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LooksLikeSinbad

Small Pond frustration in the Fall

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I have been fishing a small local lake all year and I have consistently figured out how to catch fish - spring, summer and fall until this past week.  The water is 50 degrees now and I am assuming that most fish have moved deep, but I have seen schools of bass cruising the shallows.

Two times this week I had the following scenario:  a group of bass following my jerkbait in shallow water. They all follow it and watch it. Sometimes they even nip at the tail on the pause, but none of them would commit and bite it.  I tried altering the retrieve - longer pause, harder jerk but I just couldn't get them to hit it even thought they were obviously interested in it. These bass are not sluggish or inactive, but are not biting. What would you do in that situation?  Both times the school moved on quickly so I only had a small window of time to catch them. Help!

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Great, and timely, post.

You are describing my latest observations here in CO exactly. Really great that you are taking temps, btw.

Yesterday, (with 49F to 51F water -a slide of a couple degrees due to a cold night) I had to work hard for just a couple LM. I drew chase wakes to my little (8cm) X-Rap in several locations, but only brought two to hand. Interestingly, I had wakes both to the lure and away as the bass could be spooked by too aggressive a jerk. In one spot the sun popped out and I spotted a bass follow and peck at my Rap. I followed up with a small jig-n-pork, then a grub. I got only a peck at the 1/16oz grub too!

It seems that bass in cold water are more difficult to get to commit, maybe because they are feeding less. I know there's talk about bass fattening for winter but I think there's a limit. IMO (so far) fall binges have more to do with water falling through metabolically efficient temps coupled with more vulnerable preyfish. Now down at 50F (at the bass depth) I still find bass willing to chase, but I simply catch fewer that is, fewer seem willing to commit. My guess is (and that's what it is) that they are metabolically hindered. It seems 50F or so is at the cusp of some change, or that, with days so short and sun so low, heating just can't happen anymore: the winter slide has begun in earnest. Interestingly, this appears to be a greater issue with largemouths than with smallmouths.

Several thoughts (sorry, no end all be all answers):

-Sighted bass can be difficult. It's not because they are cruising, as most often this is normal hunting behavior. It tells you the bass are active and that's a very good sign. What's difficult is that you get to see that bass aren't always, even often, duped by our lures. They are most susceptible to being duped under reduced visibility conditions often when it's too dim or clarity low enough that we can't see em. Even then, a lot of bass just aren't fooled. When bass take a lure it's bc they made a mistake in identity (especially so for educated bass), or were excited by the proximity or action.

-Has your pond changed? Has water clarity increased? It may be that the plankton in your pond has died off with dropping temps, and left the water like crystal. Hence, you are not only having trouble duping fish, but now seeing them not be duped! Also, has your vegetation died back some, leaving more open water? The swimming pool effect (little cover) makes it harder to dupe bass. I record visibility (depth I can see) along with temp. If anything it'll at least get you noticing something that can be important.

-Have your bass seen that jerkbait very much lately? Try a change-up. In cold water, in my ponds, I use: hard jerks (various colors and sizes), Mepps Aglia #2 or 3, single-spin spinnerbaits w/CO blade and a teasy trailer, chatterbait, various jigs (grubs, marabou, or hair in 1/16 to 1/8oz) with or without a clip-on overhead jig spinner which allows you to slow the retrieve speed.

-In any water temp mature bass know what they can catch and what is a waste of energy. In very cold water a bass' strike range is shortened, and the angle it passes the fish more important. I think that in really cold water a straighter retrieve is more apt to be perceived as catchable. Often, especially when temps get below 50, nil speed (what I call a VERY slow swim) retrieve works well. It's not that erratic movement won't work, in fact it can be the ticket (hence the teasy trailers), it just can't move away from the fish too quickly. And sometimes, too much movement puts em off, even spooks em as I saw yesterday. I haven't done it, but I would like to play with a float-n-fly set-up when we hit winter conditions (water in the mid 40s and below). I think, shaking a marabou jig beneath a float, might tempt of few bites from fish that won't chase a horizontal retrieve. My guess is this will still be slow going.

