I have a little pep in my step today and you couldn’t smack the briar-eating grin off my face, if I’m being honest. I walked outside this morning and finally, at long and blessed last, it felt like fall weather. The days of an always-sweaty shirt and constant showering from the scorching Georgia heat may finally be coming to an end. I’ll admit that I may have been a bit impulsive a few hours ago, but I walked out to my shop and started getting my fall lineup rigged and ready; I was pulling out my beloved crankbaits, topwaters and anything else that might have a treble hook attached to it. I am so pumped to wear my favorite fishing hoodie and run my Skeeter down the lake at first light this weekend.
As I was rigging my fall bass fishing tackle this morning, I started thinking about a few things that have helped me tremendously over the years. I remember back in college, I’d follow the baitfish to the backs of small creeks and the water would look like it was boiling because of all the surface activity. There would be shad flickering, bass busting and my ugly butt throwing everything imaginable at all the commotion and not getting the first bite. Although the weather was incredible, I would get so frustrated by the overabundance of baitfish because those stupid bass would not bite anything I threw. Not catching bass is one thing but when you can see them with your eyeballs 20 feet in front of your boat, it brings irritation to an entirely new level.
Since those days, I’ve learned that fishing around a bunch of baitfish can be pretty darn tough. It’s important to realize, however, that it’s not impossible and there are absolutely ways to make the most of this annual occurrence. When those bass and baitfish get corralled into the shallows this time of year, you can get right in a New York minute but it takes a few special characteristics when choosing your fishing lure.
Hang with me for a few minutes and I think you’ll have a really successful fall fishing season.
Big eyes can bring big results
I’ve never liked a dang cat. I always thought I was a dog person but sure enough, when my wife and I bought our house and property, this cute little brown cat kept coming out of the woods and watching us as we renovated the house. I was the tough guy at first and told my wife there was no way in heck we were going to let this cat hang around.
Fast-forward a few weeks and Mr. Tough Stuff is laying on the back porch at 10 p.m. feeding it Goldfish crackers and talking to it like a baby. So we have a cat now.
I tell you that story for a reason, however. I love this silly cat and I shine a little laser pointer at her all the time; she’ll chase that thing like a maniac and never stop. Watching her chase that laser has taught me a lot about predatory behavior. When you get around schooling bass and baitfish in the fall, I believe you have to give them some sort of proverbial laser pointer to chase.
Think about it: If you have 100 cheeseburgers in front of you, are you going to try and eat a fake one? I highly doubt it.
I think fall bass are the same way. They’re surrounded by hundreds of thousands of real baitfish and they know your lure isn’t real. They have small brains but they ain’t that stupid. The mistake I made back in college is that I was trying to mimic the baitfish a little too closely. I know that sounds weird, but I’ve learned since then that it’s important to make your lure stand out just enough from the real baitfish to garner some additional attention.
I’ve started focusing a lot on baits with larger-than-average eyes in the fall and the results have been fantastic. Even when I’m fishing on the back deck of a buddy’s boat, I seem to be out-catching them when I’m using a bait with larger eyes this time of year.
The bass will hone-in on these big eyeballs just like my cat chases that laser pointer on our hardwood floors. The oversized eyes make the lure stand out just a little bit more than the rest of the baitfish in the area and give the bass something to focus on and easily chase down.
Lure suggestions: The first big-eyed baits that come to my mind are the Yo-Zuri 3DB Series Pencil 125 (pictured) and the Strike King Red Eye Shad. Both have turned into fall-time staples for me and they both come with really stout components, so you can easily fish ’em straight out of the package. No matter what you choose this time of year, just look at the eyeballs and watch what happens!
Make a little marker magic
I can’t draw and I dreaded art class as a kid; I just don’t care anything about drawing stuff. But now that I’m a fisherman, I’ve learned that a permanent marker and some
ugly rudimentary drawing can make an enormous difference in my success.
For the same reason I prefer to use big-eyed lures this time of year, I also like to make the existing dots on the side of shad-imitating lures even bigger. It doesn’t take Bob Ross-type painting talent to make it happen, either. I just scrounge up an old, no-name marker from our kitchen junk drawer and double the size of the dot that’s already there. If the lure doesn’t have a dot, I personally like to draw one right behind the gill plate of the lure.
I first learned this tip from Elite Series pro Mark Menendez. We were talking on the phone and I was telling him how frustrated I was fishing around loads of bass and not getting a single bite. He suggested this to me and it worked absolute wonders. I believe a larger dot makes your lure stand out just a little bit more from all of the real baitfish in the area, which triggers the predatory instincts of bass.
Lure suggestions: I’ve really liked the Bagley Balsa Wake 1 (pictured) lately. We all know bass love to feed higher in the water column this time of year and the aggressive wake this bait emits has been a real winner for me. This “dot” method, however, is still very effective on other hard lures as well.
Chartreuse can make all the difference
I’ve never seen a bunch of chartreuse-colored baitfish swimming around underwater, so I’m not quite sure why this works so well. But it’s incredibly important to understand that chartreuse stripes on shallow-diving crankbaits, lipless crankbaits and topwater lures can make an enormous difference this time of year. Again, I think it makes the lure stand out just a bit more than the other live baitfish in the area which triggers the predatory instincts of a bass.
I’m not quite sure when the color pattern called “sexy shad” came into existence. The first time I remember hearing about it was after Kevin VanDam and Strike King came out with the pattern years ago. It’s basically a shad color with a thin, chartreuse stripe down the lateral line of the lure. It looks just like a shad in the water but also has that added appeal of a bright color to trigger otherwise wary bass.
Lure suggestions: It’s awfully tough to beat a Strike King 1.5 Squarebill (pictured above in Sexy Summer Shad pattern) in the fall. But if you don’t feel like buying new baits and spending a bunch of money, don’t stress out about it. You can run down to the dollar store and buy a highlighter and modify your existing lures for a dollar or two. I used to do this all the time when I was a dead-broke college fisherman and it still works just as well today.