Chasing The Food Chain
By Mike Folkestad
As hot summer days begin to cool and we head into the fall season, bass fishing tends improve. It's not that there are suddenly more bass in the lake, but they are definitely easier to find. They begin to move closer to the shorelines as the weather cools, following the food chain. No longer are they chasing shad out in the lake, they are starting to concentrate on points and on various flats. They spend more time in close, where bass anglers like to fish.
When winter comes, the fish will start going deep again, but for the fall, the points and shallow water cover are ideal.
Bass move shallow chasing baitfish, which move shallow because their food source, plankton move into the shallows as well. Chase the food chain, it's an important part of fall angling, and something every angler should be aware of each and every trip to the lake.
During the fall, electronics are very important. Your Pinpoint or other finder should become a staple to you as you locate shad that will begin to gather on and around points.
There won't be much activity in coves for the most part, but make sure to graph the larger ones, because at times, you will find shad in the backs of some coves. Those are the areas you want to fish your topwater baits both in the mornings and late evenings. If there are a lot of weeds in the back of a cove then a spinnerbait is a great choice. Fluke-type baits will also work well. Finding these fish can be difficult because you won't generally establish a real solid pattern. Sometimes they're there and other times they're not. But, when you do find a cove with baitfish in it, then you can fill a limit quickly.
Run the points in the fall, especially the long, tapered ones. These tend to produce better than shorter, steeper points this time of year.
Rock walls are other areas that can really hold the bass in the fall. The shad get much tighter to these walls in the fall than they are in the summer. When shad are pushed up against the bluffs, the topwater bite picks up and will last a lot longer each day than in the summer.
Darthead fishing is an excellent technique during the fall. My general set up would be a 1/8-ounce Kalin darthead with 4-inch Berkley Power Worms in black, purple, or pumpkin. The real key is to use a bait you have confidence in because you will generally present it better. On desert lakes, such as Powell or Mead, a good color to start with would be purple.
Berkely's Vanish line in a 6-pound test gives the angler a bit more of an advantage when dartheading. It has low stretch, excellent feel, and gives you good control over your darthead. This is important because a darthead isn't a bottom bait, it's really a falling bait. If you find a vertical wall with cuts and creases in it and the shad are pushed up against it in 10 to 25 feet of water, I like to use that 6-pound line in tandem with a medium-action six-foot Berkley Series One rod.
Cast the darthead towards the wall and allow it to free fall down the wall. You will generally get your bites on the fall. If you use a heavier head the bait falls too fast and you won't get the bites. Sometimes I will go to a 1/16-ounce darthead if the bite is tough, but never anything more than a 1/8-ounce. To ensure your lure spends the maximum amount of time in the strike zone place your cast as close to the wall as possible. The further you are away from the wall the fewer fish you will catch. The lure naturally pendulums back towards the boat and away from the wall. The bass are usually located in the crevices of the wall and they jump out and eat the bait as it goes by. If the lure is too far away, they won't bother.
Another effective way of fishing a darthead is along the tapering points. If shad are present, you can cast the darthead out and let it sink to the bottom and begin to shake it a little, not a lot, more like a doodle shake. Make sure the lure is gliding and sliding around, making sure it occasionally bumps against the bottom. This is a very slow presentation. You do need a contact point. You can't work for 25 feet and not hit the bottom. You want it to go to the bottom, and then lift it an inch or two and let it glide while you give a little shake. This will trigger a lot of strikes.
The darthead isn't very effective in open water unless you see the bass "busting" shad on the surface and you cast it right in the middle of them. But there are other lures much more effective for this type of fishing.
Anglers enjoy fishing in the fall is because the weather is cooler and shallow water opportunities abound. The food chain is right there next to shore, and this, at the very least, activates bass' appetites. Then the fish become easier to catch and easier to find. Anglers also crave topwater action, and the fall produces some of the best surface action of the year.
In the summer, topwater action is usually relegated to very early morning hours or late in the evening, or in cases such as Roosevelt Lake in Arizona, topwater action will be at its best at night. But, in the fall, a good topwater bite can last well into the day. It's a great time to fish. Go . . . enjoy yourself.
Reprinted with permission from Bass West Magazine