By Ben Leal
October in Iowa… nature, as a whole, begins to transition from summer to fall. Average daytime highs will reach 68 degrees while lows will fall to the upper 40’s. By then end of the month we will see a 10 to 15 degree drop in those averages. As the water temps drop bass know that cooler weather and winter is not far off. Early in October, bass will be on the prowl, fattening up before Mother Nature slows things down for them.
Many bass anglers will put down there fishing gear and transition themselves from fishing to other outdoor pursuits like hunting. But many hardcore bass anglers rate October as their favorite bass-fishing month, because the fish are active and it is prime time to catch a trophy. But timing is everything and the fall bite can prove to be both exciting and frustrating.
Like all of Iowa’s transitional months, weather is one of those things that is hard to predict. You’ll have warm weather where you can be out in a short sleeve shirt and the very next day you’ll find yourself reaching for a sweatshirt to keep warm. Cold fronts will push bass deep and give ‘em lock jaw. Be a weather watcher…approaching fronts, high and low pressure changes all affect how fish feed. Falling barometric pressures however are some of the best times to chase after bass. They are aggressive feeders as the pressure drops.
Barometric pressure- the weight of the air- decreases as a storm approaches. It’s called low pressure. To understand how it works, imagine the palm of a giant hand easing up as it presses on the water’s surface. Its touch is lighter. The water isn’t as compressed as it was, and fish can move more easily through it. The mood of many fish often changes to what we might call a more ‘active’ mood. They move around more freely and feed.
A storm also brings clouds and wave-creating wind, reducing sunlight penetration. Active fish can move to shallower water. The absolute best fishing periods often occur when barometric pressure reaches its lowest point, just before the front arrives.
By the time October rolls in most of the forage that bass have been feeding on has been used up with one exception…bait fish. This is a time of year when mimicking minnows can be incredibly productive because the bass are feeding heavily on them.
Spinnerbait – these imitate minnows and are great searching tool as well. You can throw these baits a long way and vary your retrieve. Cast and reel the spinnerbait in quickly, jerking your rod tip every so often to cause an erratic action that mimics a wounded baitfish Use translucent colors when the water is clear and chartreuse or white if the water is stained. One of my favorite color combinations for a spinnerbait is actually combining chartreuse and white, adding a 4 inch white grub to the hook adds bulk and action to the bait.
Jerkbait – long slender baits that can mimic a wounded baitfish, if retrieved correctly. Not so long ago, Rapala® introduced the Scatter Rap® Husky Jerk Series of baits. The lip of the bait was specifically designed to create the erratic motion that vulnerable baitfish have when they are wounded or trying to evade a predator. Cast these up in shallow areas and vary our retrieve. A pause in the retrieve often creates a reaction bite if bass have been following. One of the most important factors when it comes to fishing a jerkbait is to never let the bait go to the same place twice. Erratic retrieve, allowing slack in the line and pausing will provide results. Keep in mind water temp as well, the colder the water the slower you will want to retrieve.
Topwater baits – There is nothing quite like tossing a topwater bait out and, after a few twitches of your rod, have a bass explode on the lure. It is one of the most visual and exciting aspects of bass fishing that I’d venture to say every angler enjoys. Just because things are cooling down doesn’t’ mean that the topwater bite is over. Many of the forage species will feed near the surface of the water and bass will surely follow. As a result bass can easily mistake a topwater lure for an injured minnow flailing around the top of the water. Poppers and small buzz baits are some of the best options when it comes to fall fishing. Color and size are important and remember temper your excitement when the bass hits your lure. A very common mistake when topwater fishing is setting the hook too soon. When a bass explodes on your lure, as hard as it may be and what may seem like an eternity, give it a one count then set the hook and reel in your trophy!
Slow It Down
One thing is for sure as October wears on, cooler weather will be more the norm that not and bass will slow down. They will be less apt to bite and if they do, they’re in no hurry to chase your bait. This is a time to use some finesse fishing to entice fish.
Jigs – Bass in October may not want to chase after a spinner bait or jerk bait, especially as things cool off. Metabolisms will begin to slow and so will their appetites. An easy slow moving meal may be what their looking for. Jigs…tube jigs, jig and pig and we can even add some creature baits here. For clear water a tub jig may be the bait of choice. The jig and pig makes a better option for fishing stained water. Creature baits will do the job as well since most are bulky. Pitch the bait to specific areas where bass are located. Open spots in vegetation, tree stumps, lay downs and one of my favorites, boat docks. Bass are more likely to hit as the lure is falling.
Drop Shotting – This technique has become a very popular one in a short amount of time due to the ease of learning to use it. You can pitch and toss this rig in areas that typically hold bass. Suspended bass are especially vulnerable to this method. The best knot to use is the Palomar knot which is the easiest and quickest knot to tie. Take the tag end of the line and go back up the line and run it through the eye of the hook. This will help support and keep the hook at a 90 degree angle. Baits of 3 inches or less you’ll want to nose hook and use a smaller mosquito hook. Larger baits are best Texas rigged to prevent them from getting hung up in cover. Berkley® Gulp! baits work well because they leave a scent trail as you pull them through the water. Use a spinning rig with 6 – 8 pound fluorocarbon loaded on your reel.
Plastics – 4-inch plastic baits such as grubs, worms, crawls, tubes or any small type soft plastic baits are a good choice for finesse fishing. Another option for rigging these smaller baits is Texas style using a split shot rig. It’s a bit different than the Carolina rig in that you’re eliminating the bullet sinker. Instead you crimp on a piece of shot about two to three feet above the Texas rigged bait. The whole key to this technique is to give the bait a natural swimming motion as you retrieve. Rig the plastics along the seam using an Aberdeen style hook, this will help with rolling and eliminate line twist. As with the drop shotting technique, light line and spinning gear are best bets.
Anglers have a pretty good idea of when the best time to catch trophy bass is, at least how they see it. For some spring seems to be their preferred time to target big bass. Others swear that the best time is during the summer as bass are active and feeding regularly and then there are the fall anglers. Who’s to say who is right or wrong? Actually you are…fall bass fishing can yield some very impressive results but the only way to find out is to get out there, employ some new tactics and learn. Leave your go to baits at home…I know, easier said than done…however fishing is a never ending learning experience. And as we’ve all heard from parents, grandparents and mentors…you’ll never know till you try. Tight lines all!