Fall bass fishing can be a fickle and frustrating beast at times. When we find a big school of bass stuffing their guts with thousands of shad, it can be some of the most exciting action of the year. If both the bait and bass are scattered, however, weâre often left scratching our heads, pullling our hair and mumbling some not-so-nice words beneath our breath.
If youâre having trouble getting bites this season, consider targeting backwater sloughs. According to Elite Series pro Stephen Browning, these shallow areas play host to some giant resident bass and the ongoing shad migration further sweetens the deal.
Before you begin your dissection, itâs important to understand a few key aspects that will drastically shorten the learning curve and increase your chances of success.
Itâs a one-and-done strategy
Backwater resident bass live their entire lives in a very small areaâ regardless of the time of year, weather conditions or water levels, they donât go anywhere. While this may sound like a sure-fire way to catch consistent limits of quality fish, be careful not to get lulled into a false sense of security.
âTargeting resident fish in backwater sloughs is an excellent gameplan throughout the fall, but donât take âem for granted,â Browning said. âThese areas donât replenish quickly, so once you stick one, the odds of catching that bass again are slim-to-none. If youâre a tournament angler, donât expect to catch them on tournament day if youâve already beat them up in practice.â
- Shake âem offâ When Browning is looking for these resident bass in practice, you wonât see him setting the hook. If he gets a bite, heâll drop his rod tip, give the fish plenty of slack and attempt to take the lure away from the fish. Through decades of experience, he believes that as long as the hook doesnât penetrate the bassâ mouth, he can to return to the area and catch it when it counts.
- Tread lightlyââIf youâre sitting in your favorite recliner and somebody keeps thumping you in the head, youâre going to move to the couch,â Browning said. âItâs the same kind of deal with these resident fish. So if youâve had a few bites in practice, just leave it alone and let it rest. When they get spooked or know youâre there, they can be impossible to catch.â
Locate isolated cover
Although the sloughs adorned with loads of cover may look most appealing to anglers, the bass tend to disagree. If you can find an area with a few pieces of isolated cover, your chances of running across that monster bass skyrocket.
âAn overabundance of cover can actually hurt the fishing in this situation,â Browning said. âIf there are a bunch of laydowns from which to choose, it gives them more hiding spots and makes them more difficult to catch. Isolated cover, however, tends to concentrate the fish and make their locations more predictable.â
- Look for channel swingsâ After years of water moving in and out of these sloughs, small channel swings are often created. As youâre fishing the area, make sure to pay attention to the banks. The steeper banks are often indicative of a nearby channel swing that provides bass with added security, more forage options and an excellent ambush point when they need to feed. If you can find a single, isolated piece of cover in these areas, you can expect a bite almost every time.
- Small depth changesâ Youâd be surprised by the difference a seemingly menial depth change can make. If youâre unable to find a channel swing in a particular slough, just a one or two-foot depth change can be enough to hold a big resident bass. Fancy electronics arenât necessarily needed, eitherâ a pair of polarized sunglasses can work wonders when deciphering such shallow water.
If theyâre eating, youâll know it
Unlike many bass fishing techniques that can require hours upon hours of re-rigging and head scratching before getting a bite, backwater bass arenât shy. If theyâre in the area, youâll know in a hurry.
âItâs usually very easy to get these fish to bite,â Browning said. âThatâs one of the reasons I love this strategy so muchâ you can cover water much more efficiently than youâd think. If you havenât gotten bit within the first hour in a slough, that tells you theyâre either not actively feeding or they may not be back there at all.â
- The fall makes it betterâ These resident bass have been through this rodeo a time or two, so as soon as the water temperature drops and the days become shorter, theyâre hard-wired to begin feeding in preparation for the cold winter. Compound this instinctual behavior with consistent populations of shad migrating into these sloughs and the resident bass show themselves quickly.
- Timing is everythingâ âAlthough theyâre pretty easy to catch, itâs still fishing and timing remains a major factor,â Browning said. âIf youâve fished a textbook area like I described without a bite, donât be afraid to come back later. There have been countless times Iâve totally whiffed on my first visit to a slough only to come back later and absolutely hammer âem. Itâs all about catching them in a feeding mode.â
- Make a milk runâ Targeting the backwaters of your fishery can definitely be a numbers game this time of year. To put the odds in your favor, spend a few days finding several sloughs with favorable cover and depth changes. When the weekend comes and itâs time to go fishing, you can rotate between these areas and cover a lot of water. You might only catch fish in two out of ten sloughs, but theyâre usually the ârightâ kind of fish.
