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You should know the lake to catch the bass

As humans prepare for fall by simply digging out a light jacket from the closet, fish are a lot more concerned about the change of seasons, and are very aware of the winter weather just around the corner.

Like most wild creatures, bass become more active feeders this time of year, making them easier to catch than just a month ago. As the apex predator in most Indiana waters, they sometimes fearlessly feed in the open and with reckless abandon.

To take advantage of the fall feed, it helps to understand why they move and eat so aggressively this time of year.

According to Ronald F. Dodson, Ph.D., bass are reacting to the shortening of daylight periods and the first major frontal passages — particularly the effect that cool nights or rain associated with cold fronts have on water temperature.

Both events cause bass to try and bulk up for the upcoming winter when they are more lethargic and food is scarcer.

Dodson believes fall bass follow schools of smaller baitfish into deeper water, which makes sense.

He also says, however, that bass move from main channels to deeper channels as well as from feeder channels back up into coves.

In other words, they go everywhere. That doesn’t help, and in my opinion, is partially incorrect.

It is important to first consider the individual body of water when determining fall bass behavior.

In large, heavily fished reservoirs, some bass spend most of the year on deep-water structure to avoid boat traffic and commotion. Food is a secondary concern for these fish.

In these places, water is turbid all year, which makes it harder for them to see bait. That makes lure selection critically important.

Wide spinners with a lot of vibration or body baits and jigs with the loudest internal rattles are good choices.

In smaller bodies of water that do not allow boats or are private and not fished heavily, bass behave much differently.

In these places, water is often clear, especially when there has been little or no rain for months. Bass in these clear, under-fished lakes are less skittish and are more inclined to eat nearly any lure properly presented to them.

That is not to say they are immune from being spooked if anglers get too close. Clear-water fish are more aware of movement and often swim away if approached too aggressively, but are still more likely than big-water fish to hit a lure after being allowed to settle into a new haunt only a few feet away.

Fish in these lakes are also far more likely to cruise in the open and eat all day long.

In both large and small lakes, however, I believe fall bass mostly abandon shallow water and shoreline hiding places, and spend most of their time in the deepest water available.

They probably do this because as Dodson said, they are following baitfish. They do not typically move into coves, however, as he also asserted.

There will always be some bass hiding in shoreline cover, even as the seasons change, but rest assured, the biggest bass in any lake this fall will be in deep water.

My brother and I put these theories to the test last weekend on my 15-acre bass lake in southern Indiana.

The air temperature was below 50 degrees at dawn and the water temperature was a full 10 degrees colder than it was a week prior to our outing.

With steam rising off of the very clear lake, we eased around the shore in a canoe, working both surface lures and weedless, weightless lizards. We targeted spots that produced bass all summer.

After an hour and not a single hit, we turned around in the canoe and started working the same lures over deeper water, and across the deepest channel in the lake.

The results were immediate.

Every first cast got a strike, and when we landed fish they were the largest bass we have seen in the lake all year. Additionally, every fish we released swam right back to the deep water.

While bass migration varies from one lake to the next based on the contour of the lake, anglers should focus on the deep water at the end of the migration route if they want to catch more and bigger bass this fall.

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Dad and I fishing the old-fashioned way.