Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa; big meals and bountiful holiday treats are traditional year-end favorites. Same goes for bass seeking those fleeting opportunities to pack on the weight for winter’s lean times.
Some anglers seek the schooling activity and leverage tactics that tempt frenzied fish ravaging shad, minnows, etc.; while others prefer the big bait-big fish mentality. Good thing is, fall is like a holiday buffet — lots of choices to fit individual preference. But don’t dally or all the good stuff will be gone.
Just as menus vary from home to home, everyone has their personal preference for hefty holiday meals. Use this lineup to guide your selections.
Techniques and setups to consider
All-day buzzbait: “They will school up in the fall, but I’m more concentrated on running the bank and looking for one fish at a time,” said pro angler Harvey Horne. “That’s the time of year when a lot of people are getting way from a topwater; but that’s my favorite time to throw a buzzbait all day.
“It’s more prolonged than most realize and it’s exciting to see them eat something on top.”
Horne employs a one-two punch of a Greenfish Toad Toter with a Big Bite Baits Tour Toad trailer; or a 3/8-ounce Big Bite Baits Suicide Buzz with a 5-inch Suicide Shad. The latter works best for burning banks as fast as possible and looking for isolated logs or rocks; while the former handles dock-skipping duties.
“The bait is designed so the trailer fits over the head, so you have a bulky bait with a shorter profile, which skips better,” Horne said of the Toad Toter. “The Tour Toad’s width allows me to keep the bait up in the water column, even when I’m reeling it slow.
“As the water cools, I’ll go back to the banks with the Toad Toter so I can slow down.”
Slow your roll: Fall finds pro angler Russ Lane retrofitting a 3/4-ounce Buckeye Lures spinnerbait with a willow-leaf/Colorado blade combo by replacing the standard willow with a big No. 7 willow in the back position. Finishing with a 4.4-inch Big Bite Baits Finesse Swimmer creates the kind of profile that tempts those fish seeking big body gizzard shad.
Lane’s usually targeting secondary points with brush piles, shell beds, etc. in a creek’s mid-depths. Ticking bottom in these spots, he said is the way to find solitary studs.
“You can catch fish reeling a bait fast closer to the surface or up shallow; but the bigger fish tend to stay out deeper because they’re not quite as aggressive,” Lane said. “If I’m catching fish on a flat, I know to look just a little deeper for isolated cover out front.
“The main thing is getting that bait down 6 to 7 feet and reeling just fast enough to make contact with the bottom. That big blade moves a lot of water just like a big gizzard shad. When you have it set up right, you can feel it pulling against you.”
As Lane notes, a big Colorado blade also yields big-time water displacement, but it’ll make the bait rise. Also essential here is downsizing his Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon to 14 or 16 pound. Less line resistance equals a faster fall.
Big worm: Don’t pigeonhole this one to summer’s dog days. Often big fish hold below smaller schoolers where they can gobble wounded shad descending to the bottom. Swim a 10-inch ribbontail through the basement and something might go “thump”.
It’s a drag: When his topwater bite needs a break, Horne turns to a 1-ounce green pumpkin/purple custom poured football jig with a 5-inch Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog in the candy grass color. He’ll occasionally flip to brush, but his main deal is casting deep and winds it back at a peppy clip that favors a reaction style retrieve.
“I reel it fast enough to keep hitting bottom; it reminds me of a Wiggle Wart retrieve,” Horne said. “I start covering flats about 3/4 of the way back in the creek with this presentation. The key is using 18- to 20-pound Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon because your dragging it fast across the bottom.”
Feelin’ cranky: If windy days put the kibosh on his buzzbait action, Horne heads to the very blacks of creeks with a SPRO Fat John 60. Notably, he’ll fish his way into the creek with a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait sporting a gold/silver double willow-leaf combo, but then fish back out with the shallow-diving crankbait. The idea here, is to mimic a wind-tossed shad.
The latest buzz: West Coast hammer Ken Mah digs a D&M Custom Baits Double Hammer buzzbait with a Big Bite Baits Tour Toad trailer. Particularly in grassy fisheries like the California Delta, Mah turns to this big fish bait as soon as the water starts to cool.
“The double buzz shines because I can slow it way down and, due to the twin blades, it will stay on top at slower speeds,” Mah said. “Ideally, there’s remaining grass that hasn’t died off yet and the more isolated the grass the better.
“I always fish a buzzbait on 60-pound Sunline XPlasma Asegai braided line (dark green). I can make longer casts, I get immediate hook set response and I have the power to pull big fish away from heavy cover.”
Wakeup call: Mah’s other fall killer is a Jackall Mikey wakebait. He throws this one on open flats with submerged grass or any prominent subsurface target such as a tule point, grass clump or wood.
Mopping up: When pro angler Casey Ashley’s facing dirty fall water, he’ll break out a 1/2-ounce Buckeye Lures Mop Jig, pair it with a chunk-style trailer and pitch it to brush, laydowns and docks. The bulky profile’s sure to get noticed, as long as those presentations are tight enough to encroach on the shrunken strike zones.
For missed bites on a reaction bait or for a clean-up an area, Lane turns to a 3/8-ounce Buckeye Lures Pitch ‘N’ Skip Jig with a Big Bite Baits Kamikaze Craw. Technically a finesse jig, this bait’s built with a stout 3/0 Gamakatsu hook that works well on heavy line.
Across the board, wacky- or Neko-rigged stick worms make sensible fall standbys. Depth typically determines the setup and, if you’re looking for a convenience booster, VMC’s new dual-channeled Crossover Rings and task-specific pliers enhance rigging efficiency.
In closing, let’s be honest about the holiday meals: preparing or ordering fresh food every time guests get the munchies isn’t practical. Similarly, year-end fishing can also see a certain degree of necessary spontaneity. Crowd-pleasing recipes include the drop shot, Ned rig and short leader Carolina rig.
For a fall fish that’s just about stuffed, but feels the urge to binge eat, sucking in one of these no-challenge baits is like grabbing a handful of popcorn – plain, cheddar cheese or caramel, because Santa knows we’ll see plenty of those tri-flavored decorative tins soon.