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Four On The Fall | Print |  Email
Written by Jon Storm   
Saturday, 05 March 2011 04:47

Falling Waters: Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece, blending the artistry of human design with nature's ever-changing sounds and beauty. A house forever in motion, for when waters fall, or recede, nature begins to move. Food chains react, predators adapt, and everywhere nature is on the move.

Water falls in fall-in most places, that is. And like Wright's architecture, the falling waters we fish are in part natural design, in part, our design. Sometimes, the long, hot summer takes its toll, and lakes reach low pool until spring melt replenishes the supply. Other times, the water's drawn down-a purposeful plan to make way for winter rains and spring runoff.

As anglers, fall always presents a unique challenge. Low or falling waters shrink habitat. Sometimes it concentrates fish; other times, it scatters them. But always, the common thread of fishing rings true-find the bait, find the bass.

Really, in preparing to fish these unique conditions, a foremost focus on bait is the right approach. Forever on the run, forever at bay from marauding bass, shad are the real players in this low-water game.

Their annual fall migration to skinny-water coves, creeks and flats often intersects these fortuitous drawdowns and dwindling water supplies. Sometimes in only inches of water, shad are so easily found, it makes the job of bass angling that much easier. Faced, though, with miles of water, only the in-tune angler can quickly find, and tap, the fall-bass bite.

Bass West found four and formed an in-tune quartet of anglers who've made their living on Western lakes, and cashed many a check while fishing falling water. As a group, they're the best and brightest, and their willingness to share hardcore, inside tactics instantly makes our job of finding fall bass that much easier.

Grab a chair, you're about to glean information your peers have never sat privy to.

John Murray:
Dissecting The Desert Drawdown

"The first thing to address is the particular conditions of falling water in the desert impoundments I'm used to fishing in Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona and so on. I'm talking canyon-type impoundments, where they can yank the plug and start pulling three to six inches of water a day.

"One of the biggest misconceptions is to head right for the steep banks, because 'that's where the deep-water bass will be.' I used to follow that rule, until I ran into a tournament years ago on Caballo Reservoir in New Mexico. The water had been falling six inches a day for a couple of weeks, and the lake featured a steep side and a flat side. To make a long story short, I fished the steep side, and everyone who finished in the top five fished the flattest banks they could find.

"What had happened was, the crawdads that were living along the banks became exposed. Remember, on a steep bank, the water might fall only three inches, while along a flat bank, it might fall a foot or more. As it turned out, the feeding bass were along those flat banks, feeding on the newly exposed forage.

"In the past few months, Lake Mead saw a similar situation, with the feeding fish cruising the flatter banks. It's a subtle difference, but I believe, while bass may be along steep banks during falling water, the feeding bass want the flats. And, they'll be in the shallowest water imaginable.

"Find those feeding fish and the catching's easy. It all depends on the weather, but if it's still warm, topwaters and ripbaits will take 'em. Cooler weather and water in the low-60s calls for Rat-L-Traps and spinnerbaits. Make sure your spinnerbait is in constant contact with bottom, stirring it up. If you have to go with finesse, throw a Senko. Pitch it right up on the bank and twitch it down into the water. At Lake Powell, I'll toss jig'n pigs and spider jigs the same way-pitching them onto the bank and pulling them into the water.

"Overall, I would have say that rising water creates a better bite because all the deep-water fish will come up to the bank, but if you really pay attention to what's happening in the lake, and capitalize on the brief window that opens, you'll have great days with falling water, too.

"Stay on top of conditions, though. I receive a mailer from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that provides water-release information. I also read the paper-the Arizona Republic gives good coverage on state lake conditions. Use your eyes, too, and watch the banks when you launch, and as you fish.

Brett Hite:
Low Water Lakes, Rivers Too

"I feel there are two different types of falling water. One occurs in lakes, the other in rivers. When you have falling water in lakes, the fish tend to back off and move deeper. As the water proceeds to go down, the fish go down further with it.

"That's in lakes, and during any time of year, including summer droughts. But in rivers, the bass stay right up on the bank the whole time-in water as skinny as six inches. Key, though, is to find those banks located near deep water. In case the water really falls, fish want an escape route. This is a common occurrence on Havasu, for instance.

"These bass will be feeding, too, so I go down those riverbanks and try to find a little flat that drops off into a deep spot. That's always a good spot for river fish. And if you can find structure, or cover like rocks or stumps, more the better. Good baits in these areas are your pitching and flipping baits, as well as rattlebaits.

"Lakes are different. Out West, the fall patterns branch into two extremes. Beginning about the middle of October, the lakes aren't really falling anymore, but you will be faced with very low water. I've found that fish are either very shallow or very deep.

"When they're shallow, you can catch them on topwaters and jerkbaits. A lot of the softer baits work real well, too. But for those deep fish, my number-one deal is the dropshot. I grew up spooning, and it's real effective, but today, I can't see spoons even comparing to a dropshot. Plus, we killed too many fish on spoons-you just reel them up too fast-but with the lighter dropshot rigs, mortality isn't a big problem.

"I also like to Carolina rig down deep. And I mean deep. I'm talking 30 to 65 feet, where they're feeding on shad near humps and deep points.

"My dropshot setup has changed a little in recent years. For nose-hooking, I use a size 0 Nogales hook, made in Japan. It's a thin-wire hook that's a little different than the others. If I'm Texas rigging my dropshot in cover, or maybe targeting larger fish, I use the Roboworm Gamakatsu ReBarb hook.

