The Bassholes - It takes one to know one.

Pond Fall Fishing
on Monday 25 October 2010
by Dave Ruark

Pond Fall Fishing

by Dave Ruark



First, I would like to say thank the lord for tournament bass fishing clubs.  They have afforded me the opportunity to enjoy my favorite leisure activity, bass fishing, and compete against other anglers.  Those who do not know me, here’s a quick autobiography. I’m a competitive junky! If there is a winner and a loser, I’m there.  For me, my first twenty-five years of bass fishing was all about the thrill of the catch, the relaxation, and the time I got to spend with my father.  Then I found tournament bass fishing.
 The last four years have been different for me.  I joined Fishin’ Fools Bass Club(DE Chapter), which eventually became Castin’ Away Bass Club.  In that time,  my obsession with bass fishing has grown.  I’m always trying to figure out how I can better myself as an angler.  I keep a meticulous fishing log of all my trips.  I record date, air temp, water temp, wind, moon phase, weather conditions, fish weight, lure caught, patterns, and notes for the day.  If not for tournament bass fishing, this type of log would simply be a way for me to be competitive with myself.  Also, if not for club fishing, I would rarely ever fish in the fall.  Like my other passion, “playing” golf, the season dies off as football season begins.  As a high school physical education teacher and golf coach (fall sport), my hardest work is in the fall, as I save most of my “sick” days for when the weather warms up in the spring. I’m still learning and trying to become a better fall fisherman. When I do get out in the fall, I try to be incredibly observant of every detail to help me catch fish in this time.  I have developed some strong trends and tendencies over the last few fishing seasons.  I hope some of my notes can help you this fall as the daylight shortens, and the cool mornings and evenings trigger a change in bass.
Like I stated earlier, fishing used to end when football season began.  The weekends were all about football!  Although football still plays a huge part into my weekend, I try to get out on the water for a few hours every other weekend.  First of all, I’m not buying into conventional bass literature on this topic.  There can be great days in the fall, but this fall feeding frenzy that you read about, is rarely the case on my Delaware waters.  When an angler is fishing a club tournament on a seventy-acre pond with six to ten other boats, the fish are going to feel some pressure.  An angler shouldn’t expect to cull out twenty keepers on an average day.  The angler needs to keep their expectations in check and really let the fish and the bite dictate how they strategize their day.  Many times, a solid limit is good enough for a win.  For this reason, I never leave my finesse game at home and always try to keep my boat as stealth as possible when I feel I am fishing a key area.  When I’m trying to fish under the radar I carefully place down rods when I switch, I keep the trolling motor on steadily at one or two, I never slap a lure to the surface to remove grass or vegetation, and I try to minimize the movement on the boat which may send off vibrations or ripples.  Managing a quiet, hunting-like approach is very underrated.
Bass Fishing 101 in the fall is pretty much based on the premise that fish will be moving back into the shallows and similar areas where you found them in the spring.  Bass are simply following the food chain.  As the water temperature dips back into the sixties and eventually in the fifties, baitfish can be found in the coves, on the points, on flats, and in general, shallower areas. In addition, due to the presence of baitfish in the shallows, the cooler water temperature is going to play a role in the activity level of the average bass.  In those aforementioned water temperatures, a bass’ metabolism will be high, and fish can be active, and at times, won’t hesitate to chase down a meal.  This increased strike zone can really work towards the angler’s advantage and should be heavily considered when planning which lures to throw.
My three favorite lures to fish in the fall (early October through mid November) are crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and stickworms.  I always start off in the morning looking for an aggressive and active bite.  My first weapon of choice is the crankbait.  I primarily target the crankbait to quarter the banks, parallel the banks and cover, and work the open water with a medium, casting rod with 10-12 lb. fluorocarbon. This is where water clarity plays a significant role in my lure selection.  If I’m fishing a Southern Delaware or a typically clear pond, I like to use a lure that is subtler.  This is when I turn to a shad pattern or crayfish pattern crank that makes a little noise or no noise.  When fishing clearer water, the angler’s presentation is very important, as it is easier for the fish to dismiss the authenticity of the bait.  If the water has a little color or stain to it, it’s lipless time!  On sunny days, I throw a lipless crankbait with a lot of flash.  Great lipless cranks for this situation include: Strike King Red Eye Shad (shad, golden sexy shad), Xcalibur XR 50 (shad), Yozuri Vibe, or a classic like the Rapala Bill Lewis (chrome/blue or chrome/black).  I also like to fish the one-knocker lipless crankbaits to show the fish something a little different.  On cloudy days, I prefer sexy shad or fire tiger patterns.  My retrieve is much different than when I fish it in the summer.  Summertime cranking is all about reaction.  I’m looking for place to rip it or bump it.  Fall cranking is easier.  Steady, fast, slow roll, stop-and-go, and yo-yo are the more effective retrieves depending on what the fish like that particular day.  I base this seasonal differentiation largely on the activity level of the bass.  In the summer, the rip or bump is strictly for the reaction bite.  In the fall, I’m seeking out the feeding bite.  Just remember that at times, you will be at the mercy of fallen leaves.  On windy fall days, leaves can absolutely wreck this pattern.
