The only thing surprising about Todd Faircloth’s 11.5 pound largemouth was that it wasn’t bigger.
After all, it was late autumn on Sam Rayburn Reservoir and the bass had been right where it should have been, on a stumpy flat off the edge of one of Rayburn’s main-lake points. Faircloth had been using the correct lure, too, a shallow-running crankbait to cover his favorite five- to eight-foot range.
And he was fishing during a time period that’s productivity should be legendary, yet somehow is largely overlooked.
“In the late fall and winter, there is a brief interval all across the South when bass are actually migrating back out of creeks toward their deeper winter habitat in the main lake,” explains Faircloth, a tournament pro who experienced this ‘forgotten season’ on other lakes across the South from Texas to North Carolina and Virginia. “Bass are still following shad and feeding, so they’re prime targets for crankbaits.”
“Everyone knows about the early autumn movement bass make to the backs of creeks to feed, but then they seem to forget bass make that same migration back out to the main lake as temperatures begin to drop,” he says. “It’s not as dramatic because the baitfish aren’t skipping over the surface so you don’t see as much activity, but both shad and bass stay together as they move toward deep water.”
This movement takes longer across the South because of warmer water temperatures, and usually lasts for 10 to 12 weeks between October and the end of December, or until water temperatures drop into the low 50’s. Places like Rayburn’s Caney Creek Flats, or the points outlining the mouth of Browns Creek on Lake Guntersville are famous (but only among in-the-know locals) this time of year for this pattern.
Faircloth usually begins fishing from half to three-quarters of the way back in a tributary, then fishes out toward the main lake when he’s looking for bass making this move.
“If your lake has vegetation like hydrilla or milfoil, concentrate on it and fish the deeper, outside edges,” he advises. “But if there’s no grass, look for secondary points, flats, rocks, stumps, and especially the ends of boat docks. I rarely fish any deeper than 12 feet, but often I’m close to deeper water.”
“I’ve caught bass as shallow as three feet this time of year, but five to eight feet is really my favorite depth all the way out of the creek. Even when I’m working main lake points, I’ll fish that depth as long as I can.”
That four- to 12-foot depth range makes this an ideal pattern for shallow and medium-running crankbaits. Faircloth prefers a shad-pattern Sebile Crankster, which reaches four to five feet. Norman’s Little N and Normark’s Shad Rap also see a lot of action across the South. As this migration continues into deeper water, Pradco’s Fat Free Shad and the Norman DD-22 work well.
“Overall, this pattern works best in stained and off-colored water, which is why a wide, wobbling lure like the Crankster works well,” says Faircloth, noting that bass at this time key on vibration rather than visual contact. “I have a lot of success with a straight retrieve, but if that doesn’t bring any strikes, I speed it up and really burn it. It’s surprising how often a fast retrieve works best.”
A fast retrieve gives the crankbait a tighter wobble. If you stop and start again several times throughout your retrieval, you give the crankbait a variety of actions in one cast.
“If you’re fishing the edge of a grassline, you want to rip your crankbait out when it gets snagged and, if possible, you want to hit rocks, stumps, and the other cover so the lure has an erratic action and kicks off vibration.”
At times this pattern can produce some of the fastest fishing action of the entire year. Toward the end of their migration, bass gather in large schools and while they may be slightly deeper, they’ll still hit a fast-moving crankbait.
“I remember catching 23 bass on 22 consecutive casts in the 1215 Flats area on Toledo Bend,” says Oklahoma pro Edwin Evers. “Fish were schooled tightly at the ends of ridges and points before moving out to deeper water, and it seemed like they were on every point. All I did was crank a Fat Free Shad as fast as I could wind it.”
“I look for places where creek channels and little ditches swing close to points and shorelines,” Evers explains. “Today’s GPS maps show these places so well it’s easier to locate them now than ever before, and you can mark them with a buoy.”
“I really like to fish this pattern in standing timber and over sunken roadbeds, and it’s usually pretty easy to see these outlined as they wind through the trees.”
Now that it’s been explained, the only thing surprising about this pattern is that more anglers don’t take advantage of it.