water fluctuations is a daily challenge…for both the angler and the bass.

As waters begin to cool anglers must be prepared for these changes. For on every trip you make to your favorite body of water, the lake will either be rising (or it can be at a normal, full pool level), or the water level of an entire lake can be drastically dropping.

There are many reasons these annual occurrences will affect the outcome of your catch on each day you decide to go fishing this fall season.

Taking a look at the week’s previous lake and weather conditions — and the conditions that arise on the day of your fishing trip — will show an angler how to easily adjust to these often, very adverse conditions.

No matter where you fish, heavy fall rains can suddenly swell your favorite lake, often bringing the lake‘s water level above its normal, full pool level.

EXAMPLE; Demopolis Lake, South Alabama
The people of the south Alabama town of Demopolis, know all about rising water conditions and the situations that can arise at nearby Demopolis Lake during the fall season. On the good side, some excellent bass fishing!

Since this man made lake was impounded in 1954 each fall season brings a good chance the nearby residents will be seeing rising lake waters. So common, that houses now lining the lake’s normal full pool shoreline, are now built on poles or stilts to keep the houses high above the anticipated rising waters, that each fall season inevitably will bring.

Just about one mile upstream of the town of Demopolis is the junction of two major Alabama River systems. This is where the joining of the Warrior River system and the Tombigbee River system meet to form Demopolis Lake.

There is seasonally a lot of rain influx coming off of both of these two river systems during the entire fall season and at times it can be tremendous. In the past Demopolis Lake has been as much as 15-20 feet above flood stage! Residents hate it and some anglers that dare venture out on these highly dangerous flood waters…love it.

So keep in mind, that picnic table you, your family and friends were all gathering around and eating at this past summer season, could have another guest around it during the lake’s flooded conditions. There could be a big largemouth bass feeding there as well this fall season!

Demopolis Lake is basically more like a winding river system. It features a lot of small incoming streams, creeks and a lot of small cuts and pockets.

It has a lot of different types of aquatic weeds and this south Alabama lake features loads of wood cover such as brush, stumps, laying trees, logs and logjams and plenty blown down trees from incoming storms. This includes resident built piers and boat houses.

It also has another type of wood cover that Demopolis lake’s largemouth bass love to gather around, especially during fall’s flooded conditions. Cypress trees.

The huge root systems of these cypress trees found growing in the lake’s shallow backwaters, protrude up out of the water during normal, full pool lake levels. Looking a lot like stubs of tree stumps that were left here during impoundment.

They are called Cypress tree “knees”.

If Demopolis lake floods from 3-4 feet high during the early part of the fall rainy season the lake transforms into a “bass haven” for those bass anglers that may have struggled to even get a bite here during the hot, months of summer.

The bass of fall will relate to these flooded cypress trees, often gathering or holding around the “knees” of the tree. This is the tree’s root system that often surrounds the cypress tree in a round doughnut-shaped fashion.

Or if the water level is much higher (like over 5 feet above flood stage), these bass will be found holding along the main trunk of the flooded cypress tree, relating to the side branches that veer off to the side of the tree trunk.

During these flooded conditions anglers can fish with both weedless lures and lures that are characteristically known to hang up in cover, those offerings featuring treble hooks.

Lures like lipless crank baits, floating or suspending hard-bodied jerk baits, or shallow to mid diving crank baits…all lures that feature those cover-grabbing treble hooks, can be manipulated / fished around flooded weed and wood cover, a lot easier than you would imagine.

Around Demopolis Lake’s flooded aquatic weeds anglers should think “weedless” for less frustration or otherwise risk hanging up and losing costly lures. Topwater lures like noisy, clacker-type buzz baits, frog imitations, floating worms and lizards, soft plastic jerk baits and especially spinnerbaits should be experimented with.

If the water is real dirty try big Colorado blade spinnerbaits, or in-line spinnerbaits like the old snagless sally or a Chatter bait. Or try adding a soft plastic grub or twin tailed trailer, or upsizing the blades and even try going to brighter colors of red, white or chartreuse on the blades, skirts, or trailers, if encountering off-colored waters.

Taking a good look at the current weather situation and the previous weather conditions that took place a few days prior to your planned trip, will help increase your outlook and increase the outcome of your success. Which is catching bass!

Knowing the weather conditions can better your chances at increasing your catch for some really big bass, on every trip!

Most anglers study the weather. It’s a big part of their fishing day and the weather always has an outcome on “whether” you successfully fool these bass into biting or not.

Knowing the details of certain weather situations can be a deciding factor in aiding an angler on his/her choice of where to fish on any given fishing trip.

Heavy fall rains (of several inches per day), can muddy up incoming feeder creeks, and bring up the lake level fast. During these rainy, fall season periods calling and checking on the lake level will always reveal if you need to prepare for either low water or high water fishing.

The lake’s headwaters are the results of rain run-off from upstream impoundments. This sudden influx of rain run-off from constant heavy downpours can muddy up the lakes headwaters, all the way to the mid-to-lower lake, often for days.

