Saturday, October 8, 2011

Cooling Fall Temperatures = Hot Fall Bass Bite

A crisp fifty degree temperature and light fog greeted us as we arrived at our fishing destination on this cool fall morning.  The leaves on the trees are just now starting to change.  A whitetail doe crossed the path on the way to our fishing hole, nervously looking back at us.  A great blue heron sat high in a blow down with it's head tucked between it's shoulders as if trying to stay warm in the chilly morning foggy air.  Nearby, a majestic bald eagle soared over a popular smallmouth river in search of a fishy breakfast.  Nasty double breasted cormorants, not native to Maryland after arriving and nesting in 1991, also cruised the river in search of fish.  Today's quarry, Micropterus salmoides, the largemouth bass, awaited us.  The water, slightly stained from recent rains, was just the way we like it, and based on past experience seemed just the ticket for a great reaction bite. 

I had a white Z-Man Chatterbait with gold blades tied on from my last trip.  Yeah, I'm lazy, because if a lure is tied on from the last trip it will more than likely see my first cast of the day.  And it just happened to be a hot lure last time, so why not?  On my other rod, I had Nanofil spooled on my series 400 Shimano Symetry reel on a medium power fast action St. Croix Avid spinning rod, and tied to that was a four inch green pumpkin plastic worm with a light wire Gamakatsu offset shank worm hook and a small bullet sinker.  We fished from the bank today at one of our shoreline hot spots, which is a tradition for us and usually makes for some fine fall fishing.  I carry two rods while doing this, one clipped to the back of my vest while I fish the other, keeping my hands free.  I carry much of my tackle in a fishing vest, with my spinnerbaits hanging over my shoulder in a Cabelas spinnerbait bag.  My vest holds several styles and colors of plastic worms, sinking soft stickbaits, and tubes along with the nece

ssary hardware to fish them.  Also, pockets hold extra spools of line, lure dye, a wacky rig tool, line clippers, forceps, sunscreen, water bottles,and a few other items of personal need.  My spinnerbait bag holds several varieties of spinnerbaits and chatterbaits in several colors along with trailers, trailer hooks, extra skirts and spinnerbait blades.  The bag is supported over my shoulder by a lap top shoulder strap that I pirated for fishing purposes (it's my wife's lap top bag...shhhh...don't tell her).  That's all I need for this spot today, spinnerbaits and chatterbaits for my reaction bite, and plenty of soft plastics to follow and work hot spots more carefully and thoroughly.

We had a short ten minute walk before reaching the first good hole.  My buddy Howard and I exchanged stories about fishing this spot over the years, bringing up fond memories of past fall bites.  We reminisced about a fall day twenty years ago when we both tossed tandem white spinnerbaits and caught good numbers of three to five pound largemouth that were holding tight to woody cover, but would shoot out from as much as five feet away to nail our shiny offering.  Howard and I have fished together since we met at my brother and sister's swim meet nearly thirty years ago. 

My friend Howard and I have been through a lot together.
He's not just an excellent angler, and a fishing buddy,
but also one of my best friends.  Here he is with a nice bass.
Wow, was it that long ago?  It seems like yesterday.  We both learned to fish baitcasting gear together.  Back then, the only reels available were left handed models for some reason.  So, even though we reeled with our left hands with spinning tackle, we had to learn to cast right handed and switch the rod and reel to our left hand and reel right handed when using baitcasting tackle. 

Howard and I cracked up, resurrecting a story about, while fishing this very body of water, me learning to use a baitcaster for the very first time.  I was pitching a large buzzbait in late summer, and found a nice log along side the near shoreline.  I brought the lure back past the log and was just about to lift it out for another cast when all of a sudden the water erupted at my feet.  The fish hit so hard that my glasses got soaked and I could hardly see.  Howard nearby observed my struggle as I held on to the monster bass for dear life.  I wasn't used to cranking the fish in and fighting the fish with a rod in my left hand, and in an embarassingly loud panic reaction blurted out, "How do I fight this thing?"  Eventually I calmed down and figured it out as I finally landed a twenty two inch smallmouth bass.  It was my biggest smallmouth landed for nearly eight more years, but it's an embarassingly funny moment that lives in both Howard's and my minds to this day. 

Since then, the baitcaster has been my favorite tool for tossing larger sized bass baits, and eventually I'd own several different styles of baitcasting combos including ones for specialty techniques like pitching and flipping.  I'm not sure that I'd have learned all that if it wasn't for my good friend Howard.  Together, we learned stuff like that over the years, learned to expertly fish this body of water, learned to fish other bodies of water together all around our state and our neighboring states.  We learned to ice fish together, to crappie fish, fly fish, to bow hunt, gun hunt, and we both bought our first boats within a few weeks of each other, Bass Tracker TX 17s with 70 horsepower two stroke motors.  I stood up for him at his wedding, and he was an usher at my wedding. 

