Fall bass fishing is on the minds of every bass angler after a hot summer. Dedicated bass fishermen also anticipate fall as the bass bite often improves as water temperatures fall. This peak inactivity is a widely known phenomenon, but the reasons behind it are less clear. As warmwater species, the metabolisms of largemouth and smallmouth bass are affected by water temperature. The colder the water, the less active they become and the less they need to eat. On the other hand, there seems to be another factor at work that spurs bass to feed before water temperatures plummet into the frigid range. They seem to know what’s coming, though we don’t know the mechanism behind this shift. Big bass seem particularly active as winter approaches. In northern waters, the tough northern strain of bass tolerates frigid waters, though it drastically curtails their feeding. Before its arrival, they take advantage of reduced vegetation and denser aggregations of preyfish. In shad-based reservoir systems further south, there isn’t such a metabolic spur to feed, but the vast congregations of shad, both in feeder creeks and deep channel turns of impoundments bring added feeding opportunities.
Lure selection in fall depends somewhat on the phase of the season—early, mid-fall, or what we call pre-winter. During the milder months, fast retrieves with horizontal lures seem to turn on fall bass. As the water cools, fish move slower and presentations should slow accordingly. Finally, before ice-up, great patience is required, as dead-sticking and ultra-slow retrieves with down-sized lures can be the only way to get bites.
We typically have a jig on deck during all seasons of the year; they’re just that good. But in fall, their compact and meaty profile and ability to fish through cover at all depths make them a key choice. For most applications, a standard skirted jig with a weedguard is versatile and effective. Over the years, our staff has doubtless caught thousands of nice bass on Terminator Pro Jigs. It’s balanced to come through vegetation as well as brush and it’s available in weights from 1/4 on up to a full ounce, so you can match its fall rate to bass depth, positioning, and aggressive. That’s particularly important as lakes cool. A fast fall rate works early, but in colder water, slow movements generally work better. Pro Jigs come in colors to imitate crawfish, as well as preyfish and have color-matched weedguards. Put a chunk or craw trailer like Big Bite’s Chunk, Fighting Frog, or College Craw on the back and get to work. The Chunk, shaped like a traditional pork chunk, gives a jig a more subtle gliding action that scoots into cover. The Fighting Frog has a bulky body and thinner claws so it matches a heavy jig to punch through thick vegetation. Finally, the College Craw is more lifelike, with claws that flap as the lure falls or is pulled ahead, with tempting action and vibration. Pick your spots carefully and jigs will show you what they can do.
In northern lakes and many reservoirs, crayfish make up the bulk of a bass’ diet, especially in fall. Across the country, there are hundreds of different crayfish species of various colors and habitat niches. But bass like ‘em all. Texas-rigging a crawfish imitator like Big Bite Baits’ realistic College Craw lets you fish it through thick vegetation. Match the slip sinker weight to the thickness of the cover, and wind factors, but 1/4-ounce works for many fall situations. Another of our favorites is the Craw Tube, as it’s ribbed and soft so bass tend to hang on until you can set the hook.
As autumn advances, vegetation in lakes and reservoirs thins out, so crankbaits shine, enabling anglers to scour weedlines and work across flats that had been choked with vegetation all summer. In early fall, you can cover water and find active bass fast with them, since you can change models to explore various depth ranges. Working close to grass, the lures may momentarily hang up, but a sharp snap of the rod frees them of the stalks and often triggers a strike. It also pays to include pauses in your retrieve, as the change of speed and direction incite bass to attack. Along deeper edges, divers like Rapala’s DT-10 are deadly with their tight wobble and slight hunting action. For working shallower, try Rapala’s Rippin’ Rap or the Storm Arashi Vibe across the flats. Where rocks and vegetation meet, fall bass tend to gather, both largemouths and smallmouths. Here, the classic Storm Wiggle Wart is deadly, along with square-bills like Storm’s Arashi Silent Square. Let them deflect off rocks, them pound them back into the cover.
Wire baits continue to fool bass, and fall is prime time, as lakes often turn a bit darker, which makes it easier to fool fish with flashy blades. Terminator’s new Pro Series Spinnerbait has been designed with lots of input from the pro staff of top tournament anglers and we’ve been highly impressed with them. They’re built on a frame of fine stainless-steel wire that allows an ideal balance of strength and vibration. When you consider the different lure weights and blade styles available, you have lures that are effective in cover from just inches of water to as deep as want to fish. In fall, bass often respond to increased vibration, so big Colorado blades are deadly when worked through clumps of grass that remain green into late fall. Work them slowly and occasionally let the lure helicopter down in open pockets, and be ready for your line to jump!
While some anglers consider the buzzbait a top choice in summer, they work as well or better once waters cool and more bass move shallow. They squeal across weed flats and around clumps of vegetation where big bass hold. Where bass feed heavily on gizzard shad in fall, buzzers such as Terminator’s Super Stainless Buzzbait, turn the heads of prowling lunkers that roam shallow rock areas. In these milder regions, buzzbaits may produce into early winter. Work them slowly across the surface and don’t set the hook until you feel the weight of the fish.
Another deadly option is the umbrella rig, particularly where schooling baitfish such as shad, smelt, cisco, or perch are common. When the water temperature drops, their effectiveness rises, and they often out fish any other presentation in rivers and lakes. Both largemouths and smallmouths are suckers for umbrella rigs, and at times you catch more than one fish at a time. Terminator’s Stainless Steel Rig is available in three sizes—5, 8, and 10 inches, for various rigging setups. They come with 5 wires, including a longer central wire. Where regulations don’t allow 5 hooked lures, place dummies on the outside, with a larger lure with a hook in the middle and farther back. Day in and day out, 3- to 4-inch swimsbaits such as Big Bite Baits’ Finesse Swimmer or Pro Swimmer fill the bill. For a larger central lure, try a Big Kicker. Work the rig in any depth, from 4-foot flats or down onto breaklines and ledges from 10 to 18 feet deep. A slow and steady retrieve gets it done. To toss this hefty setup and to wind in the lunkers it attracts, choose a 7.5 to 8-foot rod with heavy power and a reel with large spool capacity.