If I’m targeting cover that is heavier like laydowns or dying pads, I will go to the spinnerbait.  A favorite of many, this bait is versatile and can take on various forms of cover.  When it comes to spinnerbaits, I prefer Booyah, Big Mouth, Strike King (VanDam Tour Edition), and Terminator.  I usually throw the 3/8 oz. models although I will go up to a ½ oz. if the bite is good or down to a ¼ oz. if the bite is finicky. I prefer to throw spinner baits on a medium-heavy casting outfit with 14 lb. fluorocarbon line. In clear water, once again, I prefer a natural presentation with skirt colors like translucent, smoke, greens, or browns.  In dirtier water, it’s hard to beat white or white/chartreuse.  The blades will also be affected by conditions as well.  I generally like to fish double willows in clearer water, willow/Colorado mix for slightly stained, and single or double Colorado or Indiana in murky water.  The blade set up is all about the speed and vibration I want to get out of my bait.
Finally, I never leave my confidence bait out of the mix.  The almighty stickworm is a killer when I’m trying to get a limit in the boat.  Although on a fall day I prefer to power-fish by cranking and using spinnerbaits; always let the fish tell you what they want.  If I’m not getting bit fast, I go immediately to the wacky worm and really slow down.  I have had days where I’ve had to force-feed fish the wacky worm because they wouldn’t take anything else. This is a bait for all seasons.  On a medium, 6’9” spinning rod with 10-12 pound fluorocarbon, I cast the weightless wacky worm to pad edges, pad pockets, outer edges of laydowns, remaining grass beds, and open water.  In clearer water, I primarily stick to watermelon and green pumpkin.  If it’s sunny, I will make sure there is some metallic flake in the mix.  In lightly to medium stained water, I like Red Mill Tackle’s wackum stiks in blue mocassin and chocolate mint.  Along with the wackum stiks, I also like to fish tiki stiks and dingers when the fish are less active, as these baits have a fairly slow fall rate.  I turn to senkos with the faster fall rate, if the bite is more aggressive.  In dirty water, I seek out other options that displace more water, flash, and vibration. The key to these baits is to find the pattern and tendencies in which you are getting bites.  Are the fish tight to cover?  Are they slightly off the shore?  Are they in the sun or in the shade?  Every time you get bit, take a note and try to understand why.  Anyone can do this kind of fishing as long as you accept that patience is key when using this tactic.  After the bait touches water, I reel in just enough line to where I can feel the bait without moving it.  Most fishermen call this a controlled slack line or semi-slack line.  You have to let it drop!  Depending on the depth, you want the bait to make it close to or on the bottom.  In the average Delaware pond or river, you are looking at letting your bait drop anywhere from three to six seconds.  Yo-yo and repeat a couple of times, and if I’m not bit by then, I speed reel the worm in and try again.  I get 90% of my bites on the initial drop and have very little faith in the rest of the cast.  I guess it’s my version of power wacky worming.
The areas that I’m going to use these lures are going to depend largely on water temperature.  In the early fall in Delaware, fish can often be caught in summer patterns still.  Fish may still be in the thick parts of cover or deep depending on the layout of the pond.  As the water temperature consistently dips and stays in the sixties, then look for fish to relate to the edges of cover or typical ambush areas.  As the water cools even more, I have had pretty solid success in areas adjacent to spillways in the late fall as those are generally shallow areas with deep water nearby.  In Delaware, deep water is usually a consistent five to six foot area.  It’s all relative to the body of water you are fishing.  The fish can still be caught really shallow in feeding periods, but these fish are on the move and following baitfish.  I try not to get stuck beating the banks all day though.  I like to work points as well as the open water.  If there is still some healthy grass left, I’m going to fish it hard.  Although I like to move slowly, I do stay moving in the fall.  I would suggest work to your strengths and your own fishing personality. 
In conclusion the fall months can be great times or tough times to fish depending on the variables.  Although I only mentioned three major tactics to catch fish, I never rule out the topwater bite until water temperatures get below the mid 50s.  I also never forget about the ultimate kicker bait, the jig and pig, especially when the local forage includes crayfish.  The Texas-rigged sweet beaver is an excellent substitution for the jig if you lack confidence in this department.  I’m still driven on learning how to become a better fall fisherman, but in the meantime, I stick with what I know and what I have confidence in when fishing in tournaments.  I try to leave experimenting for fun fish days or days when I’m desperate to get any bite.  I hope these observations from a regular Joe can help you enjoy more than just football this fall.  Tight lines!