There have been years at Buggs Island where I caught fish the first of September in 25 feet of water on a jigging spoon, and by the end of the month, I was catching 'em on a 7A Bomber. That's how drastic the change can be, and it's why you put in your time this month - waiting for that change.
You start September essentially fishing a summer pattern. I like to fish the main lake and around the mouth of creeks, fishing deep - unless you're fishing up in the river. As the month progresses, I keep checking back in the creeks to see if the shad have moved back and see if the bass have followed them. The shad will start to move pretty early in September, but not all the bass will follow them right away.
For some reason, when you're checking creeks, the middle part of a creek just isn't as good as either the mouth or the back end. That's a pattern that's held true for a long time; it seems like there just aren't as many fish biting in the middle of the creeks. They're in a migrational stage, and they may just go right through that area and not stop. I'm talking about the area from about halfway back in creeks to about two-thirds of the way back. So I'm concentrating on the first part of the creek going back in or all the way back - especially later on in the month.
When bass move back in the creeks, they get a little easier to catch because they move up a little as they work their way back. And most of the time, they'll be in or around the creek channel. They will hold on stuff that's just outside the creek channel, maybe a stump you can see that's got deep water right next to it. They really like long, deep points, places you where you sit your boat in 20 feet of water and make a short cast to the bank - the kind of place you fish a lot in February, except that they're biting better in the fall.
At the start of the month, when fish are out, you need to fish a bait you can fish on the bottom. I like a Hopkins jigging spoon, but you can also fish big Texas-rigged worms like a Zoom Big Dead Ringer or an Ol' Monster. As they get back in the creeks and move up, they also get more aggressive, and you can catch 'em more on baits like crankbaits. Really, I've won more tournaments in the fall than any other time of the year, because you can catch 'em so well on a crankbait.
The other thing I really like about late September and on into October, when they get on more of a fall pattern, is that they'll start to school up, and you can catch a lot of fish in a small area. I remember back in 1989, I fished the Hungry Fisherman circuit and I won their championship on Lake Guntersville in Alabama. I caught all my fish – I was catching 'em two at a time – on a little mussel bed that wasn't much bigger than the hood of my pickup truck.
Brushpiles are some of the best kinds of cover you can fish in the fall, especially shallow to medium brush. Brushpiles and rocks are really the only kinds of cover you need to concentrate on in the fall, with the exception of maybe some isolated stumps close to deep water. But fish will really get on brush; the later you go in the month and into October, your bigger fish will get on rock, but you need to fish both brush and rock.
So don't put your rods and boat up in September, just because deer season is on the horizon. If you can make it through the first part of the month, the last part of the month on into October can bring you some of the best bass-fishing all year in North Carolina.