UPCOMING EVENT: T-H Marine BFL - 2019 - Lake Okeechobee


Fish with Confidence in the Fall

James Niggemeyer

Fall can be a frustrating season for anglers chasing big bass, especially during the transition periods between summer and fall and fall and winter. As the weather gets colder and water temperatures drop, fish begin aggressively feeding on shad and other baitfish in anticipation for a more dormant winter, but that doesn’t make them easy to catch.

The key to not just catching – but finding – bass in the fall is to first find the bait.

Shad and other baitfish have an abundant supply of food during the warmer months of the year, as high water temperatures allow phytoplankton and other food sources to thrive throughout fisheries. As temperatures drop, that supply begins to dwindle, and baitfish typically start moving shallow in search of the last vestiges of forage.

Not all bass chase those baitfish into the shallows, but many do. The trick is to simply follow the forage. It’s really a matter of keeping it simple, according to nine-year FLW pro Bill McDonald.

“Follow the shad,” he says. “Bass might be structure-related, but they might move off [with the bait].

“Pay attention to what’s going on with the water, and do your homework before you go to the lake.”

“Homework,” in this case, is simply knowing what the water temperature and water levels might look like, as well as wind conditions and weather consistency. During periods of consistent weather, especially – like a week of mid-50s temperatures after a long hot spell – bass will be much easier to pattern.

“Fish don’t move a whole lot,” McDonald adds. “If you pull up somewhere you caught them yesterday, they’re probably still there. The bait may have moved, but the bass will be in the same general area.”

Once they’re located, catching them typically comes down to confidence baits for McDonald and fellow FLW pro James Niggemeyer.


Niggemeyer’s confidence baits

Fishing with baits that instill confidence is paramount to having fun and catching fish. But given the sheer volume of options these days, narrowing down the list can be complicated.

McDonald and Niggemeyer lean on just a handful of baits in the fall months to keep things as simple as possible.

Niggemeyer has four go-to baits in the fall, and when he fishes them, there isn’t much variation in the setups he uses to throw them.

“A spinnerbait, a walking bait like the Strike King Sexy Dawg, a Strike King KVD 1.5 or 2.5 square-bill crankbait and a swimbait,” Niggemeyer says. “I would lean on the square-bill over the spinnerbait, but those are the four.”

A topwater, like the Sexy Dawg Niggemeyer uses, is always key in the fall when bass are feeding on shad at the top of the water column. The only variation in his topwaters is the hooks he uses, often switching to a Kahle-style treble hook (with the hook points curved inward) to pin more fish that might swipe at his bait but aren’t fully committing to it.

For shallow subsurface fishing, Niggemeyer leans heavily on his square-bills and spinnerbaits, though the two are fairly interchangeable in his mind.

“In the fall when they want that spinnerbait, it’s when they’re looking up but don’t want that topwater,” he says. “I usually fish it higher in the water column in the fall.”

Niggemeyer uses 30- to 50-pound-test braided line with a copolymer or monofilament leader for most fall presentations, and while his rod selection varies with each lure, he almost always opts for a higher gear ratio for his reels (7.1:1 or higher).

“I like a higher gear ratio, mostly because it’s important to maintain proper pressure when you get a bite,” he explains. “You really bury the hook in the fight.

“You might not catch bunches of fish, but in the fall when you get a bite, it’s a good one.”


McDonald’s approach

McDonald loves the Strike King Rage Bug for Carolina and Texas rigging, as well as a jig trailer. It’s great for slower presentations. Crankbaits are McDonald’s go-to moving baits, but he also employs spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits depending on what the fish want. Like Niggemeyer, McDonald mixes a Strike King Sexy Dawg or Mega Dawg into his arsenal for the topwater bite.

And while there are endless variations of thousands of baits – and endless color choices to boot – there’s an easy way to simplify things.

“Keep it simple,” he says. “You can get overwhelmed by having a million different colors. Let the fish tell you what they want.”

Over the years, the fish have told McDonald he only needs a few colors in the fall: bone, shad and craw.

Knowing where fish will be in the fall is half the battle. Executing a solid game plan is the other half. Niggemeyer and McDonald both know how complicated fishing can be at other times of the year, but in the fall, simplicity is king when it comes to locating and catching big fish.

Tags: pro-tips-weekly  justin-onslow  article 


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