Fly Fishing Tactics for Bass in the Fall

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Fly ishing for bass in the fall. Photo By: Louis Cahill

By Kent Klewein

Fly Fishing for bass in the fall is one of my favorite times of the year to hit the lake.

The main reason I love chasing bass on the fly during the fall, is because a lot of the forage food (ex. threadfin shad, gizzard shad and blueback herring) that the bass fatten up on in preparation for the cold winter ahead, start migrating into shallower water in search of cooler waters. If you bass fish, you probably already know that where ever the food goes, the bass generally follow in hot pursuit. In the Southern Appalachian Mountains, where I live, we have lots of deep water mountain lakes, and when the bass go deep in the summer, it can be extremely difficult to catch them with a fly rod. And even with full sinking fly lines, deep water still poses a real challenge for fly anglers, because it’s so hard to control your presentation and fly depth throughout your retrieve.

In the fall, however, fly anglers should pay less attention to deep water on the main lake and start focusing their time fly fishing up in the creeks and backwater coves, found in the fingers of the lake. The migration of the forage food into the shallow water areas of the lake is great news, because it’s much easier to target the following bass with fly fishing gear. When the days begin to get shorter and we start getting successive nights with temperatures dropping below 50 degrees, fly anglers should start looking for the fall bass bite to heat up. Below are some 8 tactics I use to help me catch bass with fly fishing gear during the fall months.

1. Pay attention to Water Temperature and search out the cold water.

Generally, the coldest water you can find on the lake (through mid-fall) will be the most productive areas to fly fish for bass. During late fall, both the baitfish and the bass will do a u-turn and begin heading back to deeper water found on the main lake. When locating bass in the fall, keep in mind that the shallower the water, the faster it will cool off. So don’t be afraid to work your way all the way up to the backs of the creeks during the fall. Another tip is to target areas within the creeks where there’s additional fresh flowing water coming into the lake. Examples of this would be the very backs of the creeks, secondary feeder creeks or springs. These areas will provide a constant supply of cold water and a steady inflow of micro-invertabrates that will first attract the baitfish, and next the bass.

2. If you don’t see visual signs of baitfish, don’t waist your time fly fishing there.

If there’s one thing you can take to the bank during the fall, its that you need to first locate the baitfish if you want to consistently catch bass. If you don’t see visual signs of baitfish on or near the surface (nervous water from schools of baitfish) or pods of baitfish marked on your depth finder/fishfinder, you probably shouldn’t waist your time fishing the area. This is the same strategy fly anglers use when they bypass unproductive trout water on streams and rivers that lack sufficient food or habitat. If you make a habit of finding the baitfish on the lake during the fall, the bass should be close by, and you should find the fishing much more productive. Although bass will forage on food items other than baitfish in the fall, generally it makes up the largest portion of their diet, and fly anglers should fish baitfish patterns first.

3. Take advantage of the early morning topwater bite during the fall

One of the easiest and most consistent ways to catch bass during the fall is to target them when they’re busting baitfish on the surface. This isn’t the time of year to sleep in, because the feeding frenzy is usually only going to last the first couple hours of the day. When you’re in the right place at the right time, it’s not uncommon to catch a dozen bass on a dozen casts. A shad colored popper on a floating fly line or a subsurface shad imitation fished on an intermediate fly line will usually do the trick. Most of the time, but not always, the larger bass will be caught below the surface. This is because larger bass find it much easier to ambush and feed on the baitfish schools from the bottom up, and by doing so, they eliminate the need to compete with the smaller bass closer to the surface.

4. Use erratic retrieves and pause your flies

When you’re targeting cover (brushpiles, riprap, laydowns, stumps, grass lines, ect.) found in the shallow water during the fall, make sure you’re retrieving your flies erratically and making a point to pause frequently during your retrieves. Conventional bass anglers do the same thing with conventional lures when they’re retrieving them past or through cover. Pausing the fly (2-4 seconds) around cover, keeps it in the strike zone longer and will increase the chances of coaxing out bass holding tight to cover. I’ve had plenty of days where a steady retrieve yielded very few strikes, and almost every bite came during the pause.

5. Fish baitfish patterns that have great movement in the water and resemble conventional swimbaits.

Small to mid-size swimbaits (2 1/2 – 4 1/2″) are used heavily by conventional bass fisherman during the fall because they regularly catch big sacks of bass. A variety of baitfish patterns that will mimick the swimbait style lures are out there to choose from. Many are made from bucktail, craft fur and hackle or a combination of all. That being said, the best baitfish pattern that I know of, which does a fantastic job of mimicking a traditional swimbait, would be the “Game Changer” by Blain Chocklett. Fished on an intermediate fly line, you can easily target bass close to surface or deeper water by counting it down after the cast. I also like an intermediate fly line because when you pause it during the retrieve, the fly will suspend in the water column, much like conventional hard jerk-bait lures or soft-bodied flukes. Below is a video on how to tie Blain’s Game Changer.

6. Schedule your fall fishing trip during consistent stretches of weather.

Bass do not like drastic changes in there underwater environment. Cold fronts, and lake water level changes (due to dam generations) can cause bass to get lock jaw during the fall. When possible, pay attention to your extended weather forecasts and dam generation schedules, and make an effort to plan your fishing trip when the water conditions are stable. The bass should be much more aggressive during these periods. If you do find yourself fishing after a cold front, make a point to slow down your fishing and drop back off into slightly deeper water.

7. Keep a look out for baitfish that are packed close together.

Bass like easy meals just like we do, and that’s why they often search out baitfish schools that are packed tight together in balls (they’re much easier to ambush). Sometimes you can see these concentrations of baitfish on the surface, but you’ll often find them much easier to locate if you use your boat electronics. Some areas that baitfish will often ball up are in or around underwater bottlenecks, like ditches up in the creek mouths, the edges of vegetation, or flats adjacent to deep water. Pay attention visible cover in the water and the contour lines on your lake maps. Doing so, you should be able to locate underwater hot spots that should hold tight concentrations of baitfish.

8. Break out the Float n’ Fly Rig when the water temperature hits the mid-50s.

Every year, when the lake water temperatures start dipping into the mid-50s, usually during late fall, the baitfish and bass will move back into main lake for deep water sanctuary. The cold water forces the baitfish to do this because of their water temperature tolerances. If they stay up in shallow water and a cold snap hits, they risk dying. This time of year, the bait and bass often suspend in 12-25 feet of water, sometimes deeper, and they become difficult to target with your stadard fly fishing rigs and retrieves. The best way to catch bass during this time of year, is to use a Float n’ Fly rig (basically a nymph rig setup with a strike indicator). I use a 12-14 foot leader (6-8lb tippet) and attach a large strike indicator, then tie on a hand tied jig fly with a non-slip loop knot. I cast it to the bank, let the fly sink, and then slowly and lightly twitch it back to the boat. There’s nothing like seeing the indicator disappear and setting the hook on a big bass. I’ve had days where we’ve caught 30-40 bass on this rig. It’s deadly for big cold water bass, and will work from late fall, all the way through the winter. I’ll be writing a follow up post talking about this rig in more detail soon.

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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One thought on “Fly Fishing Tactics for Bass in the Fall

  1. Float n Fly is something I’m pretty sure I learned off this site. Total game changer. I use it on my home River to get smallies in December and January if I’m not iced out. Kind of fun “nymphing” for bass (or the occasional catfish).

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