-It is possible, theoretically, that those cruising bass are actually feeling their hormones and what we're seeing might actually be a prespawn type of cruising. I know it sounds sort of out there, but there are indications that bass may begin reproductive activity in fall they are certainly developing gonads then. Just something to keep tucked away in the back of your mind and could come in handy when your ego needs an excuse LOL.

I think in general you have to accept fewer committed fish. Do experiment and let us know what you find. I'm doin' the same stuff here.

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Two things come to mind: Jerkbaits, try both suspending and floating.

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George, in the last few days I've had two of my fish take near the surface, right after splashdown, on the suspender. After I just couldn't get some of those wakes to commit to the suspender, I did think of trying a #11 floating Rapala, but I didn't. This is a killer in spring, but I've not done well with it until surface water hits 55. But fall may be different.

Yesterday it was a 'move on and find new fish'...or 'work the ones you have' sort of decision. Since this is looking like a pattern here, it would have been worth sticking it out a bit further.

Got a pretty good cold front on me right now so it'll be a couple days until things are back to "normal" -minus about 3 or 4 degrees of water temp though I fear. It may have to wait until next year.

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Paul -

Thanks for that lengthy reply.  It sounds like we are facing very similar conditions. If nothing else, it helps to know I'm not the only one. :)

-Has your pond changed? Has water clarity increased? Also, has your vegetation died back some, leaving more open water?

I have been watching both temps and clarity. It does seem clearer in the past week and that might be a contributing factor.  The temperature has been steadily decreasing as you would expect in the fall, and as you suggested 50 degrees does seem to be the point that the bass have gotten much more finicky. Just a couple weeks ago at 52 degrees I was catching them one after another. Things have really slowed.

I have not observed any change in vegetation but this is not one of those bodies of water with a lot of fishable weeds.

-Have your bass seen that jerkbait very much lately? Try a change-up. In cold water, in my ponds, I use: hard jerks (various colors and sizes), Mepps Aglia #2 or 3, single-spin spinnerbaits w/CO blade and a teasy trailer, chatterbait, various jigs (grubs, marabou, or hair in 1/16 to 1/8oz) with or without a clip-on overhead jig spinner which allows you to slow the retrieve speed.

I have been using that jerkbait a lot but this is a pretty unpressured body of water so I don't think that matters too much in this case. But in retrospect I wonder what would have happened if I had followed up with a floating jerkbait and/or a soft plastic jerkbait.

Thanks for all your suggestions, I appreciate it. We are expecting a lot of rain here so by the time the rain stops and the water has cooled more I expect the conditions will be even slower. We'll see.

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Yesterday I was fishing with water temp about 53 and could not catch anything but yellow perch all day until the very end of the day.  I was throwing a jerkbait into schools of bass that were crashing herring on the surface over 20' of water.  If I had a topwater bait with me I am sure I would have been able to crush them even though it is November and water temps in the low 50's.  Even without a topwater I caught 3 good sized smallies and a 5 IB Largie working the jerkbait through the schools of bait as fast and agrresively as I could.  

If bass are actively feeding on bait fish then you can catch them, if they are not and just following your bait and nipping at the tail end try downsizing to a smaller bait.

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If the shallow water 'cruisers' are just checking out your jerkbait but not hitting it, I would ignore those fish and go deeper. Slow way down and focus on jigs and soft plastics. I would try a shakey head finesse worm first, then try a carolina rig with a craw worm or a senko.

By slow I mean hop your lure, then count to ten, then hop it twice, then count to 20, then hop once, count to thirty, repeat...

It will test your patience, but it works.  This was the single most useful tip I learned here before last winter and it really paid off.  I think it was Catt's post where I got it but I'm not sure.  

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I was faced with the same thing at my local pond last weekend.  Most of the fish I spotted were just cruising, and the water was very clear, so they were easy to spot.  Every now and then one would follow, but I never got a hit on a jig, jerkbait, or a crank.  I have thrown soft plastics and tried to focus on slowing it down, but I dont think that I have been patient ENOUGH, so that will be my focus this weekend!

