Fall Fishing for Bass, TIPs from the PROs

  • Fishing in the fall for bass provides primal competition to meet with nature and the biggest fish
  • Baits that trigger a strike are hard to find, but there is one key thing to know, read on
  • Lure balance, hook point quality, color, rate of wobble and wiggle, all are key

LIVETARGET David Walker Signature Tennessee Craw

By Forrest Fisher

Like it or not, winter weather is coming and for bass anglers in the know, that’s a good thing. The fish, all species really, stock up on protein and feed heavily right before the coldest weather arrives. One of my best friends, Russ Johnson, now a 90-year old student of precision speed trolling, offers key advice to catch the biggest fall bass. When the water temp hit the low 50s, he would dust off the frost on his boat and head for the lake with crankbaits that were perfectly tuned. His method? Speed troll them over sharp dropoffs to intimidate bass into striking, and it wasn’t just a strike, it was a SLAM-BAM-GOTCHA. A mega-strike. Big fish hit like that. It seems they wanna stop the boat and head the other way.

Running four lines, two on each side of the boat, one trailing 120 feet back, the other 145 feet back, and using lures that were designed to be crankbait hardware, he would achieve diving depths of 2.5X their rated profile. Lures that were advertised as “dives to 12 feet” would hit bottom in 30 feet or so. The new braided lines with their thin diameter make his method even more effective. The precision manufacture of LIVETARGET lures seem to gain even more than 2.5X when perfectly balanced and trolled. This makes the LIVETARGET lure even more effective for fall bass like no other method I know, but also makes them a “best lure choice” for daytime fall walleye that are also on the binge feed.

Johnson knew that fall weather can spread the bass out in many waterways, but in the Great Lakes, specifically Lake Erie, he would focus on structure dominant points to find schools of bass segregated by size. Some schools were comprised of 2-pounders, then 4-pounders, and so on. One day we caught limits of bass whoppers that all exceeded 5 pounds. These were smallmouth bass. While doing a video with In-Fisherman TV, Ron Lindner had shared with us that bass are domiciled to their home range on shoals and underwater structure, so we always released these big fish to live and spawn another day. Some of our whoppers some went over 6-pounds.  His favorite fall-time lure color? Tennessee Craw red or orange.

Johnson can get lures like the LIVETARGET Magnum Shad Baitball Crankbait, the 3-1/2 inch model, to hit bottom in 42 feet! He is a master lure tuner. I did not mention his trolling speed, but he is trolling quite fast, in fact beyond your imagination if you are a troller. That detail will remain his secret, but it one other reason why the lure tuning has to be perfect.  Most folks fishing the Seneca Shoal area near Hamburg, NY in eastern basin Lake Erie think he is leaving the area. It’s that fast. 

Other expert anglers know other methods that work well in fall too. Noted professional angler Stephen Browning, a seasoned veteran of the FLW Tour, MLF, and the Bassmaster Elite Series, has amassed similar knowledge of late-season bass behavior that can up any angler’s game right now. Aside from decades of experience on tournament trails, Browning’s degree in Fish and Wildlife Management hasn’t hurt his ability to pick apart various waters and he has advice to share.

LIVETARGET bass pro, Stephen Browning

The first tip? Cover lots of water. And for Browning, that means crankbaits.

“For me, fall is all about chunk and winding and covering water, whether that’s main lake stuff or hitting the back of pockets, coves, and creeks. Crankbaits are definitely key in fall and into early winter,” says Browning.

For Browning, the biggest factor for finding fall bass to crank is water temperature. “I’m trying to search out water temperatures that are 70 degrees or less, because experience proves that’s the point at which fish get fired up for a super fall bite.”