My first bass of the day.  It may have been chilly in the morning, but this fall bass fishing was hot all day long.
After laughing and joking about that for a few minutes, we arrived at our first destination.  The bank was pretty steep, but you could cast to this particular log jam that looked so bassy.  But if you hooked a bass here, you'd never get it out over all that brush, so you'd have to climb down and get it.  I tossed my chatterbait along side the biggest log just inches away, and brought the lure back along the tree trunk when a bass shot out and nailed it.  As I saw the bait disappear, I set the hook. 

The bass tried to bury itself in the log jam, but my medium heavy power fast action St. Croix Avid baitcasting rod powered him out and over the timber.  The bass fought back and headed down again, but I was able to turn him one more time.  After that, it was clear of danger and I took my time to land it.  I had to climb down the bank, through Rosa multifora, or wild rose bushes, drawing blood on the back of both hands as I bulled my way through the thicket to get to my prize bass.  My heavy lug sole boot gave way to the muddy bank as I nearly went feet first into the water, but was able to gain a little traction with my other foot.  While on my knees, contorted as if playing the family game twister, I was able to reach down and lip the chunky largemouth bass.  I climbed back up the bank and Howard took my picture.  The bass wasn't huge, but it was a nice start for the day, setting the stage for one of the best fall fishing days that I can remember.

This bass, caught on a recent trip,  hit a white chatterbait with
 a bright white grub trailer.  Reaction baits like this in the
 fall can produce nice bass catches.
Recently I posted the power of the color white in the fall.  When fishing reaction baits like spinnerbaits or chatterbaits, I'm convinced that either lure would have worked equally well today, with the flash and movement drawing violent speedy largemouth predatory strikes.  But the visibility of the bright white color on such a nice bright and sunny fall day really allows bucketmouths to hone in for the attack.

Chartreuse is also a great color for this, but I prefer it for the warmer months, and white for cooler temperatures.  Maybe it's just me, but it's worked for nearly thirty years each and every year.  The bass aren't picky now, and the white bait is easy to see when worked a foot or three beneath the surface.  When it disappears, it's probably a fish, so set the hook and hang on.

Since I had worked so hard to get down that bank, I had a little bit of casting room, so I thought that I'd try a few more casts.  On my next cast, I worked the lure past the end of the log and wham, a chunky two pound largemouth attacked my chatterbait after letting it fall a foot or so.  I landed that fish and quicky unhooked it.  Howard stood at the top of the bank tying on his chatterbait after seeing my early success. 

I placed my next cast to the same spot, hoping they were stacked in there, and sure enough another nice bass launched from the cover and attempted to mutilate my chatterbait, but missed, pulling the skirt and trailer down the hook shank.  I quicky reeled up and fixed the bait, then tossed it back again and the fish took the lure this time.  This bass wasn't as big, but I'd take a pound and a half fish to make it three quick fish any day.  I tried a couple more casts without any further action and decided to climb back up the bank.  Not a bad start for the day, three fish in the first four casts.  Howard assisted me out of the thicket and after a high five, we continued to the next spot.  It was his turn, to work the next set of timber, and he would make the most of it.

The Z-Man Chatterbait, upper left, has been hot lately on my
home waters for largemouth bass and chain pickerel.
Chatterbaits are basically skirted jigs with a piece of metal attached to the eye, with a snap poking through the metal blade for a line tie.  It's a simple concept, but provides a bit of flash, plenty of action, and vibration that is an alternative to fishing a spinnerbait, and perfect for fall reaction bass bites. 

Fish hammer them, what can I say?  You can fish them on a straight retrieve, or jig them and let them fall (yo yo style retrieve), crank 'em over cover and let them drop, or burn them just under the surface.  I used a fat four inch white grub as a trailer today, giving it a nice large profile. 

Gene Mueller also loves chatterbaits when fishing the weedy and woody shorelines of the Upper Tidal Potomac River, a hot spot famous for it's tremendous largemouth bass fishery, but recently infamous for it's unwanted population of the Chinese northern snakehead.  Gene wrote to me about the chatterbait, lauding it's ability to be weedless in just about any cover.  He likes to add three or four inch soft plastics as trailers, like sassy shad style baits, to give them bulk.  He feels that this bulk attracts big bass bites, and I agree wholeheartedly. 

Although I've had success on other bodies of water using this lure in the past, including the Upper Tidal Potomac, I had yet to try it in my local hot spot.  Why?  I don't know really, I guess I've tossed so many spinnerbaits with great success here in the past that I never felt the need to try much else.  But today, I'm glad that I did. 

