Gather ’round kids. First Sergeant is going to tell you a little story about how he had the lake all to himself one fall at Fort Benning and how he managed to hook the biggest, ugliest bass out there. This story will takes twists and turns that you could only find in the dusty pages of a dictionary found in a high school library (get it? cuz Millenials don’t use the dictionary…). Anyways, once again, I found myself trapped between lunch and my First Sergeant’s bedtime story. Luckily he lived to tell you the tale. What follows is my First Sergeant’s guidance on why you should skip the deer and head straight for the lake this fall for some bass fishing along with his recommendations on how to catch them…
So there I was…I admittedly got some strange looks as I walked into the gas station Saturday morning. Everyone else arrived right around 5 a.m., pulling trailers loaded with four-wheelers and other off-road vehicles; dressed from head to toe in camo and ready to hit the woods on the first day of deer season. I showed up pulling my Ranger boat, dressed as someone once described as “like Steve Irwin,” on my way to the Chattahoochee River to go bass fishing. When late fall rolls around most people are headed to the woods. Even the cashier, Michael, that morning was dressed in camo and ready to kill some deer. He admitted that he hadn’t been fishing since September. But, alas, this is my favorite season to chase bass around the local waters of Ft. Benning. Not only can you go out and get a trophy buck right now, but you can also catch a trophy bass.
I enjoy fishing in the fall because bass have the mental acuity of a buck in rut and the appetite of a bear preparing for hibernation. They will begin to follow the shad from their deep water summer home and into the shallow creeks and pockets of the lakes and rivers and then gorge themselves with the veracity of Americans on Thanksgiving and Black Friday combined. The shad move up into the creeks by the tens of thousands and bass will get underneath the school and push them up to the surface in an explosion of tiny fish over and over. This is a great way to help you locate the fish or determine if there is bait in the area you are fishing. If there is not, move until you find them. I carry binoculars in the boat so I can search the water for any signs of schooling shad. The bass are going to feed to fatten up for winter and the shad are your ticket to catching a monster. There are several ways to catch them during their feast and I’ll give you my favorite five:
How to Catch ‘Em
1. My all time favorite lure is a ¾ ounce Strike King Red Eye Shad in a Chrome Sexy Shad color. I like to throw mine on a 7’4” Quantum cranking rod with a high speed 7.1:1 Quantum reel spooled with 40 pound Power Pro braid…this is about when my Commander fell asleep. With this combination I can make long casts to any schooling fish I see and the braid allows me to make better hookups when the vicious strikes happen. There are multiple techniques you can use with this bait: burn it, yo-yo it, or slow retrieve it below a school (bop it, twist it, pull it). I prefer to slow retrieve it below a school in an attempt to trigger the larger bass that hang out below the shad. If you find the fish and the technique that works for you, you will have a lure with no paint left on it by the end of the day.
Tip: Change out the hooks that come on the bait, I use the Mustad KVD short shank treble hook, size 2.
2. If I want to fish a point or creek turn with a little deeper water, I will pull out a Strike King 5XD crankbait in either a shad or a red crawfish color. I throw this on a St. Croix Mojo Bass Glass 7’4” cranking rod and a Quantum Exo 5.3:1 spooled with 10 pound Seaguar InvisX. This line is light enough to get the bait down to better depth and it is strong enough and very resistant to abrasions as you work it through cover (It’s very strong. You wouldn’t believe how strong it is, believe me)…that was First Sergeant’s best Donald Trump impression…you’re welcome. The key here is to work whatever area you are fishing from multiple angles and bounce this lure into the bottom as often as you can. The deflection triggers the instinct of the fish to feed and this rod will pretty much set the hook for you. I want bottom contact with this lure and even though this crankbait is designed to reach 15 feet in depth, I will hold my rod high and throw it into less than 5 feet to trigger bass up in the shallow water.
Tip: If you are afraid to hang this lure up and lose it, you’re not going to catch as many fish. Buy a lure retriever (make sure it has a chain to grab the hooks) and you’ll get your lure back. They cost about $15 and they save me around $50 per trip in retrieved lures.
The next three techniques are a little less aggressive and will help if the bass are being fished heavily by other anglers or if the fish have so much bait around them that it’s hard to get their attention within the school. Even the biggest eater takes a break from the table on Thanksgiving, but if you put a piece of pie in front of his face, he will eat it. Everyone has room for dessert.
3. I pretty much always have a drop shot tied up and sitting on my deck and there are two ways I use it in the fall. The first is what is called video game fishing. While I’m working my previous two methods, I keep an eye on my Lowrance HDS 7 for any fish right under the front of my boat. If I see one, I my grab my drop shot rod and drop it straight down into the face of the fish. I want to imitate a shad falling to them or falling out of the school of shad; a dying meal is an easy meal, and for that I use a Strike King Caffeine Shad in either 4” or 5” depending on the size of the shad I see. I prefer to match the color so I use either Ghost Shad or Smokey Shad. I just nose hook the bait with a 1/0 hook and use a ½ ounce tungsten drop shot sinker because I want to trigger their feed instinct with a fast fall. The second is to cast the drop shot into an area that a bass had just chased shad to the surface against the bank. I’m hoping to present a dying shad floating under the school and catch the bass in a clean-up mode. Just cast and twitch the end of your rod and hold on. These strikes can be violent.
Tip: When the nose of the bait tears after catching a fish or two, just bite (or cut) it off and re-hook it. You can do it about 2-3 times and get more fish out of each lure…plus a tasty snack.
4. Just like you aren’t only limited to turkey on Thanksgiving, the bass aren’t only limited to gorging on shad. They will gladly eat a crawfish while taking a break on the bottom. This is the time to break out a Strike King Tour Grade Football Jig with a Strike King Rage Tail Craw trailer. I’m looking for big fish taking a break here, so I want to make the meal worth their time. I go with a ¾ ounce jig. I’ve caught several large bass on this over the last several weeks (including the cover photo) and every one of them has had the tail of a shad sticking out of their throats. Like I said, no one turns down pie.
Tip: Use a Spike It scented marker to color the tips of the Rage Tail Craw and attract more attention.
5. The last one is a great way to work individual pieces of cover like lay-downs and stumps: the shaky head. This one catches a lot of fish and sometimes you have to go through the small ones to get a big one, but this is a first world problem, so suck it up buttercup. For this technique I like to use a ¼ ounce Buckeye Lures Magnum Spot Remover because of its oversized hook with a 6 or 7 inch Roboworm Straight Tail Worm in either Ehler’s Edge or Green Pumpkin color. Once again, don’t be afraid to get it hung up and lose it. Throw it right in the middle of lay-downs and shake the bait in place.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to use this bait to work an area even if you know someone has already fished it; odds are they aren’t using it. I once watched three people fish a dock before I came by and caught a 5 pounder.
Well that about sums it up. I did see an 8 point buck standing on the bank as I idled back into the creek Saturday, but a quarter mile later I was landing a massive 5 pound bass, so I really didn’t care…he’s so cool! I hope you’ll head out to the water this fall and give it a shot. A drop shot that is. Sorry. Bad fishing joke.