50-fish days? Potbellied lunkers? Fall fishing can produce plenty of both, and nothing gets the job done better than a selection of quality spinnerbaits, coupled with knowledge of the most-productive retrieves.
Some signs of fall all of us recognize: Leaves are turning colors, days are getting shorter, and more importantly, the water temperature begins to drop. All of this means that it is time for some fantastic fall bass fishing!
Right now is when anglers have the opportunity to catch not only good numbers of bass, but also some of the biggest bass of the year. Like most any time of the year, there are many lures and techniques that will tempt fall bass, but one of my favorite ways to catch both largemouth and smallmouth bass in the fall is with a spinnerbait. The spinnerbait is a simple lure—a lead head on a wire frame with one or more blades—yet these versatile lures are so much more than that. Use them correctly and you can’t help but increase your fall bass hookups.
Bass in the fall have one thing on their minds, food! They are bulking up for the long winter ahead of them and gorge themselves on a variety of available forage. The high-protein shad that most fall bass are targeting are going to be in shallow water: along flats, or holding on points, in most cases grouped in large schools. These areas will warm quickly as the sun gets up over head, which will attract the baitfish and in turn, lure hungry bass.
There are several ways to locate these large schools of shad. One is to look for birds; if you see seagulls or pelicans (see image above) in an area, more than likely shad are present. Another way to spot shad is to look for any “flashes” in the water, or a change in the surface conditions. Many times these schools of shad are easy to locate, just by having a keen eye and a pair of quality polarized sunglasses.
Numerous forms of cover will hold bass in the fall, as long as they have food present and are located near or on the way to deeper water. Points with moving water on both sides, and flats with deep water close by are two areas to find opportunistic fall bass.
Shorelines with weeds or wood will also hold baitfish and bass. Many times the local bass will roam these flats in search of shad. If one day you are catching bass right on the cover, and the next day they aren’t there, it can be wise to simply back off of the cover—more than likely the bass will be out roaming and actively feeding on that flat. The importance of having deeper water close by is important, because these are the areas bass will hole up in when they are not actively feeding. Remember that “deeper water” does necessarily mean a drastic drop-off; it can mean just a few feet deeper than the surrounding flat.
The equipment that I use to throw spinnerbaits in the fall starts with a Wright & McGill Victory II low speed reel, and I’ll typically fill it with 15-pound Seaguar Senshi mono. With this reel and line combination I’m able to make very long casts, and because I’m using mono, my line will stretch a bit when a bass hits, resulting in fewer lost bass.
Using the right rod will allow you to make long casts (especially helpful if you are fishing a wide-open flat) or very precise casts (if you are fishing shallow cover and need to put you lure right on a stump or under a boat dock). I’ve found that a 7-foot medium-heavy action rod will allow you to do both of these well. Sometimes the strike of a fall bass can be very subtle, so using a very sensitive rod will aid in detecting those light bites. I like to match a Wright & McGill Victory Pro Carbon Spinnerbait Rod with the previously mentioned reel and line to create what I believe is the ultimate fall bass spinnerbait combo.
Every angler has their favorite spinnerbaits, and pretty much every tackle company makes one, so it is up to you to find the models you like; your goal is to learn how those specific lures run in all conditions and retrieves. The spinnerbaits that I like to throw are made by War Eagle Custom Lures (see image above). War Eagle offers a plethora of great head and skirt colors, along with several different blade combinations.
If the water is stained, or if I’m “slow-rolling” my spinnerbait, I’ll use a single Colorado blade, or a tandem Colorado/Indiana blade setup. These blade configurations put off a lot of vibration, which attracts bass like a dinner bell. When the water is cleaner, my “go-to” blade configuration is a dual willowleaf blade, as these thin blades emit a lot of flash and effectively mimic the profile of shad. My favorite skirt color in the fall is white; I have tried many other colors but have found white to deliver the most-consistent response over the widest of conditions.
The weight of the spinnerbait I will be throwing is dependent on water depth, speed of my retrieve, and current wind conditions. If I’m fishing super shallow, a ¼-ounce bait is my typical choice, but the two most-common sizes I use are 3/8- and ½-ounce models. I will reach for a heavyweight ¾-ounce model if I’m fishing deeper water, or need to “slow-roll” my bait and keep it barely moving just off the bottom.
Any time I fish a spinnerbait, I always add a trailer hook, as this will aid in hooking up with short-striking bass. Sometimes I’ll also add a simple Zoom Split Tail white Spinnerbait Trailer, to offer a little more action.
I employ several different kinds of retrieves when fishing a spinnerbait in the fall. Sometimes the hot pattern is simply casting it out and reeling it in, but some days a more-precise retrieve is needed. Here is a list of the different retrieves I will employ.
Ticking: This is when you make your bait just “tick” the tops of submerged vegetation, stumps or laydowns that line the shoreline. Many times a strike will occur immediately as your bait contacts the cover.
Burning: Retrieving a spinnerbait as fast as you can can sometimes draw hard “reaction” strikes. This is a great technique when targeting smallmouth bass that are cruising flats. In this situation, using a chartreuse skirt and blades is a great choice.
Slow-Rolling: Let your lure sink to the bottom and reel just fast enough to bring in line, making sure you are maintaining contact with the bottom. This is a great way to start fishing spinnerbaits in the morning, when the water is still cold, or following a cold front.
Yo-Yo-ing: This technique combines retrieving your spinnerbait steadily with strategic pauses, allowing your lure to “free fall” for a few seconds before resuming. This technique works great over the top of a flat, with a strategic “fall” down the face of the ledge.
Many times the areas you are targeting in the fall are massive areas, where bass can roam randomly and at any point can also be found schooled up on one small piece of cover or underwater structure. To aid in your ability to cover water quickly, I like to keep my Minn Kota Fortrex trolling motor on “high” and cover a lot of water.
Another smart technique to find scattered concentrations of active fish, is to use your ScoutLook Fishing app and closely monitor wind direction and speed. With this knowledge you can position your boat to drift most efficiently along a flat or shoreline. Then I simply use my trolling motor to keep my boat on my desired heading, and when I come across an active school of bass, or a key piece of cover I want to fish more thoroughly, I’ll deploy my dual Minn Kota Talons to hold my boat in that spot.
Paying close attention to my ScoutLook Fishing app also allows me to put together a pattern of how the bass are holding on the banks or flats, given the current wind conditions. Sometimes you fill find bass favoring areas of warmer water where baitfish are being pushed by the wind, and sometimes a pattern emerges in calmer areas.
Are you ready to take advantage of the fall spinnerbait bite? If so it’s time to grab your favorite lures and head to your local bassin’ hole and hold on; when the fall bass bite is “on” there is no better way to log those epic 50-plus-fish days. And when you hang a true fall lunker or two—and you will—remember to release those pot-bellied battlers to fight another day.