As the days shorten and the air grows crisp, it’s a sign that magic is happening below the surface of your local lake. Fall is here, and as water temps plummet, largemouth shed the lethargy caused by the summer’s heat and begin feeding in earnest.
For anglers in the know, fall can be the most productive season to fish largemouth--it’s that good!
But do you know how shorter days and falling water temperatures affect bass behavior?
Do you where the bass are moving?
Do you know what lures and techniques are most effective in the fall?
Keep reading to find out!
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Bass are plenty active in summer, at least until water temperatures start to creep into the mid- to high-80s. At that point, largemouth will start to turn off.
Heat-induced stress will send them into deeper water or shade, and they’ll stop looking for a meal and just sit still. Basically, the bass are doing what we do when the heat’s really on--looking for shade and a way to cool down.
And just as you lose interest in cutting the grass or taking a long hike in the heat, the bass aren’t really motivated to move.
But as the leaves begin to turn and water temperatures drop back into the 70s, the bass turn back on.
This is a combination of two factors. First, the water is cool enough to energize the bass, but still warm enough to support them. And second, the bass know instinctively that it’s time to fatten up for winter.
Season-savvy anglers know that bass are looking for a place to find food. As Ken Cook, a former fisheries biologist turned professional bass angler, explains, “In the spring and fall, the ‘grocery store’ is usually close to the shoreline and around cover like aquatic grass, rocks and docks. Small fish, crawfish, frogs and other creatures are most abundant and most active in shallow water, so that's where the bass will be.”
This is important to understand: all the fish in your lake felt this summer stress, including bait fish like sucker minnows, shad, perch, and bluegill. Everything is making a move to the shallows--away from the deeper holding positions that protected them from the worst of the summer heat.
And the largemouth will be following the food.
"As the water starts to cool again in the fall, forage fish such as shad move shallow, so the bass follow. In many cases, shad move toward the backs of long coves and bays, so the bass are in those same places," Cook says.
Legendary bass pro Kevin VanDam agrees. “Bass react to cooling water by moving shallower to big flats, long points with a gradual taper, and tributary arms.” And the key is to find large schools of prey, because wherever you find a meal, you’re going to find bass in the fall.
“Bass are more baitfish-oriented now than in any other season,” VanDam thinks. “Look for large schools of shad, alewives, etc., [sic] on your graph. In reservoirs, cooling water causes vast numbers of shad to migrate into tributary arms, and bass are close behind. Follow this migration by fishing the first third of creek arms in early fall, then gradually pressing farther back into the tributary as the surface temperature drops.”
Baitfish are likely to be suspended in a few feet of water, holding in shallower water than they were in high summer. But they won’t be hugging the bottom, and neither will the bass that are looking to feed on them.
In the fall, think the top 4 to 5 feet of water, and not deeper. Especially in large shallow flats, you’ll find bass in just a foot or two of water, looking for frogs, crawfish, minnows, and pretty much anything else they can eat.
Fall isn’t the time to ignore the color, size, or pattern of likely meals. In fact, it’s critical that you carefully match the size and color of the prey items attracting attention from bass.
Plenty of pros switch to willow-leafed spinners, crankbaits, jerkbaits, and rattletraps in realistic colors. And even in murky water, silver/chrome is a great choice, as it shimmers and shines like schooling prey.
“Match the meal” and you’ll get more bites.
Bass won’t be as dispersed in fall as they were in summer, and you’ll need to find where they’re schooling in search of a meal. Once you do, you can catch a bunch, but until you find structure or cover that’s holding them, you need to keep your trolling motor running.
It’s also a good idea to start the day with a crankbait that covers a lot of water. It’s essential that you quickly distinguish where you should really spend your time.
Bass are moving shallow in search of a meal, and where are they going to find one?
That’s right; live weed beds. This cover provides a place to hide, plenty of oxygen, and the tiny food prey items need. And whatever attracts prey in the fall attracts bass.
If there’s a dominant lure when the water cools, it’s the lipless crankbait, especially with a rattle.
When fished near or above weedbeds, it’s murder if you know how to use it. The trick is to retrieve it, and then lay off, letting it drift for a few seconds before starting it up again. That on-off action makes the most of the vibration and noise a rattler provides, and it’s been field-tested by legions of anglers.
One of my favorites for fall bass is the Rattlin’ Rapala in “Shad” or “Bluegill.” Both colors are exceptional for clear water, and the rattle just drives bass wild.
Another awesome choice is the Strike King Red Eye Shad. It wobbles and wiggles from side to side, creating irresistible vibration. And with a bright yellow lateral line and red eye, I find this little guy can get it done when the water’s not crystal clear, too.
As the water cools, you’ll find bass shallow, making them ideal targets for topwater props. I keep one or two handy all season, so if I see bass chasing prey to the surface, I’ll be ready to toss a prop into the fray!
One of my favorites is the Rapala Skitter Prop in “Lime Frog.” One look will tell you why:
But no topwater has worked as well for me as the Heddon Torpedo. I like “Black Shiner” and “Clear,” and I can tell you tales about the explosive hits I’ve gotten with these lures when bass were schooling on bait!
Whether you “walk the dog,” pop and crank, or just steady retrieve, I’ve found that bass are going to hit these once they’re excited by a frenzy of baitfish on the surface.
But in more ordinary situations, I look to create maximum vibration and action. For me, that means some aggressive popping with a pause, as well as some dog walking.
Give these topwater champions a try as the water cools--you won’t be disappointed!
Often overlooked, fall is the perfect time to throw the ideal combination of spinner, jig, and soft-plastic swimbait.
We’ve written about the awesome potential of chatterbaits before, and if you need to catch up on this incredible lure, take a look.
For fall, I’d be thinking shad and craw, and there are two options I’d never pass over.
Once you learn how to work a chatterbait, the Z-Man Original–when paired with the impressive Lake Fork Trophy Lures Live Magic Shad–is an almost unbeatable combination in fall.
Offering enticing action, incredible vibration, flash, and a strike-inducing skirt, this is simply one of the most effective combinations out there.
And whether you retrieve this awesome duo with a steady, slow cadence or work the bottom in short hops, all that fluttering action and vibration is a recipe for a hard hit.
I particularly like the “Greenback Shad”/ “Magic Shad” color combination, pictured above.
Perhaps my favorite pairing available, the Z-Man in “Perch” and the 4 ½ inch Z-Craw in “California 420,” is a recipe for massive hits.
Whether you buzz these over weed tops, plop them into the thick stuff and work them out, or run them down the outside edge of the grass, bass can’t leave them alone.
When the bass are running shallow, hunting weeds and the shoreline for food, it’s the ideal time to throw a hollow-bodied frog.
The most legendary of these is the Lunkerhunt, a hyper-realistic frog sporting a close-fitting dual hook. Those dangling legs, while more fragile than the tasseled alternatives, move just like the real thing.
I love this frog, and you will too!
But the trick is in how it’s fished.
Unlike most lures in your tackle box, this bad boy is designed for the mean stuff. Chunk it right in--and don’t worry! By design, it’s essentially weedless.
Then pause. Let it sit for a second or two. You may well trigger a strike right then.
If not, slowly hop it through the water, mimicking the action of the real thing.
Don’t let shorter days and cooler water scare you off the bass. With the know-how to succeed and the lures to attract bites, you can turn fall into prime bass season.
We hope this article has helped you get a handle on fall bass fishing, and we’d love to hear from you.
Please leave a comment below!