Never mind that summer is waning and cooler weather is on the way. The main thing I love about fall bass fishing is its close ties with Texas hunting seasons.
Don’t get me wrong. I like catching bass during any season of the year. But fall is particularly inviting because it comes at a time when many anglers are prone to swap their flipping sticks for scatterguns and head to the woods instead of the water.
This equates to significantly less boat traffic and fewer lines in the water at a time of year that typically packs some outstanding bass fishing prospects on lakes across Texas.
The spike in fishing quality is spurred largely by fall cool fronts. The fronts usually start out mild and gradually increase with frequency and intensity as winter approaches. This factor, coupled with shorter days and longer nights, causes a gradual decrease in water temperatures.
These changes always bring out the bully in largemouths. Some experts believe it’s a feel-good thing. Others contend the aggressive behavior occurs because the fish can sense the changing seasons. With winter just around the corner, they say fall triggers bass to gorge themselves to stack on a little extra body fat before the colder and nastier weather of winter arrives.
I’m certainly no expert on bass and bass behavior, but I know a bunch of guys who are. I recently caught up a few of those anglers and asked them to share some tips to help Texas Fish & Game readers boost their chances of catching greater numbers and quality of fish on some the state’s top-ranked bass lakes. Here’s what they had to say:
Angler: Ray Hanselman
The Fishery: After going through a multi-year down cycle resulting from low water and an onslaught of heavy fishing pressure, Lake Amistad’s bass fishery and habitat have bounced back in a really big way over the last couple of years.
“The lake is in great shape,” said Hanselman, a Del Rio native and tournament pro who guides on the lake. “We’ve got hydrilla growing out to 30 feet in several creeks up and down the lake from San Pedro to Marker 17 up the Rio Grande and pepper grass in 15 feet. It’s fairly common to catch 50 bass per day with your heaviest five weighing around 20 pounds. On a really good day they’ll weigh 24-25 pounds.”
Going For Numbers: Hanselman recommends throwing a weightless jerk bait or Strike King hollow-body frog around shallow pepper grass beds. He recommends covering as much water as possible and targeting underwater points and other structure that provides some sort of change in bottom contour.
Going For Big Ones: Flipping heavy creature baits and jigs along the outside edges of hydrilla beds in 20-25 feet of water is the primary order of the day. The guide added that Texas rig plastics cast to outside grass edges also will work.
Lake: Lake O’ The Pines
Angler: Jim Tutt
The Fishery: Lake O’ the Pines is chock-full of fish in the four- to eight-pound range. It has been been on fire for most of the summer with several five-fish tournament sacks being reported that top 25-30 pounds. Local bass pro Jim Tutt says he expects the 18,700-acre lake near Longview to keep on kicking out quality as well as big numbers right on through fall.
“’Pines fishes incredibly good during the fall,” Tutt said. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary to catch 100 fish on a good day, but you might catch 150 on really good day. A lot of those fish will b 13-15 inchers, but you will also have a good chance to catch several good ones if you throw the right baits and employ the right tactics.”
Going For Numbers: Tutt recommends throwing a 3 1/2 Skinny Dipper swim bait (pearl), frog or a small topwater like a Yellow Magic or Pop-R along the edges of lily pads, hydrilla and other forms of vegetation that line underwater drains and sloughs feeding the Big Cypress Bayou river channel.
Going For Big Ones: Big topwaters like a Zara Spook or Sammy fished in relation to grassy flats can be deadly. Day in and day out, Tutt says a deep-diving crankbait worked along Big Cypress channel swings is tough to beat.
Lake: Lake Falcon
Angler: Charlie Haralson
The Fishery: Like Amistad, Falcon’s bass fishery has bounced back with a vengeance following a multi-year down cycle spurred by extreme drought and low water.
“It’s not quite as good as it was back in the day, but it’s not far off,” says Falcon big stick Charlie Haralson of Del Rio. “My guess it will be by next year, though, provided they don’t release all of the water out of it. There’s a ton of fish in Falcon right now, but if the lake gets too low, the bass will wipe out their forage and starve out again.”
Haralson says the Texas/Mexico border lake produced some whopper tournament sacks over the summer, including a pair of 42-pound weights in a two-day event that allowed anglers to weigh in three fish per day.
