Big Bite – November Bass
By Ben Leal
Last month we took a look at October bass fishing and the potential that exists to hook into some incredible catches. As October winds down air and water temps will begin to drop and both you and the bass will slow down. In Iowa the average temperatures will range from 44 to 52 degrees for highs, and lows dipping down to the 24 degree mark. It certainly won’t be long before we’ll be looking for ice to punch holes in. You can also take advantage of the fact that by now most anglers have put their boats away for the season and the pressure on the fish will be light to non-existent.
Before we hit the ice however, we have a chance to hook into some very large bass. Why you ask? Bass will continue to slow down as water temps cool down. But big bulky baits, and some finesse baits will yield results that can bring some big bass to boat. Like us, bass will migrate to warmth, and warm water in a lake means shallow water fishing. And when they are shallow, they are biters.
By now the cover that these bass have been hiding in, like weedlines, lily pads, and vegetation, basically your shallow water slop have all but disappeared. Some of the best shallow water areas to look for late fall bass are those areas with timber, as well as flats adjacent to deeper water.
So how do you best take advantage of the opportunity? Various approaches can produce fish during the fall, but some of the very best offerings come from your bag of soft-plastic lures. Let’s look at a handful of the best types of soft lures for this time of year, examining how to rig and present each.
Shad and fall bass go hand in hand. The shad congregate and move up into the creeks this time of year, and the bass follow the baitfish in big numbers. In the realm of soft-plastic lures, nothing imitates a shad better than a soft swimbait colored and sized to match the hatch.
Along with providing a great imitation of the bass’ favorite fall meal, a swimbait allows you to work quickly, which can be important during the fall, when bass find comfortable conditions in a big range of areas. Keeping an eye on your electronics and monitoring water temp will also help find areas where both shad and bass will migrate to. Swimbaits are search baits so keep moving along creek channels and shorelines, and keep your eyes open for big schools of shad.
Although swimbaits can be used to probe a big range of depths, the best fall opportunities normally are for shallow fish that are feeding on shad that you can see, often over flats or points within creeks. The best presentation, generally speaking, comes from a steady retrieve, with the baits swimming within a few feet of the surface.
Depending on fish depth and aggressiveness and the style of swimbait selected, baits can be rigged with various jig heads as well as weighted hooks for a weedless presentation. Jig head rigging offers an open hook point, which provides an advantage for hooking fish. Use a weighted hook when fishing in areas where there’s quite a bit of cover. Weighted hooks come in a variety of sizes and are used to allow for depth, inserted into swimbaits Texas rig style for a weedless presentation. Make sure that the weighted hook and size match the swimbait you’re using, a natural movement of your swimbait is important in both cases. For clear water, white-sided swimbaits with blue, green, or black backs represent shad the best. If the water is stained, using chartreuse to adds visibility without forsaking the need to suggest shad.
In addition to at least one swimbait, keep a soft-plastic jerkbait rigged and ready. Sometimes fish that won’t quite commit to a steadily moving swimbait find it difficult to resist a jerkbait, which moves more slowly and erratically but still suggests a shad. Use the jerkbait as an alternative offering when shad are plentiful in shallow water, but the bass won’t take a swimbait. Grab the jerkbait rod when you see fish breaking on the surface or baitfish that appear to be fleeing predators.
Often the best depth to work a soft-plastic jerkbait during the fall is barely out of your sight. That means fishing the lure shallower in stained water, but the fish also tend to hold shallower when visibility is lower. Rig the bait weightless, either weedless with an offset worm hook or nose hooked with a circle hook, and work it with twitches and pauses. One of my favorites and one that I’ve had great success with is the Zoom Fluke, and always nose hooked, though I have rigged it, at times with an offset hook for a weedless presentation.