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I managed to hit the same spot today for about an hour. First cast, exact same thing - jerking the x-rap into my view I can see about 6 bass following it. This time fortunately 1 hit it and I landed him. Next cast same thing, 1 of them nipped it but no takers. Then they were gone. I tried throwing a soft plastic jerk and some other baits but no bites and I didn't see any more cruising. I hit a different spot down the shore and caught 1 more jerking with long pauses. I think that is the key now, painfully slow pauses.  Not easy for an impatient guy like me.  :)  Thanks to everyone for their suggestions.  

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Matt 825 Wrote:

Yesterday I was fishing with water temp about 53 and could not catch anything but yellow perch all day until the very end of the day. I was throwing a jerkbait into schools of bass that were crashing herring on the surface over 20' of water. If I had a topwater bait with me I am sure I would have been able to crush them even though it is November and water temps in the low 50's. Even without a topwater I caught 3 good sized smallies and a 5 IB Largie working the jerkbait through the schools of bait as fast and agrresively as I could.

If bass are actively feeding on bait fish then you can catch them, if they are not and just following your bait and nipping at the tail end try downsizing to a smaller bait.

Interesting. Yeah, I've read about and heard from posters about winter bass doing this. Schooling prey like shad or alewife can get bass up and active. Sometimes it's cold-shocked and dying shad bringing on a strong bite in very cold water. I also know of anglers that fish topwaters on large lakes with alewife (or was it cisco?) in mid-winter, but these were smallies. This does go to show that bass (both, but esp smallmouth) can be aggressive in cold water. The more I hear from anglers fishing later and later into the year, the more overlooked opportunities there seem to be.

My ponds, however, are bluegill based and I don't expect the bass have the opportunities to gorge like they might with schooled prey -beyond continued weedbed die-offs. They have to hunt those 'gills down one at a time an energy intensive activity that may not support really aggressive activity, but more passive opportunistic behavior. It's pretty well documented that bass and many other fish lose performance markedly when acclimated to cold water compared to warm. In fact, In-Fisherman shows some data along this line this month. Maybe that's what Sinbad, Buckeye, and I, are seeing (?).

I'm not writing my ponds off, but catch rate has slowed, and did so last year at this time too, although I did have a day last year when I found a group tightly bunched behind a notably dense weed clump. I caught four there, and one leapt 4 times, almost clearing the water on 2 of those jumps I wrote in my journal. They can move if they are motivated. It's the motivation part I'm wondering about.

Sinbad, what IS that bad dude in your avatar???

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Paul and LooksLikeSinbad,

I notice a pronounced difference in the bite when water temperatures hit 50 on down.  Both of you mentioned using the X-rap which I do like to use, but when temperatures get colder I have more success with the Rapala Husky Jerks.  The action is milder and they seem to get a few more largemouth bites under these conditions, at least for me.  

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Sinbad, what IS that bad dude in your avatar???

That is a photo-finish lipless crankbait I am making with a bluegill image. That is my 2nd attempt. I hope to have the kinks worked out in a couple weeks and make a bunch for next season.

bluegill-photofinish-02.jpg

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Thanks, Senile1. I remember reading people like the more subtle shimmy of Rogues more than the darting of X-Raps in colder water. I remember it being explained as more a better imitation of cold stressed shad, but might be worth a go in my bluegill waters.

I have both actually: Husky's and some Rogues. I also have some very small chrome Husky's I've used in spring on bright days -the smaller size and diff action might do the trick.

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Sinbad, spectacular!

Did you buy the blanks? Or carve them? What material do you print on for the photofinish? In short, I want to make some! If you are willing, or can find the time, to share, post in the appropriate page.

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Sinbad, spectacular!

Did you buy the blanks? Or carve them? What material do you print on for the photofinish? In short, I want to make some! If you are willing, or can find the time, to share, post in the appropriate page.

Thanks Paul.

