In the beginning of September, which qualifies as fall in Minnesota, I spent some time targeting smallies on a good-sized lake. The fish were just starting to school up, and the conditions were right. It almost wasn’t fair.
The competition of schooling fish, along with the pressing need to consume serious pre-winter calories, is a winning combination if you enjoy catching big, aggressive bass. It can be so easy—until it’s not.
When the conditions change, or the bite just dies on the vine, there are a few presentations that offer up a real chance to keep catching giants. They all revolve around understanding seasonal food sources.
Depending on how far north you live, you might be able to capitalize on the frog migration back into the water. Amphibians of all shapes and sizes understand when it’s time to stop scanning the skies for flies and get into the drink for the long winter mud nap.
Bass know this, too. And if you’ve never got on the fall bite when the largemouth are shallow and waiting on one of their favorite food sources to swim into their strike zone, you’re missing out. The easiest way to target this bite is with a weedless frog, of course.
You can’t go wrong covering water while hopping a faux Kermit in the dying vegetation. When a fish shows itself, then it’s time to switch over to flipping. A jig and trailer that even remotely resembles a frog swimming in the water is enough because you’re targeting fish that are primed to eat.
This is a great way to have 50-fish days when most folks are sitting in duck blinds or deer stands. It can also be one of the best opportunities to catch a true giant.
If you’re fortunate enough to fish saltwater, you’ll probably bump into a situation where bait balls come into play. Tightly packed schools of minnows, mullets, or some type of small tasty fish, are big fish magnets.
The same thing happens in freshwater quite often, and it’s a recipe for amazing fishing. We encounter this in Minnesota every year with shiners. I see them in the rivers near my house in the suburbs, and throughout many of the lakes I fish. And when I see them, I know I’m not far from bass (and walleyes and northern pike, too).
When fall bass school up and start targeting balls of shiners or other minnows, it creates feast or famine action. If you’re on them, you might put five fish in the boat in five casts. When they follow bait off the structure, or just back off a little, it can suddenly feel like you’re not anywhere near a largemouth or smallie.
But you are, and you should make sure they aren’t still there waiting for a different presentation. Weightless, Texas-rigged flukes are unbelievable in this situation, especially if you still have the bait located. If not, swimming jigs or swimbaits are an excellent search option. You’ll pick up bonus fish along the way, but when you start seeing bait pop under your swimbait, and then catch your first bass, it’s often a good idea to switch things up.
Slowly working a school with a weightless minnow-type plastic is a game that requires patience. The fish might all be positioned on a rocky point, sand drop, or weed line, and you might need to cast 100 times to the same spot to catch all the fish that are willing to bite. The good news is you will catch fish, and they will often be big.
A few years ago I tied on an oversized prop bait to try to catch a big fall pike. I figured it would be a low-numbers day, but that I might tie into a gator with some heft to him. I did, but I also caught several football-shaped smallies.
Since then, I’ve looked at my presentations differently. In the early season, or during the summer, I often downsize to catch fish. During the fall bite, I upsize. You’re usually dealing with fish that aren’t being pressured a whole lot, and they just know that the clock is ticking on the autumn feeding window.
A lure that might look more at home on a muskie rod represents a big calorie score, and both smallies and largemouth will often take the risk. Don’t be afraid to go really big when you’re fall fishing. You might not catch tons of fish, but every bite will come from a quality bass or some toothy critter that’s pretty dang fun to catch, too.
For more bass fishing articles, check out these pieces: What Would Bass Pros Fish For If Bass Didn’t Exist, How To Catch Pressured Bass, and Why You Should Fly Fish For Bass.