"And I just won a few tournaments in Southern California with a new dropshot bait made by BaitBreath, called a Sly Shad. It's an in-between bait-perfect for those times when you don't know whether to throw a worm or a reaper. It looks like a sculpin, but it's flat, and the clear-water color patterns are fantastic. I also like to dropshot BaitBreath's Slug-Go style minnow in the real trick Japanese colors. The Roboworm is a go-to bait, as well.

"As November comes on, most of the largemouths start to move off the main-lake structures and head into the creek arms and channels, chasing the migrating shad. I tend to find the bass first in the big main-lake coves, then later, in the creek arms. The creek channels are like highways: fish follow them, and you have to follow them, too. The bass will keep following those creek channels up though the winter, until it's time to spawn.

"The key to fishing channels is to find an S-bend, or other sharp turn. At every creek bend, there will be an outside bend and an inside bend, and the outside is almost always a steeper drop-off. Insides will have a distinct point, but I like fishing the outside bends better. Unless, of course, they're up on the flats."

Ish Monroe:
Cripple Bait Creeks

"Falling water puts fish in motion. Sometimes it causes the fish to go into a feeding frenzy, other times, it makes them really finicky to the point where they'll hardly eat at all. Think about it, if you've ever pulled the water out of a fish tank, you've seen your fish swimming around in circles. In a lake, the standard drawdown, just like your tank cleaning, puts the fish in motion.

"This means, you'll have to cover a lot of water when levels are falling. But once the water becomes stable, the fish often position themselves back up on the available structure and cover. There's much less of it, though, and it makes them easier to locate.

"What I really try to keep an eye on is the creek-arm bite. When water temperatures dip into the high 50s-like 58 to 60-that seems to trigger the fish and the creek-arm bite gets real hot.

"A lot of the creeks will be drying up this time of year, so I start looking for the deeper creek arms, and I generally follow the channel as far back as I can-trying to fish in the creek channel itself, rather than up on the flats. But, of course, if fish are feeding on the flats, I'll fish up there.

"Shasta and Oroville are good examples. Targeting the creek arms puts you on largemouths-rather than spots, which stick more to the main lake-and you'll weigh bigger bags.

"Since the fish are chasing shad, I like Cordell Super Spots or small, Fat-Free Shads. When fish are actually breaking, cripple baits like a Zara Spook, Pop-R or Devil's Horse are great. If you can find breaking bait and bass, you've struck gold.

"As the day progresses and the water warms a little bit, it seems like the big fish start coming up. In fact, expect the majority of your better fish to come in the afternoon, especially the topwater fish. Fish the banks, flats and any available cover, and don't be afraid of real skinny water and the noisy baits I mentioned above.

"As an example, I remember fishing the BASS tournament on Shasta three years ago. I was in third place after the first day because, after I caught my limit, I ran to the back of the Sacramento arm and caught a largemouth close to 5 pounds. And I caught that fish out of only a foot of water!"

Luke Clausen:
Two-Pronged Attack, Starting At The Bank

"Whenever lakes approach low pool, there's diminished cover opportunities, so I think more fish tend to move out and suspend. It's tougher to find and locate these scattering fish, because there's no the cover to hold them. They're just kind of swimming around chasing bait, but at some point in the day, they'll pull up on key areas-either along the bank or deeper structure-and feed. "Keeping that in mind, I start fishing shallow and fishing fast to see if I can get a bite. Especially in later fall, the more water I cover, the better chance I have of catching the quality fish that have come up to feed. Spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, jerkbaits and topwaters will let you cover water the fastest. With wind, I like the spinnerbait or jerkbait; calmer conditions call for topwater.

"And I'm really fishing fast. I get on 75 percent of my trolling motor, position five feet off the bank and start firing casts at 45-degree angles, or less. The fish will generally hit your bait only a foot off the bank.

"You'll get a lot of banks where you can pattern fish on chunk rock, or at Shasta or Oroville, red clay. Sometimes, you can fish those lakes and catch fish off every red-clay bank or steep rock bank. And keep in mind, during sunny afternoons in late fall, fish may actually prefer the flatter banks.

"If I can't get the bank bite going, I'll move off and start probing deeper structure because generally, if fish slide deep, it's pretty obvious where they'll be. Many times, you can locate vast flats with water moving off of them. As the water drops, or settles, there's bait and forage coming off those same flats, and the bass will be close by. I also use a spider jig to explore offshore rockpiles and long, tapering points.

"Another situation is fishing rivers like the Columbia, where water level and current flow are crucial to the bite. I used to live a few hours from the Columbia, and the water in fall gets a little lower, but not drastically low like you see down here. In late fall, the current starts to slow, too, and the fish scatter.

"It's primarily a deep bite this time of year on the Columbia, and most guys get on them pretty good. The bite's based on rock-especially in the Tri-Cities and Boardman pools-and the smallies are deep.

"Most guys cast or drift tubes, but there's a great bite they're overlooking. Ever since BASS swung through, the dropshot has been gaining ground. Along the small rockpiles and basaltic humps, anglers are dropshottting a lot of smallies behind other boats tossing tubes and Carolina rigs.

"Walleye anglers actually discovered another overlooked bite on the Columbia-drifting and jigging blade baits. Red or chrome are the hot colors, in 3/8- to 1/2-ounce sizes. The key is to jig it just off bottom while drifting with the current. Killer."

 

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