As the dog days of late summer give in hastily to fall, so many outdoor enthusiasts turn their attention to hunting. It offers charms for many that are an annual rite, and fishing quickly takes a back seat. Plus the huge uptick in bow hunting over recent decades has expanded several hunting seasons well into the early fall months. Alas, the tackle box gathers dust.
But for those who wait until almost winter to finally winterize their boat, fall is the low hanging fruit of quality fishing time. The boat ramps are nearly empty, docks and pontoons are all pulled in for the winter, (in northern climes), and there is a peacefulness that descends onto the otherwise frenetic waterways. This is the time to fish in peace.
For our purposes, we're focusing on freshwater species.
By mid-October colors are fading, which also cuts down on the transient population of ‘leafers’ that are out sightseeing. The temps are typically brisk but manageable compared to summer in most places, yet only the most hearty of us are still out in various watercraft.
One advantage of fall fishing is the fact that it is often best during the middle of the day when the sun is warming the upper water columns. You no longer need to avoid the heat of the day, and neither do the fish.
You need the right outerwear, of course, which, like this Pro All Weather Set should be designed to handle ALL weather conditions as you WILL face them all. Ok, shameless plug over.
THE PRIMARY FALL SPECIES
Nearly all variants of bass tend to feed heavily during this time, as water temps drop and baitfish concentrations typically rise. The shrinking of dying off weedbeds means they may hold more concentrations of these ambush predators. Low water levels will also contribute to school size and density.
Think crankbaits for triggering strikes and finding fish, and shallow running baits to entice them out of cover closer to shore. You may want to upsize your baits too, as they may be more willing to chase something bigger this time of year.
Smallmouth in particular are very active in the fall, and are willing fighters when they have the feedbag strapped on. Again, larger baits will see bigger bites as these titans bulk up for winter, and slower presentations will convince them to use energy to chase that meal.
Soft plastics on a ¼ to ⅜ jigheads will produce, as will larger live bait offerings such as suckers and fatheads. Just make sure it’s a large enough entree and use a patient retrieval.
The ‘eyes of fall will be found in their usual structural sweet spots such as rocky points and steep breaks, but watch the weedbeds for heightened activity. The still-green stands of weeds draw in big numbers of baitfish, and depths from 6 to 15 feet should produce.
Throwing softbaits and swimbaits to edges and openings is a good starting point. A slow retrieve with lift and fall theatrics is likely to entice strikes. Slow trolling just off bottom is another good way to explore weed edges and break points.
Smaller shallow lakes are a good bet for fall walleyes, especially along weedier drop offs. Drifting a jig and minnow combination is a great way to draw their attention and find the schools.
You’ll want to follow their seasonal migration to deeper waters found off the weed edges. Think dainty scented baits like Gulp! to draw action from the drop offs and deeper holes down to 20 or 30 feet.
You can also approach the deeper schools with jigging spoons. The rise and fall of a flashing spoon is also a good way of finding fish in deeper water.
Fall cats will be found deeper, and tend to converge on shallow flats and humps to feed at night. They will also be feeding at various depths as the baitfish get scattered by lake turnover and they need to adjust. Anchoring at the top of a breakline is a great way to find what depth they are favoring.
As usual, scented baits and stinkbaits will attract these bottom feeders. The stinkier the better for channel cats. You can drift these baits over the flats and breaklines.
Riprap is a great feature to look for, as it is home to crawfish and offers cover and shade.
Birds will often offer the best clues for finding cats and many other fish species in the fall. Always be watchful for them, especially if you’re seeing diving activity.
As with the other fish species, a trout will always prefer a bigger bait in the cool waters of the fall, and eggs should be on your menu. They will feed more as the water temps drop, as the oxygen levels in the water increase and they become more active.
If you’re in clear water, trout will use the shade as cover and so should you, as they are easily spooked. You may want to go down to a 2 to 4 lb. test low-vis line in gin clear water.
Always match the hatch of resident insects and land-based bugs of the area. Fall hatches will be fewer and the bugs smaller, so finding the most abundant fall insects will help guide you.
As we mentioned earlier, fall fishing really does require you to prepare for all types of weather, but it offers abundant rewards for those who want to maximize their fishing time while many other anglers are sidetracked by other activities.
The air is crisp, the water is cool and the boat traffic is a dream for those intrepid anglers who make the most of the autumn. After all, fishing should be about having fun, making memories and enjoying the water - no matter the season.