I bought plastic unpainted blanks for $1.40 each.  As for the technique, I gathered information about photo finishing from several tutorials, message boards, etc. (primarily tackleundergound.com) I have been using photoshop for many years so that part was easy for me. But for most people that would probably be the biggest challenge - sizing the image to fit the blank properly and retouching and color-correcting the photo. Once I have my personal technique figured out I am more than happy to share it.  

From what I understand this will work on wooden lures too if you carve your own.

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first, that photofinish crank looks amazing...

second, back to the pond issue.  When I was out I could barely get the bass to follow a lure.  I would see them sitting near the banks watching schools of baitfish, but any lure I would throw would not catch their attention...could this be the "lockjaw" theroy I've heard about LMB doing this time of year?

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Yesterday I was fishing with water temp about 53 and could not catch anything but yellow perch all day until the very end of the day.  I was throwing a jerkbait into schools of bass that were crashing herring on the surface over 20' of water.  If I had a topwater bait with me I am sure I would have been able to crush them even though it is November and water temps in the low 50's.  Even without a topwater I caught 3 good sized smallies and a 5 IB Largie working the jerkbait through the schools of bait as fast and agrresively as I could.  

If bass are actively feeding on bait fish then you can catch them, if they are not and just following your bait and nipping at the tail end try downsizing to a smaller bait.

I'd be throwing to the outside edges of the bait ball, not directly into it.  My thinking is that I'm not trying to tempt the fish that are in there already feeding, but going for the fish lying in wait just outside the bait ball.  My lure then represents a wayward, or injured baitfish, an easier meal.  I also go large, and follow up with small after a miss.

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May I suggest trying a drop shot rig?

And a spinnerbait?

Give 'em a shot and see what happens.

Fish the drop slow.  ;)

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When I was out I could barely get the bass to follow a lure. I would see them sitting near the banks watching schools of baitfish, but any lure I would throw would not catch their attention...could this be the "lockjaw" theroy I've heard about LMB doing this time of year?

Most bass don't get lockjaw, or stop feeding, if that's what you mean, in winter. I've read that in some waters bass can be less active than in others. My guess is this has to do with prey availability, which can be chronic, and/or change year to year. Although overall activity is greatly diminished, bass will feed all winter and do move about. Most telemetry studies have shown this, at least in still waters, and a few individual bass were even known to make regular long movements during winter. I think a lot of anglers picture bass just laying bottom, or suspended, and completely inactive for the winter. This just doesn't seem to be the case in many, of not most, waters. But the question here is: How do they react to lures?

Smallmouths are more apt to be active feeders during winter than largemouths (although this could be water body specific or a matter of certain conditions). I just read a bit of research where the investigators were trying to capture, through the ice of a natural pond, 10 SM and 10 LM for blood samples. They reported that they caught all 10 SM on the first day trying. It took them days to get the 10 LM. The SM would take a live minnow dangled on a hook. By video observation they discovered the LM's would only stare. They finally caught their LMs by teasing them with a small marabou jig. Interestingly, these LM (10-14inch) cruised by the lens in the same wolfpacks we see in summer.

As to bass' general response to lures: There's a BIG misconception about bass as some kind of super-predator that can score at will. This just isn't so. (The possible exception MIGHT be uniquely large bass that have figured out something unique, coupled with certain locational elements.) Most bass born either get eaten, or starve to death. Although predators are truly super athletes, so too are their prey. Co-evolution of predator and prey goes a long way in explaining the forms, functions, and behaviors of both.

Mature bass, the ones we like to catch, have learned a few things. They know when prey is vulnerable and when it's less likely to be so. This revolves, as far as I understand it so far, around immediate environmental conditions, physical elements of the habitat, and prey behavior and position relative to the bass. Mature bass are opportunists, and won't waste energy. There is too much at stake:

The prime directive is to reproduce. To do this bass need to eat well. To do this they have to be able to catch prey. Prey has to be available, and vulnerable. If these parameters aren't met they'll lay low. They can do so longer in cold water than hot. Bass simply need less food in winter to maintain their basic metabolic processes -growth will have to wait. They are also substantially weaker in terms of performance (swimming speed and duration) in winter. As an added burden, cold water is MUCH denser than warm. It must slow them considerably. I've yet to see a study where this was taken into account. It would be interesting to know how much water density accounts for performance issues. There might be a performance differential between bass and certain prey species.

