Fall is for the birds
Not only in Kentucky but around the country you’ll notice flocks of all species of birds gathering together. Some are in the beginning stages and others are already in the midst of their annual migration for warmer climates. My favorite flock though is a flock of seagulls hovering over a school of bass feeding on baitfish. Depending on what part of the country you live in the baitfish is going to change but one thing is for sure the birds will let you know when a school of hunger bass are putting on the feed bag. In most river systems like the Tennessee and Cumberland which make up Kentucky and Barkley lakes respectively the major baitfish population is shad whether threadfin or gizzard. As summer gives way to the cooler nights of fall our water temps begin to fall triggering shad and other baitfish to begin their fall transition to shallower water. This transition can either lead them to the backs of the creeks and bays around the lake to shallow main lake flats. Close behind will be the predator fish white bass, crappies and bass following this food source. Many times the bass will use the baitfish as cover and suspend below them making them very hard to find as the baitfish are continually on the move. What makes them easy to find is when the bass and other predators decide it’s time to feed. They will circle the bait into a ball and push them towards the bank or the surface of the water and begin slashing through them eating and wounding them. As the bait tries to escape they begin to jump and break the surface of the water. This action is what draws the birds in as they instinctively now this is their chance at an easy meal also. For the angler seeing the birds diving down to the water should trigger the thought process of what is going on under the water also. So the next time you’re running down the lake and see a bunch of seagulls diving the water it might be worth the time to stop and make few cast.
We first start seeing it, then we notice the changes and then finally we begin to feel the change. The change I’m talking about is the arrival of fall as we see the leaves starting to change color, we notice that the days are definitely getting shorter. The squirrels are really working the oak trees over and the bucks have rubbed of their velvet cover from their antlers. We really know fall is here when we start feeling those temperatures drop out of the 90’s into the 70’s for highs and the lows are in the 50’s rather 70’s. Things are changing on land and in the water and for us fisherman we call this the fall transition. As the days begin to shorten shad start moving towards the backs of the bays and creeks. When air temps start dropping so does the water temperatures and this will really push the baitfish into full fall transition mode from main lake open water life to shallow flats and backs of creeks and bays. Considering bass and other gamefish need to eat, they also make this fall transition and follow the bait. So it seems simple find the bait find the bass right well not so quick. Two things to consider here are at this point there is simply so much bait that not all of it is going to have fish around it. The other is it simply spreads the fish out to the point there aren’t many schools of fish in any particular area or spot. Don’t get me wrong once we are in a full blown fall pattern generally mid to late October you will see schools of fish again chasing bait in the backs of the bays and even some on main lake flats. As far as the fall transition goes though fish are fairly spread out. You can now catch bass from 30 feet deep on the main river channel to less than 3 feet deep in the back of a creek and everywhere in between. With the bass so spread out many anglers will use a run and gun approach meaning they will fish as many spots as possible during the day and not spending much time on any particular one. We also see a switch in baits from the dragging around of a Carolina rigged creature bait, big Texas rigged worm and football jigs with a move over to more horizontal moving baits. Lipless crankbaits like the SPRO Aruku shad, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits, swim jigs like the Outkast Tackle pro swim jig, blade baits such as the Steel Shad, swimbaits and of course topwater walking style baits. This is the time of year you don’t want to spend a bunch of time on one spot or area keep yourself moving. Those that are crappie fishing will notice it’s becoming a whole lot easier to find and catch them as they begin to school up again. You still need to be on the move while either spider rigging or jigging brush piles as the crappies are following bait fish and will be moving along creek channels as they migrate into the bays and creeks. The guys spider rigging or trolling are used to moving but the jiggers and casters tend to sit on a stake bed or brush pile to long. Even though the crappies are coming together and schooling more they are still moving and will only stay in cover while the bait is present. As the bait moves on the crappies will follow along either to the next brush pile or maybe just open water along the creek channel or on top of a flat. All in all the fall transition is an exciting time of year as the fish are starting to feed up but can be a challenging time also as they are continually on the move.
Water color the great debate
Depending on where you live in the country and or how you like to fish water color can be a big issue and a big piece of your bass fishing puzzle. Region wise it seems anglers from western and northern states tend to like clearer water. Pit that against those who fish many of the lakes and reservoirs of the central and southern part of the country that would much rather find themselves some stained or dirty water conditions. A big part of this is the fact that many if not most of your western lakes/reservoirs and northern natural lakes are clear and the fish are accustomed to living and feeding in such environments and anglers have learned to fish deeper and more finesse type tactics to catch these fish. This is not to say they never fish shallow. On the other hand, many of the central and southern lakes and reservoirs tend to have more off colored water that is stained to dirty looking. If you asked a northern angler what they considered stained or dirty water he may say if he can’t see his bait down 3-4 feet that it muddy. Whereas an Ohio river rat may be able to see his bait down 18’’ and call it clear. No matter what you call clear, stained or muddy water when it changes you need to change with it. Generally cold (under 50 degrees) muddy water is the toughest condition to fish in but warm that water up to 70 get that flippin stick out and hang on! Clear water fish are for the most part more apt to stop biting with the influx of new muddy water into their area. Clear water fish feed much more by sight that muddy water fish that use their sense of smell and sound to target prey. So as fresh muddy water over takes a normally clear area that the fish are living in it can be tough fishing for a couple of days before the fish adjust to the new situation or move. Many times in a clear body of water the reason it gets muddy is from torrential rains which will cause heavy runoff into the creeks and rivers which then carry the muddy water to the main lake. What will happen once the heavy rains have subsided with the creeks and rivers muddied up and pushing out to the main lake the very backs of the creek are actually clearing up. No longer is there a massive amount of water pouring in it’s down to a slow steady flow that will help push the muddy water out. Now it may take a day or two but it will happen and this is the place you want to start looking for active fish. The same thing can happen on an already stained or muddy body of water. The water that is actually pouring in from the heavy rains though dirty may actually be clearer than the lake water along with bringing in new oxygen these creeks and runoffs can be a great place to find active fish. Mud lines (the area or line in the lake that you can physical see the muddy water pushing the clear water) can also be an excellent place to catch fish as they will use the dirty water to hide themselves from bait fish and ambush them as the swim by in the clear water. Power fisherman (the spinnerbait, squarebill, flipping guys) love stained and muddy water as it allows them to get close to cover use heavier line and target visual pieces of cover. Now the clear water guys not that they won’t or don’t catch fish shallow tend to like to fish deeper water with a bit more of a finesse approach with drop shots, shaky heads, Carolina rigs and casting jigs. They are fishing more of a structure spot rather than a piece of cover, though cover on the right structure is the golden needle in the haystack. When fishing a new lake or even your home body of water start with what you have confidence in. If you follow many of the tournaments, you’ll hear two guys looking for completely opposite looking water conditions. The guy that’s use to fishing clear water is generally looking in the midsection of a reservoir down to the dam where as a power fisherman may be running to the upper end of the reservoir that tends to be more river like and have dirty water color. Which one is better to fish, well that’s the great debate.