A lthough many bass pros put down their rods and head to the woods to hunt deer in the fall, Fletcher Shryock has trouble making that switch.
As the weather cools down, he knows that if he finds one bass, it usually means that he’s found a bunch. In the lakes near his Ohio home, that means turning light catches into better ones, but he knows that on the trophy waters of Texas it can mean some of the best days of the year.
“The biggest thing is that the bait begins to group up and migrate into the pockets and onto the flats,” said the popular Bass University instructor.
The presence of bait is the first element of his three-pronged attack to find the biggest groups of quality bass. The other two are healthy vegetation and clear water, which often go hand in hand.
“I’ll start looking in the middle of the creeks and the backs of creeks,” he explained. “Texas doesn’t get really cold like it does up north, but colder weather affects them just the same. You might think that it would make the bass go deep, but the bait tends to head to colder water, and dropping temperatures actually push them shallower.”
He’s picky about the kinds of grass beds that appeal to him and where he’ll start the search. He said that he’ll “stay away from endless, featureless miles of grass” and avoid vegetation that has started to die off, either naturally or as the result of spraying.
What he wants to see is “some form of life,” ideally shad dimpling the surface and bass intermittently engulfing them. However, even other baitfish and game fish demonstrate that the food chain is operating efficiently.
“I start off looking where the grass is hitting up against a creek channel,” he explained. “I don’t like to fish where it’s matted all the way to the top. The big groups tend to be in the voids, so I prefer it to be sparse enough that the fish have enough room to be able to hunt.”
In dirtier water, a large walking topwater or a noisy buzzbait gets the call, but when he finds the perfect clear water scenario—the one that has produced many of his best fall catches—Shryock relies heavily on a Gary Yamamoto D-Shad. This is a fluke-style soft jerkbait that differs from its competitors largely because it’s made of Yamamoto’s heavier plastic.
“It’s a great way to cover water in places where a regular hard jerkbait would get hung up,” he said. “That Yamamoto plastic sinks quicker, plus it’s weedless and nothing acts more like an injured baitfish. They can’t see it in dirtier water, but in the cleaner water it stands out.”
Many anglers prefer the D-Shad in shades of green pumpkin or watermelon, such as the one Brent Ehrler flipped to finish third at this year’s Bassmaster Classic on Lake Conroe. Others like it in gaudy colors like Bubble Gum or “Lime Fever,” which stand out in a school of lively shad.
Shyrock, however, said that no matter how many shad are around, the darting action of the D-Shad causes it to stand out, so he generally relies on a pearl white model. If he was fishing up north around smallmouths, he might dye the tail chartreuse, but on Texas lakes he’s generally content to fish it exactly as it comes out of the package.
Proper rigging is simple. Typically, he places it on a 4/0 Lazer Trokar EWG worm hook with no added weight. He’ll occasionally add a small tungsten nail weight toward the front of the bait if he’s trying to fish slower and/or deeper.
Unlike many other specialized tactics, this one doesn’t require any out-of-the-ordinary tackle, either. Shryock uses a seven-foot, medium-heavy Abu-Garcia baitcasting rod and 15-pound-test fluorocarbon line, although he can “easily bump up to 20 if there’s some standing timber around.” His preference, whenever possible, is to keep his line as light as possible, so the bait stays down.
There are times when fall bass will chase the D-Shad skittering across the surface at warp speed, or dead-sticked and then popped out of the grass. Yet, most of the time he employs an intermediate retrieve—faster than he’d fish a hard jerkbait in the pre-spawn period, but not much.
“I’ll usually make a bomb cast and then count to two or three,” he said. “Then I’ll go one-two-pause, one pause, getting it down two or three feet, letting the fish tell me what they want. The key is usually to let it come into contact with the grass and then pull it free.”
If he finds a lethargic group of bass clustered in matted-up vegetation, he’ll often slow down and pick the area apart with a flipping stick, often with a small Yamamoto PsychoDad craw and a heavy punch weight.
Since these fish are so keyed in on shad, he finds that the soft jerkbait typically does most of the damage. Find bait relating to clear water grass, and it’s often a matter of calling your shots.
Email Pete Robbins at [email protected]