One of the defining elements of fall is its inconsistency. It's why autumn is dubbed a shoulder season: it has summer tendencies, but winter rears its ugly head just as often.
If you think these frequent weather changes make it challenging on bass, you'd be right.
And if fall is tough on bass, you can bet the boat it's a difficult time for anglers, as well.
"Bass can be red hot or fickle, if the conditions are wrong," said BASS pro Byron Velvick, co-host of ESPN2's "BassCenter," who will offer his fall bassing tips on the show this weekend. (This episode re-airs at 5:30 a.m. ET Nov. 21, 22 and 23 on ESPN2.)
"All of the general patterns suggest the fish are feeding heavily. They are gorging themselves. They're fattening up," said Velvick, best known as a contestant on ABC's "The Bachelor" last year.
The fish sense the colder things to come and anglers should bait up accordingly.
However, Velvick said, "If you get Indian summer days — cold at night and warm in the day that messes them up. That's what makes them fickle."
How, then, do you overcome the inconsistencies of fall?
The answer, in short, is to pray for cold and bank on the odds that the bass' instincts will tell them to feed and feed actively, according to Velvick. Then set a plan of attack similar to that of the bass.
"Fish the seasonal patterns. Start in the back — the back of creeks, the back of coves. Get off the main lakes and move to the tributaries, bays, creeks, pockets and coves," Velvick said.
"Bass go on the move. They come out of the deep water and push the bait to the backs of the coves. Fall is their chance to feed. It activates the fish. These fish have got to get active."
And the natural progression of things tell us why they are on the move in the autumn months:
In the Central and Northern regions, the fish are trying to put on some fat before the weather turns completely frigid and they are forced to go deep to conserve energy. In the extreme Southern locales, such as Florida, bass are moving up now to get prepared for a winter spawn.
Either way, it's a time to go a-gorging before the extreme challenges of winter set in.
As for bait selection, think reaction.
"Fall is a reaction bite. That's a great time to throw a react bait because the fish are really keying on shad and baitfish; you're matching the hatch, if you will," Velvick said.
"They will become opportunistic feeders. They are looking for yearlings, or the prey fish that were spawned earlier in the spring, and they even become predatory of their own species and target fingerling bass."
So throw crankbaits, jerkbaits or spinnerbaits and other topwater lures. Velvick prefers poppers, shallow- to medium-running crankbaits, and loud, lipless crankbaits — such as the Berkley Frenzy, "which stays shallow in the strike zone and covers more water."
Velvick explains that a reaction bait often entices a strike from a bass because it replicates prey that also is chasing forage and presumably has its guard down.
"That's when a bass attacks — when a prey fish is on the offensive," he said. "Triggering
a strike from a bass is usually very successful when you have a bait that appears to be on the offensive itself; it's not as wary and it becomes an easy prey."
As for line, Velvick recommends a 12- to 17-pound option in a shade that is easily visible, such as a green. Don't go over 20-pound line on reaction baits, as it makes casting difficult.
And remember that fall is all about change, so be prepared to alter your tactics as conditions become more and more harsh.
There comes a time as a precursor to extreme winter when the fish will first be faced with difficult conditions, including wind, precipitation, declining temps or a combination thereof. But before these fish fin to the depths, they hang tight to any cover that's available — heavy grass or perhaps underneath a floating carpet of other flora.
If you can brave the conditions yourself, this can be a terrific time to fish … provided you switch from a reaction bait to a finesse bait, such as a Texas-style or "penetrator" rig with a heavily weighted (perhaps 1- to 1¼-ounce) jig or plastic worm.
"When bass are relating real tight to cover, there are absolutely some opportunities for favorable action," Velvick said. "If you can get these fish on a pattern, if you can find the key, there may be 10 bass sucked up to one laydown."
That being said, Velvick would still rather fish in some of the worst conditions of late fall than deal with the many and varied hardships of the dog days.
"You start getting a reprieve from the consistent difficulty of fishing the summer," he said. "Also, there are less people on the lake. Fewer jet-skis. It gives the fisherman more time to enjoy the lake without as much traffic."
Any parting words, Mr. "Bachelor"? (Velvick, if you didn't already know, is engaged to Mary Delgado from the television show of the same name and will prefer to be called "The Ex-Bachelor" after their nuptials.)
"Yes. When you're reeling in your reaction bait, before you reel all the way to the boat, pause it, because a lot of the time fish will follow a bait and they will only strike when they feel they can pin the bait to the boat," he advised. "Pause — fall bass need a break in the reeling cadence, a change in the retrieve. And look for fish following the bait."
"BassCenter" re-airs on ESPN2 at 5:30 a.m. ET each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.