Bass fishing in late fall can be some fantastic bass catching action. The bass are feeding for the long winter; shad and bait fish are slow and or dying making it easy for bass to feed. A passing front can trigger some of the best bass fishing action of the year. And a final bonus, there will not be many anglers on the water, they are hunting, opening up the lake to anywhere you might want to try your hand at catching a bass of a lifetime.
I have three baits I love to fish this time of the year, a jig, slow rolling a spinnerbait, and punching matted vegetation. As it gets closer to winter, and water temperatures drop below 55 degrees, I’ll add a rattle trap (type bait) to my arsenal. In general, I like to cover water with reaction baits, looking for pockets of hungry fish. This time of year most of the major surface schooling action is over; however, bass are still schooling, just subsurface. You might wonder why I added a jig and a punch rig to my choices and then claim I like reaction baits. Well, I fish both like a reaction bait during the late fall. I swim the jig, and I cover a lot of water quickly with the punch rig not letting it sit anywhere; fall in and lift out.
During the fall, vegetation is starting to die. Lily pads are deteriorating, and hydrilla is dying. Some of the best places to find bass is where vegetation is still alive. As you move closer to winter, more and more bass will congregate around any living vegetation. After all, it’s where most food chains start; it makes sense bass would be there, and you as a predator at the top of the food chain, should be there also.
The easiest baits to work through dying vegetation, while searching for that last little bit of live growth, are a spinnerbait and a swim jig. Both are very weedless, and both catch bass. This time of year lily pad stems can be fantastic places to start your search. Bouncing a swim jig among the roots of a lily pad field brings chills to my neck. The goal here is to cover a lot of water and make longs casts to keep your bait in the strike zone for long periods of time. Both the spinnerbait and swim jig can be retrieved just off the bottom, allowing the baits to hit stems and deflect. It’s this deflection that will trigger rod jarring strikes. As long as you still have lily pad stems reaching the surface, this pattern will still work. For lakes without cover, slow rolling a spinnerbait or swimming a jig can be effective; however, adding a jerkbait to your game plan can be very productive. Remember bass are feeding on slow dying bait fish as the water cools, so slow retrieves that deflect off of objects, best mimic a floundering shad. With the Jerkbait, hitting wood or rocks is very effective, but you’ll have to experiment with the cadence to see what bass want each day.
After cold fronts bass can be finicky, the lack of bait movement and the bright skies put them into self preservation mode. Which is, don’t waste energy, and don’t get swallowed by a predator. While a bass is very high on the food chain, it can still lose in a battle with nature. It’s these conditions that send me deep into whatever vegetation I can find. Luckily here in the south I have plenty of options. This is when the flipping stick and the punch weights will come out. I like a vertical presentation in post front conditions. When bass are in this self preservation mode, you have two options to catch them. First is waiting them out with a pain staking, slow, presentation, senko-trick worm – no thanks. Or two, pick up the pace, cover some water, and find the few you can get to hit out of reaction. I always opt for the latter. Armed with a heavy weight and a creature bait I will start punching heavy matted vegetation with deep water close by or under it. I look for a true reaction strike here. Once my bait falls through the vegetation and hits the bottom, I may bounce it or shake it once, but then I lift it out and punch again. Fish are not feeding, but you can surprise them, in this moment of surprise their natural instinct is “eat it if I can, or run if it’s bigger than me”. Self preservation. With this mind set, I can cover a lot of water in a short period of time.
It has been my experience, that with every rule in bass fishing, there is another rule that completely contradicts it. I stated earlier in this article that finding live or green vegetation can be the key to finding bass. However, as the water gets colder, bass will look for the warmest water available; this is when dying vegetation can be key. Not just any vegetation, to be effective it needs to be floating vegetation. Dead, floating vegetation, such as hyacinths, laid over cattails, hydrilla mats that have broken away, and even some forms of algae, when piled up against a log or bank line, will warm the water as the sun beats down on it. This can, and often does, draw bass to warm themselves. Basically I fish it the same way, spinnerbaits and swim jigs along the edges and punching through the middle of it.
As if Bass Fishing isn’t confusing enough, I’ve surely made things a little less clear. Should you fish dead vegetation or live vegetation and how should you fish it? Well that’s a matter of what the bass want. On mild pre front days, I look for any living vegetation I can find, especially among lily pad stems. On post front days, I look for the dead vegetation, especially along rock banks.
Just some things to think about next time you’re on the water and trying to figure out what to do next. These ideas have put bass in the boat for me and I’m sure they will for you also.