Fall Frenzy: How To Fool More Schooling Bass

by Justin Rackley


With Old Man Winter on his way, the bass are gathering their friends and strapping on the feedbag.


Experiencing the feeding frenzy of schooling bass is a heart-pounding treat. The water is churning, shad are jumping for their lives every which way, and hearing the unmistakable sound of bass using their namesake large mouths to engulf those wildly fleeing baitfish just never gets old.

And that’s what makes the fall one of the most-exciting times to be on the water. Autumn brings on an instinctual feeding mode that triggers bass to work in schools, rather that hunting solo. Before the winter hits, many bass will be doing their best to pack on the calories. But it doesn’t mean the fishing is easy. Schooling bass can be voracious but at the same time highly focused and selective—not to mention well surrounded by frantic food. It’s not always a guarantee that you will hook up when you toss a lure in the midst of such a frenzy—but there are some tactics that will definitely increase your chances.

This is such a common term in fishing, but it really comes into play during the fall when bass zero-in on a particular shad size. Shad will sometimes have a fall spawn if lake conditions are favorable, yielding groups of small shad that may be only an inch long. Paying attention to what size shad you see being eaten will equal more hook-ups. You would think that with the fish being so aggressive, most any size would do, but often that’s not the case. Be sure to include some smaller lures in your tacklebox when fall arrives. Big bass will hit small lures during this period.

How can bass be shallow in deep water? Shad are often pushed to the surface in the fall by hungry bass, or by their own stomachs, to feed on plankton in the low-light hours. Stay alert and periodically scan the water around you. At this time of year you might notice the splashing of feeding bass hundreds of feet away from the bank. Some of these bass have been holding on standing timber in deep water, but sometimes these fish will simply get into a “chasing mode” very similar to striped bass. And much like whitetail bucks that get a little lost in the smells of chasing does in the rut, bass will often chase shad far away from their typical hiding places.

When building your fall lure collection, keep in mind that bass are looking up toward the surface during their schooling behavior.


Topwater Walkers
Walking baits work very well for schooling bass because they have a “wounded bait” action, but most also have a loud, attractive sound to bring bass up out of many feet of water.

Assorted Cranks
Lipless crankbaits are an outstanding bait because they can be cast a long way, and make a loud sound that stands out from all the shad that are grouped together. When fishing around wood or other cover, try using a square-billed crankbait that deflects off of such hard cover easier.

Small Jerkbaits
When bass become lure shy or just more difficult to catch, I like to throw a small jerkbait and work it quickly and erratically.

Scrounger And Lead Head Jigs
Threading your favorite small swimbaits and straight-tail plastics (such as flukes and boot tails) on a scrounger head is a very natural-looking presentation. In lakes that have very clear water, going with just the leadhead jig and plastic will sometimes trigger more strikes.

Spoon Feed ’Em
Arguably one of the greatest fish catchers of all time, spoons put out a lot of flash that can trigger savage strikes from schooling bass. Casting spoons such as the Kastmaster feature an enticing, erratic action on the retrieve, and as a bonus they can be thrown very long distances. For bass that are suspended around structure, a large 4- to 5-inch flutter spoon can really get bass fired up.

Schooling bass action can be fast and furious, but chasing fish that move out into open water, much like pelagic tuna, can often be a waste of time. It’s much better to target more-defined structure such as lake points and creek channels, which will consistently hold bass in the fall. Both are prime areas to encounter fall schoolers. 

Crankbass-600The author hammered this big bucketmouth with a crankbait—one of his favorite lures for fooling schooling bass. 

Long casts are very important when trying to reach a school that suddenly pops up. Using lighter lines and lighter-action rods of 7 feet or more will help increase casting distance, and your hookups. Timing is also important; you want to be ready to cast quickly when you see a school surface. I like to keep a “go-to” schooling lure hanging a few feet off the end of a rod tip ready to go when needed. Whenever possible, you want to cast beyond the school of bass and swim your lure into them. Often, “plopping” a lure in the middle of the school gets missed, because the fish are on the move. 

To make the most of a lull in surface activity, I like to have a setup rigged to slowly fish the bottom. A Carolina rig or a football jig are great ways to probe the bottom while you scan the horizon. Try to take note of areas where you see consistent surface activity; there could be a piece of structure below the surface-holding bass that can lead to some bigger fish.

If you stick to areas of structure and don’t wander off after schools that can lead you into the wide open, you will find schooling bass a strong, consistent fall bite. And better yet? Once you experience the heart-pounding, water-churning excitement of a fresh-breaking fall school, you may never be the same.



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