If several major feeder creeks are situated close together the rain run-off can be seen for miles downstream as it enters the main lake. The mouths of these feeder creeks can be excellent holding spots for schools of fall bass relating to the sudden wall of very muddy, incoming water.

Thoroughly fishing, from one creek mouth to several more close by, can show the ones that currently display the best conditions. Make plans to return to each creek mouth several times during your day when facing these ever-changing conditions.

During or following these heavy fall rains an angler will eventually see a merging of two water clarities. This is where muddy water meets clear water.

This is called a, “mud line” and at times these can be excellent places to find schools of bass that simply adjust. These bass move to the creek mouth / main lake junction, where the lake’s normally clear water and the incoming muddy water meet and then, they feed.

This can take place lake wide, especially when following a constant, week-long, heavy rain down pour, resulting in several inches of rain dumped in the lake in just a few days time.

Usually, this is the time for anglers to explore the mid-to-lower lake regions and concentrate their efforts in places that feature a more clear-to-lightly stained water clarity.

Keeping away, from fishing far upriver in any major feeder creek — those creeks displaying very muddy water conditions coupled with swift current — will help anglers avoid a lot of wasted time aimlessly casting for bass that are not there.

Better, much more stable conditions and places where the water clarity is at its best, are more likely to be discovered while fishing the mid-to-lower lake region during these times. The time to fish the creeks is just after they begin to clear up, searching the far back ends of major feeders for these fall feeding bass.

Most anglers fish mud lines with their boats sitting in the clearer water, while casting their lures into the stained or muddy water rain run-off.

As your lure emerges from the muddy water it is nabbed by the bass laying in wait in the clearer water. Long before the bass relating to this mud line sees your lure, they have already detected its approaching presence with their inner ear hearing abilities accompanied by another ear…the lateral line.

When the bass suddenly sees the lure, its instincts tell it to attack. This is a pure reaction bite and often, a very aggressive strike. So no matter which direction your lure is traveling, you can always be ready for a strike when it is somewhere near the mud line.

The same dreadful end can happen to any baitfish swimming in the mid water column, or a crayfish or worm crawling along the lake’s bottom, or even some unfortunate bank runner (such as a frog, snake or bank-running mouse), seen swimming along on top, around these mud lines. Lurking below are always some big hungry bass!

Before any of these hapless prey knows what hit it…its to late.

This is an ideal ambush situation. Bass will position themselves all along the mud lines and feed on hapless prey as they emerge (or enter) the muddy, wall of water.

The spot where you catch a few of these bass reveals where the majority of the school could be positioned on these mud lines. This determines where you should be fishing!

Always keep in mind, there can be a pattern within a pattern, that can emerge here as well. Were the bass suspended? Were they on cover near the mud line? Were they deep, or shallow? What color lure produced best? Always quiz yourself.

Fishing various lures in this water column — selecting lures that range from the top to bottom depths — is necessary, to determine what depth the bass will be holding.

* A tactic many anglers fail to try while sitting in these creek mouths (with your boat positioned in the muddy water), is to try casting your lures into the clearer water.

Some bass, whether they are feeding on bottom, in the middle water column, or on top, will position themselves within inches of the clear water, right in the wall of muddy water.

Lures with built-in noise or added rattles or those that emit flash or vibration are the best choices on the muddy side of this mud line. If the water is extremely clear you may have to downsize your lures or try more subtle, natural looking colors on the clear side of this mud line.

These big bass are here for one reason. They are awaiting those confused prey, seeking sanctuary in the more secure confines of the muddy water. Or awaiting the next easy meal, feeding by eye sight and holding in the clear water.

Conditions throughout your day can change to. A spot where these bass were caught earlier may become void of bass later in the evening. Or the opposite can occur. It can suddenly become muddy where it was clear earlier.

Good water clarity is important to your success when bass fishing any time.

Constantly checking many different spots (preferably those found close by), can have an angler rotating to various places, constantly seeking out the ones with the most ideal conditions for catching bass!

Note – Besides heavy fall rains suddenly swelling the lake there are other conditions that can instantly bring up the lake’s water level.

Water being released from up stream dams, (while the lake’s lower dam is not generating electricity or releasing water) can create a rising lake level situation.

Also keep in mind; if there is no scheduled water to be released from either dam (like on some Sunday’s), then the lake’s natural influxes such as incoming creeks, streams, or rivers can bring up the lake’s level in a days time as well.

By simply calling the water generation authorities and checking the daily water generation schedule, an angler can be prepared for any of these often, ever-changing conditions. Of course, check the weather predictions to.

On the other hand, if the lake is falling (or being lowered for winter pool), anglers must consider many other types of adverse conditions and then adjust accordingly.

When low water is encountered, bank running bass simply move deeper. If these bass were found previously holding along weed lines found along the lake’s original shoreline (when the lake was a full pool), anglers now just need to look for these retreating bass, now holding on or near the next available piece of wood or rock cover.

Or they could be bass occupying a lake that is void of any type of aquatic weeds.

EXAMPLE; Lake Martin on the Tallapoosa River System
This lower Tallapoosa River lake Impounded in 1926 has been drastically lowered as much as 15 feet below normal full pool lake levels during the fall season in years past.

