Although the air temperature hovered in the 30s this past weekend, I decided to give fall bassin’ one last shot …
So, while most of my buddies were making last minute deer hunting preparations or shooting ducks and geese, I put on the long underwear, Frabill Stormsuit, hitched up the boat and hit the water.
Keep in mind that my childhood home of Otter Tail County, Minnesota, has nearly 1100 lakes, so picking just one lake to fish can be a difficult task … but on Saturday night I narrowed my list to a few favorites and decided I’d make my decision depending on the weather in the morning.
At 5:30 am I awoke to rain and 15 miles per hour winds out of the northeast. That meant a couple lakes were definitely out of question, so I headed to the small 250-acre "Lake X," where I knew I could manage the wind.
To give you an idea, 'Lake X' is the perfect maternity ward for bass: hardstem bulrush and cattail stands in sand around the entire perimeter of the lake, bays on both ends, and a fertile weedline of interspersed cabbage, coontail, northern milfoil, and floating-leaf pondweed. Yep, it’s a bass factory—lots of fish between two- and four-pounds—and a good number of 4s, 5s and 6s.
I hit the water at 7 am and decided to run and gun until I found fish. I kept my head on swivel, watching my Humminbird 788ci HD DI as I headed toward the lake’s southeastern point (see spot 1 on map), all the while looking for fish in deeper water. The unit read 46-degrees water surface temp.
My mind was already set, although I hadn’t thrown a single cast. I was going to fish swim jigs, spinnerbaits and cranks on a slow retrieve—and football jigs on the deeper transitions.
I positioned the boat in 15 feet of water to work the weeds in five to 10 feet. I had half a dozen rods rigged: spinnerbait, crankbait, Texas-rigged worm, swim jig and football jig.
I started the morning by fan-casting a spinnerbait to locate aggressive fish. Right off the bat, I boated a thick 16-inch bass on the tandem willow Reed Runner. My hopes were up; it was going to be a good day.
And just as my mind began to repeat this optimism I knew I had hexed the trip. Like my dad used to say: “Don’t get your skill and courage confused.”
15 minutes later, nothing. Twenty minutes, nothing.
I grabbed the crankbait rod. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Still nothing.
Repeat with swim jig—nothing.
Then it hit me. Halloween ... let's try something that creeps and crawls!
I swapped the swim jig for a Gene Larew 7/16-ounce HardHead and 4 1/4-inch Biffle Bug. I pitched the bug up into a pocket on the far inside of the weedline. Tap-tap, bam! A nice 15-inch fish.
This pattern repeated as I worked the lake’s points (see spot 1, 2, 3 and 4 on map). These bass wanted candy—fat and ugly creature bait stuff like the Biffle Bug. As a result, I boated a dozen fish between two- and four-pounds and lost nearly as many, including one toad who buried his nose in the thick stuff and wrapped me around a log (see spot 3 on map).
What I discovered really surprised me. The fish weren’t stacked up along the edges of the weedlines or deeper transitions—they were up in four- to six-feet in pockets of water between thick clumps of submerged vegetation relatively close to shore.
Something else: Nearly all fish were caught in areas where silt transitioned to mixed sand and rock. Any time I felt the morse code of the HardHead bouncing rock, I subsequently caught fish. And every fish was caught immediately after the bait hit bottom or sat motionless for a few seconds between twitches.
I doubt if these bass had ever seen this particular creature combo of Biffle Bug and HardHead. And they took to it with the zeal of a kindergartner faced with a whole shopping bag of chocolate goodness!
What's The Lesson?
Don’t get caught up in doing what you’ve always done—or relying on textbook examples of how to catch bass.
Search for fish in places you typically overlook and don’t be afraid to switch up and try new patterns, regardless of what our past seasonal experience tells us. I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to using the same old approaches.
But, the more I learn about conditioned fish, fishing pressure and just how bass respond to stuff they seldom see (or have never seen), the more I'm convinced that the successful angler is the guy who's versatile and creative. Or, like me, a fisherman prone to successful accidents!
As always, I'm grateful for another day on the water and the chance to learn something new.
What a great way to put the open-water season to bed!
Slack is evil: tight lines,