I look forward to September every year, and not just for the dove hunts and the opening of deer season. In South Carolina, it’s the month when bass on lakes like Hartwell, Murray, Russell and Clarks Hill start to gang up and chase schools of blueback herring.
It is a predictable bite; it will last the whole month; and it will only get better as October approaches. Plus, it comes on the tail end of the summer, when the fish haven’t been biting all that well.
I start by looking for schooling action, and it will include not only largemouth bass, but stripers and hybrids all mixed in. I usually start by fishing long, tapering points — those are the kinds of places the bluebacks like to get — and I’m looking on main-lake spots, but not over tremendously deep water.
We may still have a lot of warm weather in September, but those fish are going to be coming in from really deep water. They can be relating to points in 20, 30 or 40 feet of water, where in July they were out really deep and could have been in 60 to 100 feet of water on the main lake.
I think the way the herring move is something like the way the deer rut works. It’s more the length of the daylight then cold weather. The lessening amount of daylight hours during a 24-hour period is what gets them moving, even if the water hasn’t cooled much.
What I’m basically doing is covering a lot of water, searching for concentrations of herring and bass. The more water I can cover, the better, and I’ve learned that the fastest way to cover water is by throwing a soft-plastic jerkbait or swimbait – it’s a lot better than using a crankbait or topwater bait.
It’s important to be able to search as much water as you can, because you’ve got a limited amount of time on the water; you have to have the ability to search a lot of water in a day’s time to find a concentration of fish.
My search bait right now is a Trigger-X Drop Dead Minnow, which I fish on a VMC Drop Dead Hook — a 4/0 or 5/0 hook with an eighth-ounce weight on the shaft. It’s an excellent hook for a soft-plastic jerkbait, because it’s designed to give a bait like that very good action — especially when you let it stop and drop.
When I’m searching, I’m reeling the bait in with a medium to fast retrieve, then stopping and twitching it very briefly, letting it fall just a second or two. When I locate fish, I can slow down and fish it with a medium-speed retrieve, stop it more and let it fall farther. The bait is most enticing when it’s falling; bass don’t have to be aggressive, and they just can’t seem to resist it.
The other thing you can do when you find a good concentration of herring and bass and locate the depth range where they’re holding, you can change to a different topwater bait or something like a Mop Jig — I’ve always got one tied on.
The herring bite can last all day in September. Of course, the early morning and late-afternoon bites can be best, but you can stay on it all day long; that’s one of the nice things about those bass relating to the baitfish the way they do.
The rod and reel I use to fish a soft jerkbait like the Drop Dead Minnow is a 7-foot, medium-action All-Star baitcasting rod matched with a Pfleuger Patriarch reel spooled with 12- to 15-pound best Trilene 100 Percent Fluorocarbon. The weighed of the fluorocarbon actually helps you fishing a soft jerkbait, because it will pull the bait down a little and since you’re not fishing it on top, you’re not worried about that happening.
This bite will usually last the whole month of September. They’ll stay out on the main-lake the whole time — they won’t move back into the creeks until October — and the bite will only get better.