Winning in the Wind

Secondly, he’s monitoring the wind. “Besides cooler water, I’m looking for spots where the wind is blowing a little bit. There’s still a lot of fish out on the main lake and not necessarily deep into the pockets. So, I’m going to look at the wind—see where it’s hitting the banks the best. Bass will utilize the wind to kind of break things up. You can burn down a pea gravel bank or a chunk rock bank and still have the ability to catch fish. And they aren’t always target oriented. In my opinion, they don’t like to hold tight to cover when the wind’s blowing, because it’s going to beat them around. So, I think they do more roaming in the wind—if it’s windy I’m going to chunk and wind,” says Browning.

LIVETARGET Rainbow Smelt

For such windy scenarios and main lake fishing, Browning turns to the LIVETARGET Rainbow Smelt suspending jerkbait—specifically the RS91S, which is 3-5/8 inches long and dives three to four feet, typically in the (201) Silver/Blue pattern, although Browning has been experimenting with the host of new colors LIVETARGET now offers in this highly effective bait.

“It’s kind of a shallower-diving jerkbait, which I utilize for cranking points, rock outcrops, rip-rap, etc. when the wind is blowing. When fishing it, I’m looking for a little bit of visibility… not a lot of stain. I fish it a lot in main lake and main creek areas using the wind and water clarity as kind of a one-two punch. It’s definitely a go-to bait for these situations,” offers Browning.

Browning throws the LIVETARGET Rainbow Smelt on a 6’8” medium-heavy St. Croix Legend X casting rod, Lew’s 7.5:1 Pro TI baitcasting reel, and 10-pound Gamma fluorocarbon.

Another bait Browning utilizes for windy main lake and main creek scenarios is the LIVETARGET HFC (Hunt-For-Center) Craw. “It has a very aggressive action and deflects off of cover, so I can utilize it on steeper rocky banks and really cover a lot of water. In terms of color, it depends on the water clarity and temperature. If the water is stained, a lot of times I’ll use LIVETARGET’s Red (362) or Copper Root Beer (361). The latter has a really nice copper hue to it and kind of a whitish-style belly.

When the water temperature plummets into the 50s, Browning also reaches for the LIVETARGET HFC (Hunt-For-Center) Craw, especially in the Red (362) and Copper Root Beer (361) colors. “The HFC has an aggressive action but is not overpowering. It was designed to randomly dart left and right, mimicking a fleeing craw. In late fall when the water gets really cold it can be a fantastic bait for target fishing for the resident fish that live in the very back ends of creeks and pockets.”

LIVETARGET HFC (Hunt-for-Center) Craw

Water Clarity and Target Cranking

Browning’s advice for those days when there isn’t much wind is to monitor water clarity. “On calmer days water clarity is a big factor. I’m going to go and try to find some stained water someplace within the fishery. The biggest thing about stained water is fish don’t tend to roam as much on you, and they’re going to be more target related—an outcrop of rocks, a laydown, a series of stumps, etc. that will give those fish a place to ambush their prey.”

On those calmer days, Browning will vacate the main lake and main creek areas he fishes when windy and concentrate on the back third of pockets where they have a tendency to flatten out. There, he looks for isolated cover.

 

“I’m looking for that isolated stump, maybe a log, lay-downs, isolated grass patches, or a lot of times people will put out crappie stakes. Especially when the water’s low, bass will utilize crappie stakes. One of the baits I like for target fishing in the back of pockets is the LIVETARGET David Walker Signature Tennessee Craw. I’ll crank it on 12- or 14-pound fluorocarbon and only get it down to six feet so I can bang it around, which is key to getting good target bites. I’ll make multiple casts to the isolated cover from various angles giving the fish the most opportunities to ambush my presentation. That’s really key—working cover from multiple angles and making sure you spend ample time on each spot,” offers Browning.

LIVETARGET Sunfish Crankbait

When target fishing, Browning is also a fan of the shallow-diving LIVETARGET Sunfish Crankbait—specifically the BG57M (bluegill pattern) and PS57M (pumpkinseed pattern). “The Sunfish Crankbait has a rounded bill, so it has a nice, tight wiggle to it. For me, especially when the water temperature gets cooler, it becomes another go-to bait for target fishing. I think it kind of gets overlooked by anglers who tend to concentrate on shad patterns, but bluegills are a major forage source in fall and year ‘round that bass will really home in on.”