Gene Mueller with a huge Chinese snakehead from the Upper Tidal Potomac River that he subsequently killed properly as instructed by the Marland Department of Natural Resources.  Make sure that you check out his blog, linked on this web page. 
Gene posts fishing reports in the Washington Times each week, along with some great narrative about fishing and outdoors news (, often touting chatterbaits as a hot lure in our area.  So, it finally sunk in that I'd better make more use out of them than I had in the past.  Thanks Gene!  By the way, his blog is fantastic, and is great for folks local to the Washington D.C. area, but often his posts offer angling tips and stories that are not only appealing to anyone, but may give you a tip that might work well in your fishing area.  In addition, he posts informative articles about hunting and political activities related to the future of our favorite sports.  You can find his blog here at

Howard nailed this well fed healthy bass on a 1/2 oz. white chatterbait.
It wasn't long before Howard got into the action while landing a fat well fed largemouth bass on his chatterbait.  He pitched his chatterbait past a clump of weeds in about four feet of water that clung to a pair of sunken logs about fifteen feet from shore, and his bass shot out, and the strike nearly ripped the rod from his hands.  Howard put the boots to the fish and hoisted it out of the water and lipped in one quick move.  He stopped to allow a picture, but I could tell he wanted to get that lure right back in.  So, I quickly snapped a picture and he was back in business.

We were far from done.  Each piece of woody cover seemed to hold a willing bass as long as there was some depth around the cover.  The weeds normally hold fish in the warmer months, but they're dying off now.  Baitfish still hold amongst the weeds, but the colder temperatures seemed to keep the bass from holding there.  Later in the day, the temperatures warmed, and we were able to find a few bass cruising the weed edges with chatterbaits and the four inch plastic worms.

Green pumpkin plastic worms, Texas rigged with light
weight on light line, like this Zoom Dead Ringer, proved
extremely effective today.
We managed to find a downed tree, probably left in that state from Hurricane Irene a month ago.  Leaves still grew green on the tree, indicating it's a recent fall, but there was plenty of algae, weed clumps and duckweed clinging to the branches and trunk of the tree where it met the water.  To me, that was a sign that this was fish holding cover, being there long enough for largemouth and baitfish to find sanctary and ambush points. 

And, man, did that tree hold fish. Howard first proved it by nailing several bass from that tree using a plastic worm while I continued with the chatterbait.  After I switched to my plastic worm set up, Howard and I pulled out bass after bass, most of them averaging twelve to thirteen inches, but we both landed a few between two and three pounds. 

With limited fishing time because both of us had family duties late in the afternoon, cover like this with it's fish holding ability was the ticket to a great afternoon.  I lost two fish in the thick cover, but other than that, landed twenty two well fed largemouth between ten and eighteen inches long.  Howard had similar results.  We pitched to pocket after pocket along that tree, with each one holding several fish.  After removing a few fish from each pocket, it wasn't long that others moved in.  It was almost as if Howard and I were serving fast food, and it was lunch time for the bass, and they were waiting in line for their happy meals.  Four inch plastic worms on light line using light weight was the ticket at this spot, and green pumpkin was all you needed to keep them happy. 

Could you have pitched heavier stuff and nailed some bass here?  Absolutely, but my flipping rod was at home.  We were working from shore, and to stay mobile, you can't carry too many rods and fish effectively.  The tree branches were too numerous and thick to work a spinnerbait or chatterbait effectively here, but that worm slid through the branches with ease, and when pitched in with little splash kept the bass on the feed for a couple hours.  We both giggled like kids after landing bass after bass at this spot.  The only thing that kept us from doing more sore mouth damage to that fish population was time, our deadline to meet our family obligations.  So, we wrapped it up and decided to work our way back to our vehicles.

I decided to work the chatterbait while fishing our way back, and with little fishing time left, the best option now was to cover some water quickly looking for aggressive bass.  I picked up a few bass with the chatterbait fished parallel to shore along the dying weedbeds with some success.  These fish weren't big, but they were nice and fat, and a lot of fun.  Howard followed with his plastic worm when I'd have a hit and miss, landing several decent sized fish that way.  We worked our way back to our starting spot.  Howard first worked it with the plastic worm without any bites. 

I decided to give the chatterbait a go, and sure enough, a chunky two pound largemouth rocketed from the cover to munch on the chattering lure.  It took the lure down into the cover, but I was able to turn it and move it out.  I climbed down through the thicket again to land that fish, spilling more blood on my elbows, forearms and hands to the thorn bushes lining the bank. 

While down there, I decided to once again toss my chatterbait along that cover.  Why not?  I was down there, the cast was relatively easy, and if I hooked one I was in a position to land it easily if it was big.  But what were the chances that another bass was there, especially since I took four fish out of there already on the day?  Well, my next cast proved that there was a willing bass there, and it was a biggun.  It shot out from under the log to inhale my lure, but before I could set the hook it let go, leaving me with a chatterbait with the skirt and trailer hanging down by the hook gap and me with a dang it look on my face.  I tried several casts with both the chatterbait and the worm to no avail.  It was time to go anyway.  I know where this fish lives, so I'll be back to get her another day.

What a day.  In summary, I landed thirty nine bass between ten and nineteen inches on the day, and one fat crappie on a plastic worm.  Fifteen of the bass came via the chatterbait, the rest on plastic worms.  Howard had similar numbers.  He lost count when he ran out of all twelve fingers and toes (just kidding Howard)!  Anyway, I love the bowhunting opportunities that October presents, but when it cools down and your buddies are in the woods after those deer, don't overlook the hot fall largemouth bass bite.  Even though it's cool outside, it's hot under water.

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