Mostly void of aquatic weeds (due to the extreme lake drawdown each fall/ winter seasons) this lake has wood cover, rock cover and bottom irregularities that spotted bass and largemouth bass relate to.

When the lake is drawn down the wood cover becomes dry and brittle for about 6 months. When it is again returned to full pool during the spring season the dry exposed wood cover such as stumps, just break off and float away as the lake is again flooded back to a normal, full pool lake levels.

Each year there is less and less wood cover left in Lake Martin after extreme winter time lake drawdown.

One way anglers can benefit during these fall and winter seasons from this extreme low water fall/winter drawdown on lake’s like Lake Martin, is to first obtain a good topographic map of the lake.

Most lake maps show 5-10 foot intervals of drop-offs mapped out of the lake, prior to its impoundment. These contour lines will show 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 feet or deeper intervals. These will be lines drawn together that run from around the perimeter of the lake’s shoreline on out to deeper water, when it is at full pool.

If Lake Martin is down 5 feet you can create a new shoreline on your map with a felt tip marker. Preferably use a light colored yellow, chartreuse, light blue or light green pen.
Mark the first 5 foot interval line running near the original lake shore line. This will be the new shoreline of the now low water lake, if it is down about 5 feet.

If Lake Martin is down 10 feet then do the same but with a different colored marker drawn on the 10 foot interval line. Don’t worry about marking up that nice pretty map!

When the lake is returned to full pool next spring you will be more familiar with the lake having studied these drop-offs and contour lines all throughout the fall and winter seasons! Plus you will see the map is a lot easier to read with these well marked, colored-in contour lines!

In addition any wood cover, rocks, laying logs, trees, stumps, and bottom irregularities like ditches or depressions you see during low water should be taken note of.

You can mark these exposed low water spots with a GPS. Or you can triangulate them, lining them up with offshore land marks, maybe taking notes in a book for future reference.

* Here’s How Anglers Can Also Make A Low Water / Full Pool Scrap Book;

Take pictures of these spots during low pool or low water. Place them in a scrap book with a blank spot alongside it for a future high water picture. Make sure you label each picture! Where the picture was taken and the lake level.

Return to the lake at full pool, bring the scrap book full of low water pictures and have a reference number for each picture explaining what and where it was taken.

Then line up the old “low water picture” with the corresponding back ground scenes and snap your “full pool” picture! Then place it alongside the low water picture. You will be amazed at the results.

It will explain and show things that are now underwater that shallow, springtime Lake Martin (or any other low water Alabama lake) bass will relate to…a lot of places, and you could never remember all of them, if you tried!

Low water situations found on any lake during the fall season means targeting bass now moving to nearby wood cover, rock cover, or an irregular bottom change. Usually they are close by in water less than five feet deep.

Or these bass could be holding on aquatic weeds that are now exposed. Off shore weeds that were previously submerged and hidden from the anglers view, when the lake was at full pool. Weeds that become the new, low water shoreline weeds.

Often, these or not deep water bass, just bass re-locating to the lake’s new, low water shoreline in the shallows. Bass that have been feeding or holding on the lake’s deeper banks such as along main lake rock bluffs, are not affected as much by falling lake levels.

Bass that have to re-locate along shallow, main lake flats, major feeder creek flats and the mid-to-far back ends of feeder creeks, are affected by lake drawdown the most.

Just like during a rising water level situation these, “falling water level bass” are constantly on the move when lake’s water level begins to fall. Until conditions stabilize these bass are not comfortable with falling water.

So how do falling lake levels occur?

When the turbines on the lower lake’s dam are generating electricity, or they are releasing water through the dam discharge, it is emptying the lake! In addition, if the upper lake dam is running, combined, these two dams can create some mighty swift current running through the lake and some really, fast-falling lake levels as well!

Many lakes are lowered for winter pool, starting in the early fall period and often staying down several feet until the late winter / early spring period.

Being on the lake — the week this early fall lake drawdown ceases and the lake level stabilizes — can show an angler targeting some of the season’s biggest bass. These big bass can be bunched-up and very crowded on their now newly preferred locations.

Often this is some of the best bass fishing to be had during the entire fall season!

Bass and the prey they dine on both prefer cover. If no weeds are available due to extreme lake draw down, this can make it easier to find big bass on wood cover such as stumps, brush piles, laying logs and trees. Even piers and boat houses.

Exposed rock piles (those previously hidden when the lake was at full pool), can now hold bass such as smallmouth bass and spotted bass that prefer this type of cover. Bunched up predator and prey always means some schooling action will take place in the fall season.

Often this can be an opportunity to fool some of the biggest bass of the year… as you seek out these big bass of fall, during these rising or falling lake level conditions!

Oh, how about all those lures? By now (spring sales and summer bargains), you’ve got a box full…try em’ all!

Thanks and Good Fishin’
Reed Montgomery / Reeds Guide Service (205) 663-1504
Alabaster, Alabama

Reed Montgomery

About Reed Montgomery

Alabama's Oldest, Professional "Bass Fishing Only" Guide Service For Over 40 Years Fishing all of Alabama's Lakes for all Species of Bass and Striped Bass.

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