Water clarity dictates whether Browning will choose the Pumpkinseed or Bluegill pattern, as well as the choice between LIVETARGET’s available matte and gloss finishes. “I use the Bluegill if the water is a bit clearer and the brighter Pumpkinseed in stained water. I like using the gloss finish if the sky is cloudy and the matte finish if it’s sunny. So, you’ve got two different colors and two different finishes for a variety of fishing situations.”

In terms of equipment for cranking the LIVETARGET HFC (Hunt-For-Center) Craw, David Walker Tennessee Craw, or Sunfish Crankbait, he sticks to the same set-up of a St. Croix 7’4” medium-heavy, moderate action Legend Glass rod, a Lew’s Custom Pro baitcasting reel with 8:1 gear ratio and either 12- or 14-pound Gamma Fluorocarbon line. “If I’m concentrating on shallow areas, I’m going to use the heavier line – but if I need the bait to get down six feet or more, I’m going to use the 12-pound line,” Browning adds.

Topwaters Too

When targeting the backs of pockets and creeks with grass, Browning urges anglers not to overlook the efficacy of employing a chunk-and-wind topwater routine.

“The LIVETARGET Commotion Shad is a hollow-body shad style topwater bait that has a Colorado blade on the back end. It’s a real player in the kind of broken-up grass you find way back in pocket flats. During the fall, adding this bait to the chunk-and-wind crankbait program can really pay off. It comes in a couple of sizes, but I like the 3-½ inch in Pearl Ghost (154) and Pearl Blue Shad (158). The spinner makes a gurgling sound when you retrieve it like you would a hollow body frog, and it’s great for working over grassy areas,” offers Browning.

LIVETARGET Commotion Shad

For gear, Browning throws the Commotion Shad on a 7’6” medium-heavy, moderate action St. Croix Legend X with a Lew’s Tournament reel geared 8.3:1, and 50-pound Gamma Torque braided line.

Parting Advice

While monitoring water temperature, wind conditions, water clarity, and the amount of visible sunlight are all huge factors for finding fall bass in main lakes and creeks as well as pockets and coves, Browning suggests anglers stay tuned to another of nature’s cues: bird behavior.

“Watch for the migration of shad, which have the tendency to move to the very back ends of the pockets in fall, but also know, as mentioned, that bass are feeding on bluegills and craws in lots of other locations. You can really eliminate a lot of water and fish more productively by keying in on bird behavior. They’re going to tell you where the baitfish are. Could be a Blue Heron sitting on the bank eating bluegills or picking around on crawfish, gulls, or all sorts of other birds either on the main lake or back farther in coves. Really pay attention to where the birds are. It’s definitely one of the small details that gets overlooked by a lot of anglers.”

Chautauqua Lake, NY – 26 Morning Walleyes, Rod in Hand Fishing…Memorial Day Treat

Frank Shoenacker gets the net for another one of our 26 walleye caught in daylight the Friday before Memorial Day.

  • Simple Fishing, Simple Fun, NEW METHOD
  • Peaceful Fishing Fun with Time to Share Conversation
  • Braided Line, Fluorocarbon Leaders, Sharp Hooks 

By Forrest Fisher

My fishing friend, Captain Frank Shoenacker (Infinity Charters), gets the net for another one of our 26 walleye caught in 3-4 hours of daylight fishing on Chautauqua Lake the Friday before Memorial Day.  Forrest Fisher photo

“There’s one!” Frank shared, “Can you get the net Forrest.” It was actually, to be more correct, “another one.” 

We started at 7 in the morning on the Friday before Memorial Day, the sun had not yet made it over the eastern hill at Bemus Point.  Through about 10:30AM, we landed 26 walleye. Not joking.  My fishing buddy and friend, Captain Frank Shoenacker (pronounced “sha-na-kir), enjoys fishing for walleye with rod in hand.  “It’s real fishing,” he says.

