WHILE HE WAS STILL COMPETING for Oklahoma State University, Elite Series pro James Elam and his partner Brandon Pedigo found success during the fall at Lake Lewisville, north of Dallas.
In an event plagued by cold fronts and high winds, they ended up in third place out of 41 teams. That effort lit a fire under the young angler, who is now 32 and has qualified for multiple Bassmaster Classics.
Although the Elite Series doesn’t typically compete under true autumn conditions, that trial-by-fire fostered Elam’s confidence when things are tough.
The first thing you have to consider at that time of year “is what the weather trends are,” he said. “It’s normally fairly tough because it’s a transition time, and the fish are suspended on bait. They’re roaming. That makes them hard to target and hard to catch.”
At Lewisville, the team used their electronics to find big wads of bait relating to timber in a pocket off of the main lake. Elam likes to find vertical cover along which the fish will suspend in groups. That includes timber, but he also frequently keys on the shade created by docks, as well as upright bridge pilings.
He’ll utilize his highly detailed Lowrance HDS Carbon graphs set on sonar and downscan to pinpoint key zones. Most anglers prefer to put down the trolling motor and fish as quickly as possible. However, he said, “A few hours of idling, or more if you have multiple days to prefish, can pay huge dividends by locating substantial schools, rather than picking off a fish or two here or there.”
Although an overabundance of baitfish can make this search as difficult as a lack of shad, Elam said that modern electronics allow him to assess the attitude of the bait and further determine whether they’re under siege.
“With downscan you can tell the size of the shad and what kind they are,” he said. “If they’re balled up off the bottom in a defense mode, you know it’s going to happen.” He’ll start by searching wind-blown areas with something containing them (such as a cove) that essentially function as “a big trap” for baitfish.
He recalled that at Lewisville, he and Pedigo could not get the fish to react to lures that had any horizontal momentum. It had to be a strictly vertical presentation. A cast made beyond the fish-holding timber would disrupt the harmony of the situation and alert the bass that something was amiss.
“You could also go out and catch some on a shaky head or a small crankbait,” he said, but those tended not to be winning-caliber fish. “The timber thing was what most of the big fish were doing.” He believes it’s a good way to attack any Texas lake at this time of year—not necessarily searching for standing timber, but for other cover that mimics its effects.
His best tools are often a single bladed spinnerbait with a big thumping blade or a bulky jig featuring a trailer “with a lot of action.” When they don’t want such an aggressive approach, he’ll favor a straight-tailed finesse worm such as a 5.5-inch Molix Sligone. It features a bulky body but a subtle, natural motion, and is infused with salt and scent to make finicky fish attack and hold on.
The primary exception to his preference for vertical presentations is in clear to lightly-stained water where the fish are not suspended quite as deep. Because the bass are so keyed in on shad at this time of year, they’ll often pummel a topwater. While Plopper-style lures have gained notoriety for their effectiveness in the fall, and a popper is also a good tool, Elam finds himself reaching for a walking-style topwater most frequently. Once again, he favors a product from Molix, the WTD (Walk the Dog) 110. “You can’t cover water as fast as you can with the Plopper,” he said. “But this lure has a loud rattle that really draws bass up, even from deep water.”
Of course, just because you find them one day doesn’t mean they’ll be there the next. You may need to get back behind the console and start idling the area again, but in late fall bass need to feed up. Once you unlock the depth they are using and the location of the bait, it can often be easy pickings.
Email Pete Robbins at [email protected]