By Tim Tucker
Dean Rojas grew up fishing the famed San Diego reservoirs. He later lived near Lake Havasu and plied his trade on the lakes of the Desert Southwest. Today, his home is in Texas near legendary Lake Fork. Throughout these changes of residence, Rojas has been a perennial contender on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail, with major BASS victories on natural lakes like Florida’s Lake Tohopekaliga and massive reservoirs like Toledo Bend.
So, obviously, the veteran pro has a wide repertoire to use when adjusting to bass habitat and behavior in every corner of the country.
And fall is one of his favorite seasons.
“The temperature is cooling down, and the bass are getting more active and feeding a lot,” said Rojas. “They’re moving in and out of shallow water following the bait, and you can intercept them all along the way.”
To follow the fall migration, Rojas attempts to pinpoint bass location by water temperature and general theories of movement. He also allows the depth and targeted cover to determine his choice of lure.
The following is a proven system that Rojas shares with BASS Times readers this month. While your geographic location might vary, these techniques and tactics can be applied successfully to any fishery in the country.
Stage 1. As the water temperature drops to the 80-degree mark, Rojas begins watching for the start of the fall migration, the most difficult stage to pinpoint because the movement begins without warning. In this phase, the bass begin the massive move by leaving the deepest main lake structures and heading to mid-depth cover like roadbeds and creek channels in 20 to 30 feet of water. “Bass like to feed during this time of year in open areas, so that’s why roadbeds and creek channels are prime places to look for them. They prefer areas where they can feed on big schools of shad.”
Stage 2. Once he detects the first movement, Rojas knows that the bass will be going even shallower in the next two to three weeks. As the water approaches the 70-degree mark, they will make their next major move into the shallow cover, moving as shallow as 4 feet. During this stage, he locates fish in areas that are similar to the spawning flats used in the spring, but he notes that the larger schools are often found holding on adjacent cover or structure in slightly deeper water. Depending on the weather, the shallow feeding frenzy that we have come to associate with fall fishing will last one to two months. “The fish are coming off of deep water, main channel-type habitat. They start moving to the points and secondary points through late September and October.”
Stage 3. This is his favorite stage of the fall migration, a time when the action really heats up. “Probably toward the end of October, you will find them in the very backs in shallow water. The bait will migrate to the backs of the creeks and the coves, especially the ones that have running water. That’s a key, along with good oxygen content in the back. With them moving to the backs, it opens up a whole lot of things you can do. You can catch them in the morning on a buzzbait, then a spinnerbait. It’s hard to beat a crankbait during that time of the year. There’s a good topwater bite first thing in the morning, especially if there’s bait back there. Or you can catch them flipping the laydowns.”
Stage 4. The water is cooling off significantly — dropping from 70 degrees down to 60 — and the bass (and shad) begin their move back out toward the main lake. But Rojas cautions not to abandon the shallow habitat and immediately follow them. More fish hang around the backs of the creeks longer than fishermen realize. “Things start cooling down, and it turns into more of a flipping bite, although later on in the afternoon is probably the best time to throw a spinnerbait, especially around the laydowns. The water temperature will come up a few degrees [in the afternoon], enabling them to come up and move around and start to feed. Baitfish are the key. But there are fish that aren’t really keying on all of the shad. There are some fish that key on the crawdads. If you have [the beginning of] a winter drawdown, where a lot of the crawdads are on the move because of the falling water, you may have a lot more forage that’s moving around on the bottom. And that will increase the flipping bite.”
Stage 5. Once the water temperature drops below 60 degrees, Rojas takes that as a signal that the fall bass bonanza is just about over. The bass move to their deepest lairs to ride out the coldest time of the year. “In late November and December, what you need to throw depends on the part of the world you’re in. In the desert, you can still catch them on a topwater. In some places, you really have to slow down and just flip or maybe throw a Carolina rig out deep. At that time, they may be starting to move out into their winter patterns, which will be out into the main lake, probably still following the bait.”
Down and Dirty: Bottom-bumping baits are underrated choices for the fall. In fact, Rojas does a surprising amount of flipping with jigs and soft plastics beginning in October. “Not all of the fish will be keying on the shad. There are some fish that key on the crawdads.”
To the Max: Watch your electronics. When schools of shad are at their deepest, Rojas switches over to shad-imitation plastics and uses either a Texas style rig or a Carolina style setup.
“That’s a big part of finding fish, the first thing that you have to think about. Are they going in or are they coming out? Or were they going in and now they’ve stopped? Are they done and coming back out? How far along are they?
“A map gives you a starting point.
“You can look at a map and make an educated guess.”
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