When he’s not guiding for fun with guys like me to catch walleye to 6 pounds, he likes to work on his rigs, experiment with new baits, learn from other experts – like at the seminar series at the Niagara Outdoor Show every year, and also share what he knows too.

Our catch included a good number of throwbacks that were 1/8″ under the 15″ minimum, but being honest, I filled my limit fishing with fish to 24 inches long while spending a peaceful morning of conversation with this incredible fishing expert and friend. Secrets abound, some of them you need to find out from Frank himself, but think about it, 26 walleye. An amazing morning!

The future for great walleye fishing at Chautauqua lake looks really good if the 14-7/8″ fish landed are any indication. Minimum size limit is 15″, 5 fish bag per day. Forrest Fisher Photo

I felt like I was fishing in a throwback time. You remember those old days when going fishing meant leaving the rest of the world behind and just hoping to find some fish that would bite? That’s how it was with Frank. We’ve been fishin’ friends for a few years now because we share a passion for the fun and legacy of catching walleye in Chautauqua Lake (and Lake Erie), especially with rod in hand. 

We leave the fancy toys, riggers, boards and all that behind when it comes to early season walleye fishing. I like to cast toward evening and into the night, but Frank prefers to catch fish in daytime hours (who doesn’t?) and shares his secret tactics with those folks that use his guiding services for charter fishing on Chautauqua Lake, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Frank says, “For the newbie fishing folks to enjoy the day and really have fun, I have learned the lesson that keeping it simple gets that done. Customers go home happy and with fish for the table if they want to keep ‘em.” When I saw how simple his tactics were, how savvy and coy they were at the same time, I was not just impressed, I was blown away. 

An 8HP, Four-Stroke trolling motor and wind sock combo allow total, fish-catching, boat control with the Shoenacker method. Forrest Fisher Photo

As we moved from spot to spot collecting three or four walleye from each fishing zone, we shared conversation with 9 other boats out there vying for a fish-catching moment. In all, there was only one fish among them! Surprising to me? Yes! We were killing ‘em. Why? Stealth. Proper colors. Proper presentation. Fishing where the fish were (perhaps the biggest reason).

Cut weeds, floating weeds, short emerging weeds, all were present in the water, but no algae or moss. Seeing the weeds, you might agree, trolling is not an option. At least not an option that most folks might take. For Frank, it’s the one situation he likes the best. “No boat traffic this way,” he says with a smile. 

He likes to use a modified troll using his 8HP/four-stroke engine with a drift bag to make the type of motion control possible that he wants for his 17-foot Lund fishing boat. Very slow forward motion in particular places, almost negligible motion…but there is motion, fish-catching motion. 

Frank understands this motion thing quite well and can explain it. He puts the presentation on the fish where they are and then tantalizingly appeals to their sense of scent, visual attraction, lure motion and hunger using small baits. The scent of live nightcrawlers on his assortment of artificial worms in combination with vivid colors, stealth bead rigs and a unique catch-no-weeds arrangement, makes Frank’s home-made rig effective on Chautauqua Lake. Quite amazing really.

The motor was running, though I couldn’t hear it. As Frank reached for a Tim Horton’s Timbit, he looked over his shoulder at me and said, “It’s so good to be out here just fishing for fun today, ya know?” He tossed his line out about 40 feet behind the boat and told me to follow suit. He had the right side, I had the left looking back toward the transom. We caught one freshwater clam before moving to the next spot. “Lots of spots to fish,” Frank shared with a grin.

In similar depth water, we repeated the cast-out routine using his 7’ high tensile strength graphite St. Croix rods and Daiwa reels filled with 10-pound test Seaguar 832 braid and terminated with a fluorocarbon leader to the lure. You could feel every pebble, every bottom sensation and every nibble, tap-tap and anything else that contacted the lure. The rig provides the perfect rod-in-hand experience for every angler.

Rod feel is important when fishing simple. This St. Croix “Eyecon” rod works well. Forrest Fisher photo

Over the next two hours, we landed dozens of walleye, but we also hooked or caught other fish species too, including musky.

