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Submitted By: Full Limit Outdoor Media
Fall signifies abundant changes in the outdoor world. Mother Nature begins making her intentions known through the changing colors of the landscape. Outdoorsmen and their quarry are released from the molten grip of summer. Winged fowl embark on their annual migration from the north. Deer commence their mating routine. And bass strap on the feed bag.
Fall bass fishing is often regarded as a time when bass are gorging themselves in preparation for the coming winter season. While this is true, there are many other factors related to fall bass fishing that affect the “where and why” of the bass on your favorite body of water. Some days, the fall bite is happening full-force and they are eating so good that you’ve got to hide just to tie on your bait. Other days, it’s tougher than woodpecker lips.
As in most seasons on any lake, river, creek, pond, or stream, all fish aren’t doing the same thing in the same place at the same time. There are many variations of the predominant pattern taking place on most any body of water. This is where knowing your strengths and having the right tools for the job come into play. This is also where the joy of fall fishing comes into play. It allows every angler to play his or her own game. Due to the lower air and water temps, bait migrations, weather systems and so on, bass can be found from as deep as they were in summer to their backs sticking out of the water. They all usually have one thing in common, though; they’re hungry!
Aside from the comfortable temperatures, the waterways are nearly void of bothersome boat and PWC traffic, and the relative ease that most of the season offers in terms to getting numbers of bites is awesome. There is one thing that can be a problem in the fall, though, and that is getting quality bites. As we’ve surmised, bites are plentiful. Big bites on the other hand, can be hard to come by this time of year. I want to take a look at the best way that I know of to consistently garner big bites in the fall. I’m talking about cranking. If bites are easy to come by, then conventional wisdom must indicate that the more bites you get, the more opportunities you will have for a big bite. A moving bait will undoubtedly allow you to make more casts, cover more water, get more bites, and in turn catch more big fish.
We are going to tap into the knowledge base of the world’s most elite pro staff in an attempt to compile an overview of fall cranking. We’re going to talk about the where, when, how and with what, in regards to snatchin’ on them in your favorite water hole. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to go from shallow to deep in terms of techniques and lures. At the end, you should be able to take the tips that best suit your strengths and apply them on your home water. Or, you can experiment with a technique that is outside of your natural skill set and add a new tool to your fall fishing arsenal.
Ultra Mega Shallow: These fish have sunburns on their backs. They are the Denny Brauers of the fish world. They are very cover-oriented and can be a chore to get to. They require certain baits that can perform their duties in very little water. Since we mentioned Denny, who better to talk to than his son Chad? Like Denny, Chad is genetically hardwired to catch shallow fish. Although the name Brauer is synonymous with flipping, Chad also understands the importance of cranking in the fall. As he puts it, “In the fall, bass feed above them. They are looking up. You need a lure that can run shallow and come over stumps, brush, and other isolated cover that big fish relate to." According to Chad, Strike King Series 1XS and Series 1 crankbaits are the real deal when cranking skinny water. Both are small profile square-bill crankbaits that don’t dive very deep. He couples these with 7’ medium-action cranking rods which he says “have enough give to not pull small trebles out of a fish’s mouth and also allow you to cast a smaller bait farther. When it comes to line for shallow cranking, he prefers fluorocarbon, and Chad’s rule of thumb is to use the heaviest line that he can get away with.
Chad likes to look towards the upper end of a body of water in fall as it typically has inflow, more creeks, shallow flats, and above all, more color to the water. According to Chad, “Those elements allow the fish and the bait that they are chasing to move shallow faster.” He likes to target them on inside channel bends. “Rather than the typically deeper outside bends, inside bends are flatter and generally offer isolated cover which are prime when target fishing,” says Brauer.
Shallow: This is where a lot of the business happens. It is presumably where most anglers cut their teeth and are most comfortable. According to many, there are fish that live in this range all year. I’m talking about water depth that is in the single digits. If there is one guy who knows shallow fishing, or deep fishing, or, heck, anything about fishing, it’s none other than the newly appointed “King of square-bills”, Kevin VanDam. KVD gets pretty fired up when talking square-bills, almost as fired up as his accountant. He took a few minutes to give us his tutorial on fall cranking and, to nobody’s surprise, it is all about the KVD square-bill series.
According to Kevin,“It only takes about a 10 degree temperature drop from the summer averages to get the bait fish, then the bass, to move shallow.” KVD states that fishing the upper end of lakes, up in tributaries, backs of creeks, and colored water will also impact this shallow bite. Regardless of what variables are present, in his opinion the 3 sizes of KVD square-bill cranks are the best tools for the job.
Kevin says, “The killer things about our square-bills are their bite-triggering qualities. Although they are awesome when crashed into and brought through cover such as lay dawns, docks, and rocks, they also possess that same ability to trigger bites when they are not hitting cover. There are times when fish get on mud flats and sandbars and other places with no cover simply because the shad are there. This is when our baits are superior.”
