A Plan on How to Catch your Biggest Fish of the Year
By Billy Pryor
It is that time of year again… fall! It is a beautiful season change. The leaves start to glow with bright hues of yellow and orange, the chilly mornings have a crisp frost on the grass, and the earlier sunset shines the most vibrant fall colors. It is also the time of year when you start to see a lot of us cleaning, organizing, and winterizing our boats for next year. We start arranging our tackle boxes and clearing out all of the fishing gear from the garage. However, fall is actually a time when we want to make sure that we are out on the water and have a large selection of lures and baits ready to go. October can be the best month for that big fish that we are after!
Fall can be a tough time of the year to be out fishing though, but that does not mean that it is impossible to catch fish on these increasingly colder days. As a matter of fact, you may catch your biggest fish of the year in October! In early fall, the fish start to get confused about the season change, mainly due to the change in water temperature. One issue that can complicate fall fishing is an “Indian Summer”. An Indian Summer is when the warmer, late summer weather continues well into the fall. A warm fall will obviously keep the water temperatures warmer longer but it is not just the warmer weather that will determine the water temperature. It is also the amount of sunlight each day. The sun will not shine as long in the fall as it does in the summer, thus allowing the water to cool more and more each night.
Fall weather can be unpredictable and the fish will become more active with these daily weather changes. Fish will begin to stock up on as much food as they can to prepare them for the upcoming freezing conditions. As their metabolism slows, fish will often look for larger bait fish to eat. Thanks to the change of seasons and weather patterns, the big fish in October can be enticed to attack larger lures, unlike the lunkers that you are after in the warmer summer months.
In the month of October, as the weather starts to change, it is not unusual to experience short strikes, or not being able to get the fish set on your hook. Fish have a natural ability to understand if the bait that they are chasing will provide them with more calories then they will burn attempting to catch it. So they may not try too hard to get hold of your lure or bait. A good way to handle this issue, is to try using lures that have a trailing hook. This will ensure that if a short strike occurs there will be a second opportunity to plant the hook in the lip of that big fish.
With the water temperatures dropping, foliage is starting to die off. Bait fish will move towards the banks, stumps, and grass beds for cover and stable temperatures. This gives predator fish the advantage to find and stock up on these nutritious meals. If you are fishing in an area of rapid water, like a dam, then look for action right at the base of the dam. Live bait presentations work best and chubs are generally the best bait that I use. A simple vertical jig is an effective presentation. Vertical jigging (chubs, minnows, and soft plastics) in deeper waters is effective because the fish are likely to change depths more frequently as the water temperature fluctuates.
Since fall weather can be so unpredictable, it is a good idea to keep plenty of lure options ready to rig up and try out. Some of the lure options I have had success with on an October fishing trip include: lipless crankbaits, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, and flat sided crankbaits. The lure I decide to tie on will depend on the water temperature and amount of submerged habitat. If it is still warm, I will try to cover as much of the water as I can by using a buzzbait or a spinnerbait. If the water temperature has dropped below roughly 50 degrees I will use a lipless crankbait or a flat sided crankbait.
It is possible that October may still be warm. This will change my tactics a little. I will focus on using buzzbaits during the early morning and late evening hours because of the lower light conditions.
The less light on shore means less light under water. With less light, fish are still able to search for food by detecting vibrations in the water, until they are close enough to see what is causing it. I prefer to use a bright white buzzbait to close the deal. The great thing about a buzzbait is that it will allow you to cover vast amounts of water in a shorter period of time. It can also get you on top of the fish that are scattered throughout the open water. After the sun has risen and the day is warming up, I like to switch to a spinnerbait. Just like the buzzbait, it can cover a lot of water in a short amount of time. I like using a flashy combo of a silver Colorado blade and a gold willow leaf blade. This will give you the enticing flash that you need when you are running it through deeper clear water and in the murkier shallows.
Another possibility is that your October fishing trip may be a brisk one. This is where I will choose a flat sided crankbait or a lipless crankbait. These crankbaits are extremely versatile and seem to get the most response in 45 to 55 degree water. Depending on the amount of foliage and other possible snags in the water will determine which of these two I would use. If you are on a lake with little vegetation and clear water then I would rig up a flat sided crankbait. You can retrieve it slowly and occasionally give it a small jerk, suspend it next to cover, or swim it right over the top of the dying vegetation. I like to run a silent, flat sided crankbait because of it’s subtle flash and lifelike look of a small bait fish trying to sneak by.
If the water you are fishing has submerged vegetation or stumps to maneuver around, I would try throwing out a lipless crankbait. This style of crankbait allows you to focus more on the shallow feeding fish that range from 4 to 6 feet deep. Lipless crankbaits seem to perform best when you hold your rod tip higher, let it fall and jerk it up a bit to get a rattling flutter. With the subtle jerk, you will get the look of a dying shad that is darting frantically. Using this technique over the grass beds and barely bumping the tips of the taller vegetation, the fish seem to hit it when the other lures are not getting the job done. But remember the fish tend to strike softer in colder water, so be ready for that little tick because it may be a monster.
Fall fishing can be a great experience but your time is limited. October’s days are shorter and the weather is unpredictable. Although it is more of a challenge to fish in the fall, it can be very rewarding if you know the behavior of these witty predators. This time of year, the fish are hungry and willing to go after a wide variety lure options. This knowledge can make all the difference between a good day and a great day. So do not put away your fishing gear too early. If you take advantage of October, you may catch your biggest fish of the year. Good Luck!