I raised my rod tip, there it was, one tap and a slight movement left, dragged the rod forward and wham, the fish slammed the lure, just like Frank said he would. This guy likes to share fun, that’s all I can say about this trip.

“Get the Net” was a frequent expression that morning. The net is important to keep big fish from falling of and to keep little fish getting injured. Forrest Fisher Photo

Frank catches walleye using a method with lures that he alone has perfected. Since I’ve been doing this for 60 years I can say that.  The results are amazing on even a short day of fishing. Imagine 26 walleye, a 4-foot musky and so many other fish from a lake 17 miles long that thousands of anglers fish each year.

It pays to have some secrets, right? If you’re looking to share in this fun, look him up, Google Chautauqua Lake, Captain Frank Shoenacker (585-406-5764), Infinity Charters (www.tourchautauqua.com/Go-Fishing/Charters-And-Guides/Infinity-Charters-LLC.aspx?mid=15798&c=76) for simple fishing, rod in hand. 

I enjoyed hearing that one expression we used so often, “Get the net!”

A most relaxing day!

Unforgettable.

Thanks Captain Frank.

St. Croix Starts Spinning Glass

Park Falls, WI (March 1, 2018) — America’s most maniacal rod engineers have struck again, answering the call for a spinning version of the immensely popular Legend Glass.

St. Croix’s Legend Glass rod series took home top freshwater rod honors at ICAST 2016 for blending classic fiberglass feel to modern, IPC® tooling technology and a body made of 100-percent, linear S-Glass material. For nearly two years, anglers have raved about the lightweight, sensitive feel of Legend Glass while St. Croix’s Wisconsin manufacturing facility kicked into overdrive to supply a feverish demand.

Crankbait anglers from coast-to-coast are fawning over Legend Glass, and as the spring fishing season gets underway, the new 7’ 2” medium-power, moderate action spinning model (LGS72MM) enters the fray as the number one contender to take midsized and small baits deeper, keeping them in the strike zone longer. The newest Legend Glass model is the perfect partner for windy days, or to deliver small and midsize baits to fish in multiple depth ranges.

“When you grip a Legend Glass rod, you immediately note its weight — uncharacteristically light for a glass rod,” says St. Croix Rods Promotions Manager Rich Belanger. “And once you set the hook, the rod protects lighter lines from hard running bass. And what really strikes you is the rod’s balance, forgiveness, and that familiar St. Croix feel-factor.”

“Legend Glass spinning is going to be a game changer for folks that throw light crankbaits on light line, especially the thin profile baits that like to tumble when cast on rods that are too stiff,” says St. Croix’s Dan Johnston. “The blank bends down enough to protect very light fluorocarbon line with a light crankbait, which is something anglers have been looking for a while.”

“That linear S-Glass on the IPC mandrel made Legend Glass arguably the best fiberglass bass rod ever put on the market,” Johnston adds. “The fact that we just put it on a spinning rod is really exciting. It’s cool to be able to finally throw thin-profile lightweight cranks on light line.”

Click on Picture for the new Legend Glass Story.

Now featuring five situation-specific models, St. Croix Legend Glass rods employ Fuji® K Series Concept Tangle Free guides with Alconite rings and polished frames — ideal for all line types. Fuji® DPS reel seat with frosted silver hoods harmonize with super grade split-grip cork handles and Kigan hook-keepers. All Legend Glass rods boast 15-year transferable warranties backed by St. Croix Superstar Service. Retail for the new spinning version is $260.

FEATURES:

  • Integrated Poly Curve® (IPC®) tooling technology
  • Super premium, 100% linear S-Glass
  • Fuji® K-Series tangle-free guides with Alconite® Rings and Corrosion Control™ (CC™) matte finish frames
  • Fuji® DPS reel seat with frosted silver hoods
  • Split-grip/super-grade cork handle
  • Kigan hook-keeper
  • Two coats of Flex-Coat slow cure finish
  • 15-year transferrable warranty backed by St. Croix Superstar Service
  • Designed and handcrafted in Park Falls, U.S.A.

