Fall is full of tough choices: deer or bass, turkey or trout? As good as the hunting might be right now, the fishing can be just as good—if not better. A truly hardcore sportsman might hit a deer stand in the morning and the local bass lake in the afternoon, and it’d be well worth his effort. A special set of seasonal circumstances means one of the year’s best bass bites is happening right now.
Lakes from New York to Texas are starting to cool off. Bass become more aggressive with the temperature change (so do other species—see “Walleyes of the Fall” on p. 79) and often move into shallower water searching for food. Weedbeds, meanwhile, are dying back, and the baitfish that they sheltered all summer are suddenly more exposed and vulnerable. For savvy anglers who key in on that combination, it’s crankbait time.
The way in which bass respond to crankbaits dictates a few basic tackle needs. Some bass will hammer the lure. Others will just nip or bump the bait and become only lightly hooked around the edges of their jaws, meaning the hooks can easily be pulled during a fight. New crankbait rods, which have more flex than normal in the tip and midsections, cushion the battle a bit and solve most hook-pulling problems.
Line choices are simple: 12-pound mono or fluoro on baitcasters and as light as 6-pound on spinning tackle. Go heavier for larger bass or near thick cover. Thinner lines have less water resistance and will help any crankbait run deeper. Stronger lines allow less running depth but will help hold bigger fish away from snags.
You’ll need a trio of crankbaits based on running depth: shallow (running down to about 4 feet), medium (8 to 10 feet), and deep (15 to 18 feet). Most lure makers offer all three types, and you’re better off fishing with a single brand. Why? Because baits like Bandit 100, 200, and 300 series crankbaits behave consistently at different depths. That consistency allows you to learn how to fish these baits faster than if you were working from a tackle box with a mixed bag of crankbaits.
Strikes in Numbers
Both largemouth and smallmouth bass are often feeding in small roving packs now, and you’ll have to try a few spots before you find the fish. Lake points are always good bets, as are the backs of reservoir feeder creeks where shad may congregate in October. In either case, cover more water by fishing at different depths. After all, that’s why you have those three crankbaits in the first place.
Somewhere along the newly brown and receding weedlines, there will still be patches of green vegetation that are baitfish magnets. Work the outside edges of that greenery, starting with the shallowest-running bait. Crankbaits have a very distinct vibration that you can sense during the retrieve. When that action feels dull, the lure has probably picked up some weeds. Rip the lure hard with your rod tip once to dislodge the weed, then keep on cranking.
Deliberately bumping structure with your lure is another crucial tactic, which works because most crankbaits have large bills. The bill will hit a rock or stump before the hooks do. When this happens, allow the bait to float upward slightly to clear the obstacle, then start reeling again. That bump-pause-dart routine is one of the best possible ways to trigger strikes from otherwise reluctant bass.
One last thing: I’ve changed my mind from what I said earlier. You should go hunting all day, and skip the bass lake. I’ll miss seeing you on the water, of course. But there will be plenty of bass to occupy my time, and I guess I’ll muddle through somehow.