Bass in Fall Shallows, Tactics for Big Autumn Bass this Season by Colby Simms
Photos by the Colby Simms Outdoors Team
Autumn means targeting bass in super shallow water, where they chase baitfish schools and bulk up in preparation for winter. This red-hot action can be fast and furious, and the time is upon us, so let’s get into it! When waters aren’t extremely hot or cold in fall, concentrations of bigger bass will move into shallow water that sometimes barely covers their backs.
Summer can be uncomfortable for bass in much of their range. In all but the far north, summer water temperatures can climb far above what bass typically prefer to the hold in. Many bass move deep in summer. Or, they might use heavy weeds that provide some relief, while not moving around as much. Still, factors such as shade, the thermocline and oxygen rule the lives of bass in many waters.
Once autumn arrives and temperatures fall, bass are free to roam again. Cooling waters charge bass up, causing them to feed more often. Not only are the more optimal temperatures a welcome relief, but the cooling weather of fall signals that winter is coming. This causes bass to attempt to bulk up in preparation for the leaner feeding months ahead. Because bass are expecting things to cool down at this time, cold fronts seem to affect these fish a little less in fall than at other times of year as well. This all adds up to create the perfect storm of conditions for bass fishing.
In many waters, lots of prey will move very shallow in fall. Shiners, perch, shad, ciscoes, suckers, herring, panfish and minnows can be found extremely shallow on many waters in fall. In many waters, most of these species will remain in super skinny water areas during most of the fall season, and the bass will be there hunting them.
As a full-time fishing guide, I get to spend a tremendous amount of time on the water, closely monitoring the movements of baitfish on a daily basis all year round. There’s no other time of year when greater concentrations of baitfish can be found in super shallow waters than in autumn, and my pro staffers and I have caught countless trophies in water just a foot deep! Yes, that’s right, I said just a foot deep. We’ve caught fish in water of less than one foot, and have even seen monster bass rush up into just inches of water—their backs in the air and almost beaching themselves, as they chase baitfish. It’s incredible!
Stealth is important in the skinny water game. Ease into likely areas slowly, shutting the outboard motor down well away from the areas to be fished. Use trolling motors on low speeds when approaching fish, and use them as little as possible. Better yet, if there is any wind, use it to your advantage. Drifting silently across shallow flats in fall has produced some whopper bass.
Sonar is not much of a factor in these situations, as you’ll be in water too skinny to get any use out of them, except to monitor water temperature. I shut mine down, as some anglers feel the sonar can scare shallow water bass. Keep movement in the boat to a minimum and try not to rock back and forth, to avoid disturbing the fish. Big bass in very shallow water tend to be more wary than others.
Location and presentation
In most waters, various baitfish species make up the vast majority of the diet of most bass in fall, so presentation options are more limited as a result. Lures that mimic baitfish top the list. The spinnerbait has always been my favorite fall bass lure. Other options like swim baits, buzz baits and blade baits are also great options.
Main lake basins and primary river channels can hold fall bass, but the best bets are usually coves, inlets, bays and pockets, and of course, creek and river arms that enter lakes and reservoirs. Shallow irregular shoreline banks hold lots of bass in the fall, although those with a gradual to moderate taper tend to be better than ones that fall quickly into the depths. Shelves can also hold active fall bass, and in deep mountain reservoirs, strip pits and similar waters with mostly steep sloping banks, shelves will hold lots of big bass.
Points can be productive and so can shallow humps. For those of you who tune into the regional and national network TV shows that I host, you already know what my favorite fall location is for big bass, and I’ve also won more than one autumn tournament in these very places too. Flats are often the most productive of fall bass spots. My favorite fall location to fish is a large flat with a creek flowing into it. These special fall places have produced numbers of big bass for me and my pro staffers with incredible consistency, across the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Get out there
While hunting seasons cause many to trade boat for blind and rod for gun, they’re literally missing the boat when it comes to fishing. Fall is a pleasant time of year to be on the water, and one that produces bassin’ so incredible, you’ll have to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not asleep. In today’s world of overwork and overstress, of false security and false connection, getting out there is just the prescription needed to refill the outdoorsman’s spiritual tank; so, get out there…
Colby Simms is an internationally renowned record-holding sport fishing pro and media personality. He’s also the founder and president of the Colby Simms Outdoors group of companies. For more information visit www.ColbySimmsOutdoors.com, call 618-521-0526 / 573-358-5948, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.