He says that he chooses his bait size, 1.0, 1.5, or 2.5, based on a few variables. For the toughest conditions, when bites are hard to come by, such as post frontal days or windless days in clear water, the all-new 1.0 in natural colors can still produce. The majority of the time, under most circumstances, he opts for the 1.5. When he is faced with muddy water, an abundant population of mature gizzard shad, or just needs a big bite, the 2.5 gets the nod.
Lastly, KVD stresses the importance of versatility within your shallow cranking. “There are times when I will have multiple rods on the deck, all with 1.5’s and 2.5’s tied on. They will each have a different color and perhaps, more importantly, a different line size. You can really adjust the running depth of these baits with line size and rod position. I can get a 1.5 down to 6’ with 12 lb. fluorocarbon. I can make the same bait run 3.5’ with 20 lb. fluorocarbon,” VanDam states.
Not Too Deep: This range is the nether regions that always show those cartoon fish on your depthfinder. It isn’t really deep water, but then again it really isn’t shallow. This scenario is most often found offshore on main lake flats, humps, ledges and channels. There is almost always a population of fish in this range on every body of water. The problem is that most people have a hard time finding them. I’d like you to meet someone who doesn’t. Sam Lashlee is a Kentucky Lake mainstay. He has won B.A.S.S and FLW events and has made a trip to the Bassmaster’s Classic. But what he is most noted for is his regularly successful assault on the ledge fish of Kentucky Lake. Sam is going to give us his insight into fall cranking away from the bank, but not really deep.
When asked about fall cranking the first thing that Sam brings to light is his affinity for the Strike King Series 5 crankbait. “I got one of the very first production run Series 5 crankbaits years ago and went out and threw it and I’ve had a rod on the deck of my boat dedicated to it ever since. It is the closest thing that I have in my arsenal to a “sure thing." It is the single best crankbait that I’ve ever thrown and I’ve tried them all. It runs great from 2’ to 12’, but you still have to get it around bass to catch them.”
Lashlee claims that he is successful in the fall with a Series 5 on main lake areas that feature a saddle that cuts through a bar or ledge and leads into a flat. “When the bass are on top schooling they are easy to catch with a lot of different baits, but when they aren’t up, they move into the depressions and ditches or off the points. That’s where the Series 5 shines. This is where that bait gets one in a school to bite, then it’s go time!”
Sam states that, “The main thing about fall fishing is that you must be on top of your game. You have to read your electronics, watch for bass breaking, a single minnow flip, gulls working, etc. The key is being willing to move and adjust and a Series 5 will allow for that. I can throw it on 15 lb. flouro and work it from 2’ to 5’. I can throw it on 12 lb. flouro and it will run good from 4’ to 10’. Or, I can spool up with 10 lb. flouro and work it effectively down to 12’ depths. When they get off the sides of the steeper drops, I opt for the 5XD which I can crank down to 15’ on 10 lb. line.”
His color choices are typical fall hues. In really clear water he prefers Watermelon Shad. In clear water he like Sexy Shad and in moderate colored water he relies on Chartreuse Sexy Shad. Chartreuse with a blue back is his go-to color on cloudy days.
Deep: Deep water is relevant to where you are. The water that we’re referring to here is basically the same depth as the offshore stuff that you would fish in the summer. It can encompass structure that ranges from 5' to 20' on top but is almost always adjacent to deeper water. This is where the big plug is king. This is where Strike King veteran Mark Davis likes to throw the 6XD crankbait. He pairs his color choices to the water clarity. He stresses the importance of long casts. He gets into how to make them bite and keep them biting.
Mark says that, “Fall fishing is so much fun because the bass bunch up and are active. This can be especially true if you’ve got an offshore honey hole that they get on that is near a good flat. Those offshore fish are very school-oriented and very competitive. One bite out of a school can turn the whole bunch on and that’s when the fun starts.”
In the fall Davis admits that “Fish scatter throughout the entire water column and things such as water clarity and sky conditions dictate what the most likely scenario is on a given day. But when everything lines up right for the deep bite you can load the boat in a hurry.” According to Mark, boat positioning, retrieve speed, and precise repeated casts are critical when working on a deeper school. “The thing about a deep bait like the 6XD is that it is typically moving pretty fast and gets the school fired up. What a lot of people don’t take into account is that every time you hook one and drag it away from that school, you are more than likely moving part of the school towards you as well. It’s important that when you quit getting bites making the same cast, that you back your boat out and cast to where the school was. A lot of times, the school will have moved to right about where your boat was sitting. When possible, I like to give them a little while to settle down and get back on the spot where they were originally.”
There you have it. Some of the best advice from some of the best plug chunkers in the game. You can now take to your favorite fishing hole with the detailed knowledge of how, when, where, and what crankbait and color to throw at fall bass. Let those other people throw their topwaters. Sure, it’s fun to watch them bite, but you won’t notice because you’ll be too busy taking fish off of your crankbait.