Experiment with cadences. Sometimes the fish favor fairly steady action, like a sub-surface version of walking the dog. Other times a better approach is to do a few quick twitches and then let the bait free fall for a few seconds before twitching it again. Think about what you have been doing whenever fish bite, and always watch behind your lure as you are working it. If you get glimpses of followers that won’t quite commit, chances are good that you are close to the right offering and presentation and that changing colors or altering the speed or cadence a bit could be the ticket.
Fish your jerkbait on spinning tackle so that you can use lighter line and make longer casts, and spool with fluorocarbon to minimize line visibility, aid in hook setting and to help the bait stay down in the water column. Again, stick with shad-imitating color patterns such as pearl, and add chartreuse to color schemes for stained water.
If the fish won’t come up through the grass or out of the timber to feed, an alternative is to go in after them with a soft-plastic crawfish or creature bait, Texas rigged with enough weight to get down through the cover. Don’t spend a lot of time with the bait in any given spot. Drop it down and pay careful attention during the initial fall, which more often than not will be when the bait is taken. Then hop it just a time or two before lifting it and making your next pitch.
This approach commonly yields big fish, and they can be tough to get out of their hiding areas. Use a stout rod, heavy line and a big, heavy-wire worm hook. For thick cover, that means 50- or 60-pound-test braid and a 5/O or 6/O hook.
If you’re flipping or pitching around wood or other cover that is somewhat open, choose a crawfish bait with big flappy claws like a Strike King Rage Craw or creature bait with big paddles and plenty of appendages. For thick vegetation, you want a more compact bait that you can punch through the cover and get down among the fish.
Patterning is critical for this style of fishing. I spent a few hours on a small body of water where timber was the primary cover. Using a crawfish bait, I pitched up and close to cover. I hooked several fish however that were well off the cover. Noting the depth of about 6 feet I started casting in areas right in front of my boat in the same depth. Every bass I caught that day took the bait as it was dropping or after a small hop or two. The timber I started to fish was in about 3 feet of water. Paying attention to where the strike occurs and not concentrating solely on cover can make or break your day.
Finally, don’t overlook the sheer strike-producing virtue of a simple straight tailed worm. Even during the fall, when fish typically put on the feedbag, conditions ranging from an early cold front to heavy fishing pressure and to a lake turning over can put the bass in a funk and make them tough customers. However, even a fussy fish has trouble resisting a finesse worm. With its small profile and slow wavering action, such a worm simply looks like an easy meal.
Beyond looking vulnerable, a finesse worm such as Zoom Trick Worm is really versatile in the ways it can be presented. Probably the most popular way to work shoreline slopes in the fall is to rig the worm weedless on a 1/8- or 1/16-ounce jig head and present it with a combination of shakes, hops, drags and pauses. Arguably the most often forgotten technique is to drag a Carolina rig with a 1/2- to 1-ounce weight, 2 to 4 feet in front of a weedless finesse worm. Carolina rigging allows you to cover a tremendous amount of water without moving the lure quickly and to work a broad range of bottom depths.
In terms of finesse worm colors, lacking reason to choose something different, it’s hard to beat green pumpkin as an all-around producer. It is easy for fish to find in most water colors but has a natural appearance. If the water is extra clear, a more translucent natural color such as watermelon seed might be a better choice. At the opposite end of the spectrum, June bug stands out really well in stained water but still has a subtle and somewhat natural appearance.
We’ve talked about weather patterns, low pressure and high pressure systems and advised everyone to be weather watchers. Well worth a reminder here. As fall gives way to winter, fishing a falling pressure or right before a storm as the low bottoms out will be your best bets. Some will argue that fishing on a sunny day will be better since the water will warm up. In almost every instance where I’ve headed out for a day’s fishing following some sort of weather event, and had a nice bright; typically a high pressure sunny day, the fish have been less than cooperative. Fishing as the weather begins to change and a low pressure comes in, especially in November, will be less than comfortable. Dress for the weather, be prepared to stay dry, and…hang on because that trophy fish you’ve been searching for might just stretch your line. Tight lines all!