Bass fishing in the fall provides some of the best fishing of the year for both numbers and size. If you ask any seasoned angler when the best time to connect with a true giant, many will tell you either during the pre-spawn phase or in the late fall (depending on where they are located). I say late fall because that’s when bass will have gorged themselves in preparation for the upcoming winter, but there’s also another reason which I will explain later in this article.
So what are largemouth bass doing during the transition from late summer to fall, late fall and finally winter? As you have probably read or experienced out on the water during summer, many bass move deep onto offshore structures. As the days begin to get shorter and the temperature begins to drop, this is nature’s way of warning all animals that winter is approaching. In the northeastern United States, the late fall fishing kicks into high gear following the first major cold front that moves in.
On large man-made reservoirs and impoundments, bass will follow huge schools of pelagic baitfish (Shad, Alewife, Emerald Shiners, etc.) that migrate towards the backs of creek arms. On natural ponds and lakes, bass will also follow baitfish that move shallow and gravitate toward rock and weed edges.
Big bass will often key in on larger prey like crappie, perch, bluegill, and other sunfish. The late fall is also a great time for pitching and flipping to shallow water lay-down trees and docks. For me personally, this is where I find most of those really big bass in the late fall. You may have heard the term “big baits catch big bass”, but try to keep an open mind as the water temps get colder, you’ll sometimes need to downsize to smaller lures (even jigs).
Most bodies of water that stratify go through what is known as the “fall turnover”. Many large natural lakes and reservoirs never experience a turnover due to constant wind, waves, and current throughout the summer to fall transition.
If you are not familiar with the term “turnover”, basically what happens is as the surface water temps cool down, there comes a point when the water below is warmer than the surface layer and this causes the lake to “turnover”. The colder water sinks, the warmer water rises and they mix together. Ultimately we end up with fairly consistent water temperature from top to bottom. The thermocline that once existed over the summer disappears and bass are free to roam throughout the water column.
If you have ever been on a lake in the fall and noticed all sorts of debris floating on the surface and often a change in watercolor, the lake has most likely experienced a turnover. This can be a challenging time for anglers because bass need time to adjust to their newly changed environment and often become more difficult to catch.
I tend to put bass into three groups, shallow water bass (bass that stay shallow most of the year), roamers (bass that use both shallow and deep water) and finally deep water bass (those that generally stay in deep water except to spawn). When faced with a turnover, the fish that will be least affected will be the shallow water bass. The other two groups will be impacted more severely with the deepwater bass being hit the hardest. When confronted with a fall turnover, try targeting those shallow-water bass that have been occupying cover near the bank. You may need to be a bit more persistent with your presentation, so be sure to work every piece of cover thoroughly.
Whether you’re fishing from the bank, in a kayak, small boat, pontoon boat or bass boat, your chances of hooking into a giant bass are greater when fishing during the late fall period. The reason is not just because bass tend to pack on the ounces in preparation for the cold water period, but there is a point at which some of the biggest bass in a given body of water continue to feed while other smaller bass have packed it in for the winter. These rogue slobs tend to be solitary bass that roam the shallows and the first drop-off edges in search of that one last meal to carry them through the coming months.
At this time, the fishing tends to slow down a bit. Those fall flurries of bass caught on outer weed edges and other typical fall locations have come to pass and the bites seem fewer and farther between. Don’t give up when this happens, in fact, that is just the sign you should be watching for. This is one of the best-kept secrets of northern fall lunker hunters... “Timing”. While most sportsmen shift their attention towards hunting deer and turkey, the die-hard bass fishermen bundle up and get out on the water. Depending on your location in the northeast, this could happen from mid-October through the end of November. Again the sign you are looking for is when the fishing action has slowed down and the air and water temps begin to drop below 60 degrees. If you are willing to put in the time, the rewards can be great!