Go into it with the right mindset
Throughout the fall, many anglers become frustrated by the lack of quality bass they encounter. It can be fairly common to catch dozens of fish in a single outing, but 3-pounders can be mighty tough to come by at times. Browning believes this backwater strategy solves this problem.
âItâs important to understand that these backwater sloughs provide you with an opportunity to catch some really big bass,â Browning said. âYou probably wonât go out there and encounter non-stop action. Iâm looking for eight to ten bites and I expect two or three of them to be good, quality fish. If youâre up north, youâll be around a lot of 3 and 4-pounders and if youâre down south, it can even be 5 to 6-pounders.â
Very resistant to challenging conditions
It never fails for bass anglersâ the weather is beautiful all week while youâre stuck inside at work and when Saturday morning finally rolls around, a massive cold front smacks your favorite fishery in the face and the bass get lockjaw. It happens to everyone, but these shallow backwaters can be an outstanding remedy for tough conditions.
âI might be beating a dead horse here,â Browning said. âBut these resident fish arenât going anywhere! Mother Nature can throw the kitchen sink at âem and theyâll still hang around. So even though they may be a little tougher to catch, youâll have the comfort of knowing youâre at least around good fish.â
- Fluctuating water levelsâ When the water levels sporadically change, main lake bass can often seem just as confused as the anglers. But backwater bass donât really seem to be bothered by it. They didnât get big by being dumb, so theyâll be sure to select a homeâor piece of coverâthatâs stable in both high and low water situations. As long as the water covers theyâre back, theyâre fat and happy.
- Cold frontsâ âIf you can make yourself slow down during a cold front, youâll still catch these fish,â Browning said. âThese fronts will often make main lake fish change water columns, but thatâs not the case here. The most effective adaptation is to change the weight of your jig. Iâve noticed they can get very picky about fall rate in these situations, so try a size heavier or lighter and youâll figure them out quickly.â
Gettinâ jiggy with it
Some fishing articles can be a bit laborious to read. If the technique being discussed has several different rigging options or requires special modifications, we have to bore you for a few paragraphs with a bunch of âtackle talkâ. Fortunately, thatâs not the case here. Browning primarily relies on a single lure for the bulk of his backwater fishing.
Browning’s favorite jig setup for backwater pitching and flipping
- Jig: 9/16-ounce Jewel Stephen Browning Magnum Casting Jig
- Trailer: Z Man Batwingz
- Rod: 7-foot, medium-heavy St. Croix Legend Extreme
- Reel: Lew’s Team Gold Speed Spool Casting Reel
- Line: 20-pound Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon
âIf Iâm fishing sloughs in the fall, I can just about guarantee you Iâll be flipping and pitching a jig,â Browning said. âThatâs not to say you canât catch them on something else, but over the years it has emerged as a major confidence bait for me.â
- Better hookup ratioâ If youâve fought a bunch of bass on lures with treble hooks, youâve probably lost your fair shareâ we all have. Jigs, however, offer a great hookup ratio which is essential when youâre targeting a finite population of bass. Youâre not going to get many bites with this strategy, so perfect execution is hugely important.
- Thorough presentationsâ Backwater bass arenât always likely to travel great distances for a meal, making precise, snag-free presentations imperative. Browning will make dozens of pitches and flips to a single target before moving on and the jig allows him to fish accurately, efficiently and quietly.
- Get down and dirtyâ âBecause youâre not really making a bunch of long casts, using a jig allows you to beef up your tackle and get down and dirty with âem,â Browning said. âIâll beef up my rod, reel and line so I can pluck those fish from the cover before they wrap me around a limb.â
If you enjoy fishing shallow water, make sure to fish some backwater sloughs during your next fishing trip. While all the main lake fish are being air-raided by big, noisy shad-imitation lures, youâll likely have some really nice bass all to yourself.