“It’s fairly common to catch 50 plus fish per day and have your heaviest five weigh 30 plus,” Haralson said. “That’s pretty good fishing by any standard.”
Going For Numbers: Haralson says casting a six-inch Big Bite Trick Stick (Prime Rib pattern) to the outer edges of isolated bushes on point or rocky/gravel points in 2 to 15 feet of water is a great way to run up the score with one- to three-pound fish. “It’ll catch some giants, too,” Haralson said. “There are going to be a lot of fish relating to the bushes. What I like about is it is a pattern you can run all over the lake and fish fresh water all day.”
Going For Big Ones: Casting or flipping around flooded mesquites, huisache and hardwoods is always a good bet provided the bottom doesn’t fall out of the lake. Haralson also pointed to offshore ledges along the main river channels and major creeks as good places to catch bass weighing upwards of 10 pounds.
Lake: Toledo Bend
Angler: Tommy Martin
The Fishery: Voted America’s No. 1 bass lake by Bassmaster for the last two consecutive years, Toledo Bend continues to shock the imagination of anglers around the country as it cranks out world class bass, and lots of them, at 49 years of age.
“Toledo Bend is full of fish, no doubt about it,” says veteran fishing guide and tournament pro Tommy Martin of Hemphill. “It has always been a great lake, but it has been producing a lot of really big fish over the last couple of years along with some outstanding tournament weights. It’s gotten a lot of publicity because of that.”
The lake got a landslide of notoriety last May, when the Toledo Bend Lake Association announced that a record 139 bass upwards of 10 pounds had been turned in to the organization’s lunker program during the previous 12 months. Also in May, Bassmaster icon Kevin VanDam won a four-day Elite Series event there with more than 96 pounds on 20 fish.
Going for Numbers: Martin says fall is when armies of bass gang up along channel ledges and other main lake structure in water ranging 15 to 35 feet. He named the drop-shot rig matched with a Zoom Finesse Worm as one the best ways to catch them.
“It’s deadly,” Martin said. “You won’t catch a lot of big fish doing it, but you can wear the one- to three-pounders out. They’ll be running in massive schools, but you’ll need to spend some time looking with good electronics to find them.”
Going For Big Ones: The guide says the odds of catching trophy class bass in the fall are always best in shallow water around vegetation such as lily pads, pepper grass, torpedo grass and hydrilla.
“The water always starts cooling off after we get a couple of fronts, and big ones always move shallow,” Martin said. “Places where there is shallow water near deeper water are always best.”
Martin’s preferred bait choices include frogs (buzz and hollow body), big topwaters like a Zara Spook or Whopper Plopper and a buzz bait. “You can also catch some big ones flipping around the vegetation from time to time.”
Lake: Sam Rayburn
Angler: Todd Driscoll
The Fishery: If there is a Texas lake that has withstood the test of time as well as Toledo Bend, it would have to be Sam Rayburn. At 51 years of age, “Big Sam” continues to kick out impressive numbers and quality alike despite receiving a tremendous amount of pressure from weekend crowds and fishing derbies that bring thousands of anglers to the area each year.
In June, it took 31.64 pounds on five fish to win the Bass Champs Shootout. Ten other teams in the event topped the 25-pound mark and another eight teams cracked 20 pounds. Big fish of the tournament event was a 10.52-pounder. The big lake also produced a 12-pounder in a big bass event last April.
Going for Numbers: Local fisheries biologist and tournament angler Todd Driscoll of Brookeland anticipates a strong offshore bite around hard bottom structure during fall.
Main lake points, ledges, humps and ridges in 18 to 25 feet of water are among the best places to look. The biologist added that brush piles also could be major players. Best baits include drop shots, spoons, Carolina rigs, deep diving crankbaits and football jigs.
Going For Big Ones: Although there could be some whoppers roaming offshore, a lot of the better quality fish come shallow this time of year. They’ll loiter around shoreline torpedo grass (commonly called hay grass), pond weed and lily pads situated on points, near channels or drops that offer easy access to deeper water. New growth hydrilla that began showing up in the backs of major and secondary creeks also could be a player. Good bait choices include frogs, buzz baits, magnum topwaters, Texas rigs crankbaits and Chatterbaits.
—story by Matt Williams