Change with the Weather to Catch More Fish this Fall
By Todd Reed
Fall has arrived here in Iowa. There have been many signs of this for quite some time; shorter days, crisp morning air, the turning of the leaves and the mysterious fog that settles in over lakes and ponds. Everything around us is changing, and we have to change our fishing strategies to continue to catch fish.
I know many people have put away their rods and reels for rifles, bows and shotguns, but the month of October can offer some of the best fishing Iowa has to offer. It can be the best if we think about the fish and what they are going through this month. The world of a fish in October is one of change. Its entire ecosystem is changing daily and thus the fish must change to survive, and more importantly, feed up for the upcoming winter.
Iowa is blessed with many rivers, small and large as well as many lakes and ponds. Rivers and lakes have very different ecosystems and they must be treated as such. First, let’s talk about the many lakes and ponds around the state.
Lakes: No matter if you are fishing a 100-acre lake, 8,000-acre lake or a small pond the fish will have the same general tendencies. Bass, crappies, bluegills must search out their prey to survive. Gone are the days where we need to look closely for the thermocline and plan our day around that. The water in lakes and ponds this time of year is pretty uniform and the fish will use all depths to find food. This fact alone can be troublesome as to where to start looking. As a general rule of thumb, if the water temperature is still above 50-degrees fish will be feeding shallow, and by shallow I mean a foot deep. It is all about the prey, and those small fish, minnows and crawdads that these species love to eat will still be shallow. Crawdads will go dormant around that 50-degree mark, but other prey will continue to stay shallow. Shallow coves that have quick access to deep water are always on the top of the list of places to try. If the main lake creek channel swings in towards a shallow cove, that makes an excellent stop for fish to feed up in the shallows. Coves that have distinct creek channels feeding them is also a great place to fish. Add some brushpiles, rockpiles or standing trees and this makes things even better. Looking at lake maps and studying them before your trip can help you plan your day to focus in on these starting places. Most gamefish are sight feeders, fall offers very few daylight hours, this is to the anglers’ advantage. Although fish don’t need as much food to survive during the cooler months, they still need to feed during a smaller window of time. Take full advantage of this and use those sunlight hours for your fishing adventures, and one of the best things about fall fishing, no need to get on the lake at dawn, it is best to let the sun warm the lake up, sleep in and fish the middle of the day. (Don’t forget your radio to listen to that football game!)
Rivers: There is no better time of the year to fish a river than right now. The rivers in Iowa seem to get rejuvenated during the month of September and get prime in the month of October. No matter if you are talking about the Mighty Mississippi or a small interior river which flow through most counties in the state, now is the time to hit them. When I am not fishing with my children or relatives I fish for bass, however in the fall it seems that every bass fishing excursions turns into a multi-species day. Rivers are notorious for being full of many species of gamefish; walleyes, pike, smallmouth, and largemouth are the most popular and it is quite common to catch some of each on a trip to a river this time of year. I think that is one reason why people enjoy fishing rivers so much, you just never know what you might set the hook on. Besides catching a variety of fish on the rivers right now, numbers can be fantastic as well. This is caused by Mother Nature, typically in the fall rivers will be at their lowest flow, or river height. This concentrates the fish into smaller areas where food is present. This is true for panfish too. There is just not a lot of extra water to search out these fish. The low flow also helps the water to clean and provide a steady current for fish. Typically in the fall fish will be near current and even smack in the hardest current the river has to offer. It is all about the food source. Anglers need to focus on slight or secondary currents during this time to find those large groups of fish that may offer the memory or a lifetime. Secondary current isn’t the swiftest flow in the area, but it isn’t calm water either.
Finding what current the fish want and then duplicating that will have you catching a lot of fish this month. When fishing those small rivers/streams it come down to outside bends and inside bends that control the current. Once you solve the mystery of that, then that pattern can be repeated up the stream as far as you go. Take close note to sandbars at this time as well too. These offer a current break for prey and thus any gamefish could be lurking on the backside of a sandbar awaiting its next meal. Same goes for rivers as lakes, no need to get up with the sun, let the sun warm the rivers and keep that bait in the water.
Fall is my favorite time of year, and there is little doubt that the fishing is the main reason for this. The crisp air, the calm flow of a river, the steam rising up on a lake or pond, October is a magical month and I hope you all find a bit of that magic this year!