The Basics of Fall Bass Fishing
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
Ahhh, the fall. It's my favorite time of year and one that's full of some great fishing memories in both fresh and saltwater. It can also be a great time to fly fish for bass...if you can find them! Read on to learn some basics about finding, patterning, and catching bass in the fall.
In the fall, days get shorter, nights get cooler, and water temps start to tick down. When that consistent drop in water temperature starts, bass will begin to move in what is often called the "fall transition." The main goal this time of year for the bass is to find food and put on some weight before winter which means they can often gather in packs and feed aggressively before the water gets too cold.
In the fall, baitfish school up and bass will really key into these schools. The bass themselves will also form their own schools which makes it easier to hunt and corral all those wads of bait. These packs of hungry bass can range from just a handful of fish to literally dozens of them...or more! While bass get really dialed-in on baitfish like threadfin shad, other important forage like crawfish and bluegill still remain on the menu.
Where to Fish
This time of year can be challenging because so many bass are grouped up and can be found at a variety of depths. You'll definitely want to keep an eye out for signs of bird or fish activity, but just because you find an impressive pod of bait or an ideal zone doesn't mean the bass will be there too. This is when covering a lot of water pays huge dividends as it can take some time to locate scattered groups of bass.
Shallow fishing can be very good which includes fish that were already shallow and those ones moving up from deeper water. Bass will gradually push further back into coves and arms as weather cools which makes them easier to target with fly tackle. Keying on areas where bass can trap or ambush bait or good shallow to deep transition zones will yield results. Some examples would be grass edges, ledges, small patches of shade, the inside curve of a point, an isolated dock, a secondary point, rock or concrete walls, or the very backs of coves. If you can combine more than one of those things together in the same spot, that's even better!
The healthy grass that bass love to hang around starts to die off as temps drop, so finding any remaining patches of fresh grass can also yield some solid action. Shallow flats can be excellent too; especially those with adjacent quick access to deeper water. This allows the bass to easily move up shallow or drop back off the edge with weather or water changes. One scenario here would be fishing the flat on a day that's breezy and cloudy, but concentrating off the edge of the flat when it's calm and sunny.
The summertime bass holding on deep, open water structure will also group up and can often be seen actively chasing baitfish right up on the surface. This might seem like an ideal opportunity for us fly anglers, but it can also be a very frustrating time because the fish can move around so quickly. Several years ago I was fishing in October with a friend of mine on a lake in California and we found schools of suspended bass popping bait over 20–30 feet of water, but they were only boiling for a few seconds at a time and seemed to always be out of my range with the fly rod. Armed with a spinning rod and a soft jerkbait, my buddy landed several nice 2–3 pound bass while I didn't even get a bite. He was able to not only cast further but also deliver his lure very quickly.
Although not set in stone, bass rods typically range from about 6–9 weight. Since bass can be found shallow, deep, in open water, or around cover/structure depending on your lake and weather, fishing in fall means bringing multiple rods can be very beneficial. Ditto for lines. If you are unsure of what to do, a floater, slow sinking line, and a fast sinking line would cover all the bases from inches of water out to 20+ feet.
All the typical bass flies can be useful in fall, but flies imitating the predominant baitfish are must-haves in your box. These patterns can also be fished quickly allowing you to cover water at a good pace. Common example patterns like EP Flies, Game Changers, or Clouser Minnows can mimic several types of baitfish and are readily found at many shops. It can be wise to carry baitfish imitations of different sizes since the bass can get picky, but a larger pattern can still get bit even when bass are feeding on smaller bait. In the case of schooling fish actively eating bait, letting that bigger fly sink down past the smaller bass can get bit by chunkier specimens waiting down below.
Finally, don't overlook topwater. Good both in open water and up shallow, the disturbance and noise given off by popping or diving flies are especially useful for quickly covering vast areas and locating fish. It can also be the easiest way to fish the shallowest water without constantly snagging or fouling on debris. With the fish getting pretty aggressive in the fall, they'll sometimes smash a topwater better than other offerings.
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