About St. Croix Rod:  Now in its 70th year, Park Falls, Wisconsin based St. Croix Rod remains a family-owned and managed manufacturer of high-performance fishing rods with a heritage of USA manufacturing. Utilizing proprietary technologies, St. Croix controls every step of the rod-making process, from conception and design to manufacturing and inspection, in two company-owned facilities. The company offers a complete line of premium, American-made fly, spinning and casting rods under their Legend Elite®, Legend® Xtreme, Legend Tournament®, Avid Series®, Premier®, Wild River®, Tidemaster®, Imperial® and other trademarks through a global distribution network of full-service fishing tackle dealers. The company’s mid-priced Triumph®, Mojo Bass/Musky/Inshore/Surf, Eyecon® and Rio Santo series rods are designed and engineered in Park Falls, Wisconsin and built in a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Fresnillo, Mexico. Founded in 1948 to manufacture jointed bamboo fishing poles for a Minneapolis hardware store chain, St. Croix has grown to become the largest manufacturer of fishing rods in North America.

Get Walleye Savvy Quick – ST. CROIX Walleye EYECON® FISHING ROD SERIES

  • PRODUCT REPORT:
  • Eyecon® ECS-70LF, 7ft., Lite-Power, Fast-Action, SCII Graphite
  • When a Fishing Rod Icon creates a Walleye Fishing Eyecon®
The St. Croix Eyecon® WALLEYE SERIES of fishing rods are sensitive, powerful and affordable.  

By David Gray
Part of the fun in the sport of fishing is the never-ending search for new equipment that works and fishes better. Last April, a friend introduced me to a new rod, the Eyecon ECS-70LF from St. Croix. The rod had such a “great feel,” I talked him into letting me borrow it for a couple of months so I could try it out.
The Eyecon ECS-70LF is one of the most impressive rods I have used in a long time. It says “Walleye Series” on the rod and it does a great job presenting finesse baits, but that is not all this rod does. The rod fishes well for walleye, crappie, bluegill, float fishing for smallmouth, and is great when spin fishing for trout. I used the 7-foot Eyecon with 3-pound line and 1/32 ounce jigs for trout and the rod was pure joy. Such are the numerous unadvertised advantages, since it can also handle medium-sized crankbaits with ease too.

Finesse fishing for walleye can be very successful with the right tools, beginning with the right fishing rod.  Forrest Fisher Photo

How a fishing rod casts, or more precisely, how the rod transfers energy to cast a lure, is where most rods fall short. It is one performance task to bring a large bass or walleye to the boat, but a very different performance task to achieve casting distance and accuracy. The Eyecon excels in both performance tasks.
My first use of the Eyecon was an eye-opener. When I picked it up, it made me stop to do a double-take on the rod, then the line and the lure. There was a captivating synergy in just picking the rig up to hold. Simple moments that are remembered like that mean good things. My first cast with the Eyecon surprised me. It went 10 feet farther than I was aiming. My second, third and fourth cast did the same. Every cast was 10 to 15 feet further than my aim point. The Eyecon is so efficient at transferring energy, it was casting farther than most similar action 7-foot spinning rods.
My experience with fishing rods is that when they can cast light lures well, they usually do not have super-sensitivity, but the Eyecon surprised me there. It is a very sensitive rod and lives up to its finesse label.
Every once in a while, a new product raises the performance bar and the Eyecon does exactly that. Everything that you want a fishing rod to do well this rod does extremely well.
The Eyecon ECS-70 LF is as a great buy in a 7-foot spinning rod. It delivers a higher level of fishing performance, helps you fish better and makes you a better fisherman. You gotta love fishing tools that allow you to achieve all that. I have one of my own Eyecon’s now. They sell for $120-$130 and come with a 5-year warranty backed by St. Croix Superstar Service.
If you need more info: http://stcroixrods.com/products/freshwater/eyecon/.