Every bass fisherman worth his salt knows that September is the month of the big move. As summer begins to give way to fall, baitfish head back into creeks that feed reservoirs, and it doesn’t take long for bass to follow.
Unfortunately, fish don’t publish a travel schedule that lets anglers know where they’re headed. You don’t know what time the bass train is leaving, which creeks it’s going to visit, and how many fish get off at each stop.
That’s where you have to put one and one and one together and get three. According to former bass pro Marty Stone of Fayetteville, N.C., the equation for great fall bass fishing starts with a cup of current, a slug of stained water and a bushel of baitfish.
“In the fall, we’re looking for fish either in the river or up in the creeks, from the back end out,” said Stone, a four-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier now serving as an analyst on TV’s Major League Fishing. “You can’t just go up the river or go into a creek and hope it works out. You need current, water color and baitfish. I’m going to be running until I find an area that has all three parts of that combinations.
“You can catch some fish in most any creek, but you want to fish a place where groups of fish have moved into, and you need all three of those things to do that.”
Stone said more fish will move into creeks that have a regular and appreciable amount of current.
“A typical creek that’s great in the fall will be a bigger creek that covers the most distance — the farther you have to go from the back of the creek to the main lake, the better,” he said. “When you get rain in the fall, more water will move through those creeks, and you’ll get more current, and the water will be more likely to dirty up. Smaller creeks don’t have that.”
Then come the two biggest factors, in Stone’s view: stained water and baitfish.
“As far as water color, you want 18 inches or less of visibility — maybe two feet at the most, but if I’ve got 8 inches, I like that better than 18,” he said. “The better the water cover, the better the bass will go to cover. When you lose water clarity in the fall, they can’t just cruise around the feed on the big schools of shad, because they lose their ability to see great distances.
“If you have clear water, they’ll suspend out in the middle of creeks under the baitfish, and good luck catching them. But when the water is stained, they’re going to go to the bank, because they’re not comfortable being out there without clear water.”
And then, there’s the matter of bait. Creeks with current attract the most baitfish in the fall. They turn their noses into the current and head upstream. And where the bait goes, the bass follow.
So once Stone puts one and one and one together and gets three, finds a creek with plenty of current and baitfish, and with stained water, what next?
“I’ll start with a crankbait, a square-bill, plastic or wood, and throw it around cover,” he said. “If you have current, water color and baitfish, whatever the (shallow) cover is — laydowns, rocks or docks — that’s what you throw at. The difference is, this time of year, you have to make multiple casts to a piece of cover; cast from different angles, use different retrieves. By this time, these fish have seen everything, so you’re really looking for a 100-percent reaction bite.”
Stone will have two other baits tied on to multiple rods on the deck of his bass boat: a little ball-head jig, and a Senko, Texas-rigged with a quarter-ounce worm weight.
“When I get into an area with all three things I’m looking for, if I catch a fish or two, I can come back through that same area and fish those key pieces of cover more slowly, either with a jig or a Senko, and I might catch two or three more fish. In areas like that, those fish will replenish; more fish might move in in an hour or two.”
Stone isn’t necessarily slowing down to a crawl, but he’s spending more time covering water that he’s determined to be productive.
“With the jig or Senko I’m basically casting it out, letting it hit bottom, hopping it twice and reeling it back in,” he said.
As far as colors are concerned, Stone wants to fish crankbaits in shad colors or chartreuse/black. He’ll go with a black/blue or brown jig, and a green pumpkin Senko.