There was a time when anglers believed that food in a fish's stomach will rot in cold water, because they can't digest it fast enough. This is untrue. Bass can even eat a lot in cold water, if food is available, and vulnerable. One such situation is when shad become cold shocked during severe winter weather. Bass fishing can be spectacular at these times, coinciding with unseasonably cold winter temps! It's because there are lots of weakened and dying, and easy to catch, shad available. If this were a rare event not many bass would likely participate. But in some waters, or periods of years with appropriate shad numbers, bass will catch onto this motherlode. A friend of mine who has fished this scenario says that in years with very large die-offs, the fishing can be poorer. He feels that the bass become sated.

Another BIG misconception (just read any lure advertisement) is that bass can't resist certain lures. First, consider the above. Second, bass can learn that lures are dangerous. This has been seen in all types of angling studies, in the lab and in natural waters. It's a fact (although some lures are more difficult to discern as dangerous than others). They can learn pretty fast too, and can even remember certain lures for MONTHS!

Thus, the game of angling is played when and where there are conditions that increase activity levels (esp those that reach down into the food chain), under dim lighting conditions, with an appropriate amount of stealth, and appropriate lure choices. The rest you can't do much about. If you can, let us know!

Oh yeah: Bass, not only may lay low, or stay at a low energy state awaiting adequate hunting conditions, but they also sleep probably daily. I've found them sleeping so soundly I've poked them repeatedly with a rod tip, only to have them wriggle further into the weeds, Don't wake me fisherman. Can't you see I've got important business to attend to...zzzzzzz

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Sam, I had three rigs with me on those days, one was a drop-shot rig. I tried a 4"worm, a 4" fluke, a 4" and 3" Storm DS minnow -all to no avail. I'm certain some bass saw them. Will continue with it and see what comes. I may just need better conditions (cop out?), or a better trigger.

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Yeah this has happened in Texas, but it's not quite as cold....... had a few cold fronts and fish really backed off........ didn't get as many bites, but focused on the bigger fish.......  

They want an easy meal when their metabolism slows when water temps lower....... something slow, big, and easy to catch.........

Go with a big worm like a 10" powerworm......... go with a big 3/4 or 1 ounce jig with a big crawfish trailer...........

It's a good time of year to fish.......... even though you won't catch as many fish, they will be better quality........

try to find the spot where the water is slighty warmer....... and fish a little deeper....... maybe where the sun is hitting- just a degree or two can make a world of difference......

good luck :D

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Paul, those are some interesting points you are making and my experience seems to confirm what you are saying, though we obviously can't control for all variables.  The main forage on one of my ponds is bluegill and sunfish.  In comparison to the waters I fish where the main forage is shad, the bite on this pond is affected even more when temperatures near the 50 degree mark in Autumn.  

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bch_2970 wrote:

It's a good time of year to fish.......... even though you won't catch as many fish, they will be better quality........

I think there is something to that. I always attributed the larger bass caught in coldwater periods to habitat change that makes prey more available, and vulnerable -dying weedbeds, weakened small fishes (not going to survive the winter), shad moving shallow, etc...

But, on the flip-side, I simply don't catch small bass (7-10 inch), the hordes I have to try to avoid in summer. Anyone else notice this?

Senile1 wrote:

we obviously can't control for all variables.

That's the bugger. And why fishing just isn't a science. We have to juggle a lot of variables. I guess I'm all about trying to find the key elements, and then develop a hierarchy of priorities based on best information. Wish me luck on what might end up a fool's journey.

In comparison to the waters I fish where the main forage is shad, the bite on this pond is affected even more when temperatures near the 50 degree mark in Autumn.

Lucid1, thanks for the input. You're in MO. Curious, are the vegetation beds in your pond still alive and intact? Do you know your water temps presently? (Or are you playing smart and fishing the shad-based water? LOL).

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