AUTUMN ALWAYS BRINGS shorter days, longer nights and cooler weather to the Lone Star State. According to fishing guide Tony Parker, its a "feel good" thing that chills water temperatures on Texas lakes and rivers and breathes new life into fishing patterns of many different kinds.
"Everything gets more active when the weather starts cooling off after a long, hot Texas summer," says Parker. "Its only natural."
Parker is a multi-species guide from Sulphur Springs who does business on several northeast Texas reservoirs. During October, he will spend a high percentage of his time on lakes Cooper and Tawakoni going after mixed bags of hybrids, stripers and white bass.
Anglers can expect to witness lots of surface schooling activity during fall as the fish make life miserable on roving bands of shad. On many lakes, locating the best areas can be as simple as watching for groups gulls. The gulls will suspend just above the surface and pick off wounded or dead shad left behind by the finny eating machines.
Parker will target schooling fish using assorted baits. One of his favorites is a Sassy Shad threaded on a 3/4 ounce jig head. Its a chunk-and-wind approach that be carried out from a considerable distance using the heavy jig head. You can also catch them on slabs, spoons, Rat-L-Traps and topwaters. Just be careful when removing the trebles to avoid hooking yourself.
"Something else to remember is to avoid getting too close to the school, and never approach the fish with the big motor," Parker said. "Otherwise you will spook them."
Like their striped cousins, largemouth bass become increasingly active as water temperatures begin a gradual cool down on lakes across Texas. The bass biological ticker signals it that winter is just around the corner, which at times will perk their appetite to the point that they will kill for the mere hell of it.
Some of the better action will be found along creeks channels and drainage ditches that connect deep water to shallow. Shad will use the channels as highways as they gravitate towards the shallows, where food becomes more readily available with the changing seasons.
"Fall is one of my favorite seasons to fish for bass, especially when water levels are low like they normally are," says legendary Texas bass pro Tommy Martin of Hemphill. "To me, low water in the fall spells fish. The main problem you face is finding them. Thats a lot easier when water levels are low, because it confines the bass to a smaller area."
Martin takes a slow, methodical approach when dissecting a creek. He begins about one half to three fourths of the way into the a channel and works his way towards the back. Keeping the boat centered over channel, he casts to any available cover using spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and maybe even a buzz bait or frog lure.
The bass wont be everywhere. They are prone to gang up in isolated locations, often in relation to a defined channel swing that offers some sort of cover such as brush, stumps or aquatic vegetation.
Another reliable option during fall are school bass. Schoolies shadow roving clouds of shad throughout the day, occasionally driving the succulent bait fish to the surface where they will feed on them at will.
Topwater baits and chrome Rat-L-Traps are deadly medicine when the fish are actively schooling on or just below the surface. Another rig worth trying on suspended schools of bass is the Alabama rig or umbrella rig. The A-rig is designed for throwing multiple swim baits or grubs simultaneously. Used correctly, it simulates a small school of bait fish fleeing for their lives. At times it causes bass to react so aggressively that you can catch them two and three at a time.
Toledo Bend fishing guide Stephen Johnston of Hemphill likes to catch bass just as much as the next guy, but he will spend a high percentage of his time during early fall bird dogging schools of crappie in deep water.
Johnston concentrates the fish by building brush piles at varied depths to coincide with the season of the year. Brush piles planted in 15-22 feet of water seem to be most effective on his home lake during early fall. Once water temps nudge 60 degrees, he says the bait fish and crappie leave the brush and move to deeper water.
When fishing brush piles, Johnston noted the importance of having good electronics to show you the exact depth at which the fish are suspended off the bottom. Soak a shiner or jig below or too far above the school and you probably wont get bit.
Crappie also like to congregate around bridge pilings during the fall months on some lakes. The pattern is especially pronounced at Lake Fork at the Highway 154 East and West crossings.
The fish like to suspend around cross members that connect the support pilings, usually about 12-15 feet down. Savvy jig fishermen will fish parallel with the cross members using ultra-light rigs matched with light line. The trick is to cast the jig 20-30 feet from the boat, count it down to the proper depth and retrieve it slowly through the strike zone.
Just be sure to hang on tight if you get a bite. Lake Fork lunker largemouths will make fast work of a plump crappie in distress. They take them away from crappie fishermen around the bridges all the time.
Charlie Shively is a fall guy, too. Just not the type you will find huddled up in a deer blind or trailing a rangy retriever through dense underbrush with a double barrel on his shoulder.
Shively is more at home on the water, in a flatbottom boat, with a flippin stick in his hand and a dozen live perch finning around in the bait box. Matched with heavy duty monofilament and a stout 4/0 hook, the rig makes a deadly combination for sniffing out big flathead catfish on Toledo Bend Reservoir when the conditions are right.
The key, explains Shively, is the low water level that typically exists on the big reservoir at the end of a long, hot summer.
"It is at its best when the water is low and clear," Shively said. "When the water gets low, it confines the fish to the creeks and you can really work on them dabbling those live perch around the old cypress stumps."
Rod and reeling for big op on Toledo Bend is hardly the only option Texas catfishing fishing junkies can choose from this time of year. Catfish can be found in hundreds of lakes, streams and rivers statewide, and there are passel of ways to catch them using trotlines, noodles and rod and reel.
Going after channel cat over a spot that has been baited with soured grain such as milo or chicken scratch is probably the most reliable rod and reel tactic of all. Catfish are one big olfactory gland, and the stench from the sour grain brings them in like flies to honey.
Done correctly, the tactic works well in standing timber, along channel breaks and, at times, around boat docks. The thing to remember is to not overdo it. One or two small coffee cans is usually all it takes to a attract catfish to a spot so you can catch them on night crawlers, punch bait or liver.
Drifting cut shad or shrimp around creek channels and main lake structure is a good way to hook some quality size blues during fall, as is soaking punch bait or cut shad beneath cormorant roosts.
Cormorants are migratory, fish-eating birds that show up on numerous Texas lakes each fall. The birds disperse from their roosts to feed on shad at first light. Once full, they return their roosts, where they will relieve themselves periodically.
Catfish like to gather beneath the roosts to gobble up the poop the second it hits the water. Anglers who learn to simulate the "splat" of cormorant crap using a chicken gizzard or glob of punch bait are in for some hard hits and fast action.
I call it the poop pattern. At times, it stinks. At others, it works like magic.