Shad and fall bass fishing, it’s all about the shad right? “Find the shad and you’ll find the Bass.” How many times have we heard that? Well in my own experience I can definitely say, it’s true! Sometimes? Unfortunately, I used to start catching bass and then realize that there are shad in the area. Basically what was happening was I would cover miles of water before catching a bass and then realize that shad were present. However, just because you had shad available didn’t necessarily mean you had bass. With so many bait fish in the backs of creeks and shallow water bass don’t have to work very hard to find prey. The secret is to find cover or structure holding bass and for this to be in the path of migrating shad.
Shad and Fall Bass Fishing
Shad feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton, which during the summer months is very prevalent in the main portions of our lakes and reservoirs. Warm water, along with the spring and early summer rain washing nutrients into the water, cause massive growth of plankton creating a plentiful food source for shad. Wind, dam control, and summer boat traffic keep this food source stirred up in the main portions of the lakes and reservoirs. Shad roam the open water in search of the plankton and rarely have to go far to find it. However, as the water cools in the fall the plankton begins to die, thus depleting the open water food source that shad have been living on all summer.
In order to find food, shad begin to migrate into the major creeks that lead into our lakes and reservoirs. What little water is still feeding them during the fall, is washing in the nutrients needed for the growth of the shad’s food source, plankton. As shad start this migration they start finding the plankton. The farther they move up the creeks, the more plankton they find; thus the migration to the backs of major creeks. The smaller creeks will normally either be dry or have very little water movement this time of the year and will not have the nutrient supply to sustain the plankton needed for feeding shad. If shad don’t find plankton quickly, they continue to move until they do. This usually puts them in the larger creeks and coves in these creeks that have water feeding them.
Why Bass migrate in the fall.
First off I am a believer that not all bass migrate. Many bass that we find in the creeks during this time of the year are resident bass that are just easier to catch because of more comfortable water temperatures and a growing food source. However, open water bass will, just like the shad, migrate to the backs of the major creeks in search of food. Since shad are a major forage for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and Kentucky spotted bass they will follow the shad into the major creeks as the shad are following the plankton. It has been my experience that bass will not move from creek to creek looking for the best food source. A bass migration will consist of moving in and out of the same creek as the shad migrate from the main lake, to the back of the creek (in search of food), and then back to the main lake in the winter (in search of comfortable water temperatures).
How to catch Fall bass.
I mentioned in the first paragraph, there is a secret to catching fall migrating and resident bass. Just because you found the shad doesn’t mean you have found the bass, but you are off to a good start! Next, you want to find structure and/or cover that will give bass an ambush perspective. Someplace that they can rest, feel secure, and believe they are invisible to prey. A long, shallow point that drops off each side is a perfect scenario. Deep water on each side for bass to retreat too and shallow water on top to help trap migrating shad to feed on. Bass will lay in wait along the deeper edges. As shad move across the point, they will move up and use the shallow water to help pin balls of shad for easy feeding opportunities.
If your timing is right you can catch bass on every cast while the shad are in the area, IF you have structure/cover that is already holding bass. Look for ambush areas such as windblown banks that have deep water nearby, areas where a creek channel runs against a steeper bank, grass lines along a creek channel, and my favorite is a bend in a creek channel that is running through a shallow flat. All these places offer sanctuary and either a wall or shallow water to prevent prey from escaping.
With all that said, if you have a favorite major creek arm, start your search there. Somewhere in this creek you will find the resident bass on the heels of the shad migrating through it.