Fall Bass With West Point Lake’s Dynamic Duo
Frank Eslinger and Steve Thomason are West Point anglers who have a plan for targeting fall bass.
When GON picks a lake to write a bass fishing feature on, several criteria come into play when selecting an angler — or anglers — to spotlight. Knowledge of the lake and success on it come into play. Notoriety is another aspect that comes to mind.
Sometimes the author, in this case yours truly, gets to make the decision on whom to use. Other times one of magainze’s editors may have someone in mind.
As much as I would like to take the credit for coming up with the two anglers featured in this article, I have to give the credit where it is due. That credit belongs to editor Brad Gill. This is proof-positive that the old adage is in fact true… “A blind hog really does find an acorn every now and then.” Just a friendly joke directed toward Brad. The fact is, he could not have found a better tandem of fishermen to map a strategy for fall bass fishing on West Point.
Frank Eslinger and Steve Thomason live in LaGrange and have been fishing together as a team for 20 years. Many of those years they have spent fishing on West Point. To find anyone more qualified to instruct readers on how to find and catch West Point bass would be virtually impossible.
Though they might have experienced only mediocre success during the early years of their fishing partnership, what they have accomplished over the last six years is nothing short of astonishing. Since 1999 the duo has won over 60 tournaments on West Point. That is a truly staggering number of victories, especially when you consider the caliber of competition on this lake. They haven’t just been winning little pot tournaments either. They have won the biggest events held on the lake, such as the Highland Marina Invitational ($20,000), the Wendy’s event out of Southern Harbor ($15,000) and an HD Marine event (new Skeeter Boat). They take on all comers, and usually come out on top.
“Steve and I started fishing together about 20 years ago when we both lived in Columbus. We really weren’t very good back then, but we stuck together. Over the years we have gotten a little better,” Frank said modestly.
A “little better” indeed. Steve echoed these comments, adding that one of the reasons for their success is because of the longevity of their partnership.
“It’s hard to find someone you can get along with and fish with. Frank and I fish well together, and we agree on most things,” Steve said.
The day I spent on the lake with Frank and Steve revealed perhaps the two most important aspects of a fishing team — trust and confidence. They trust each other 100 percent, and have the utmost confidence in each other’s abilities.
The month of October can be broken down into three distinct parts on West Point. During the first part of the month the weather is usually still fairly warm. However, it is not quite as hot as it was during September, and the nights are a little longer and cooler. These are signs that fall is fast approaching, and the fish recognize these signs.
“During the first part of the month we expect to find fish still relating to the main part of the lake. The majority of the fish will be around the mouths of the smaller creeks and coves,” Frank explained.
“We like to fish blowdowns and brushpiles at the mouths of the creeks,” Steve added.
The duo likes to fish two baits primarily during this time.
“I’ll usually throw a Texas-rigged worm, and Steve will throw a jig Frank said.
“The worm usually gets a lot more bites, but the jig usually catches the bigger fish. If Steve catches a fish on the jig, it is usually going in the livewell.”
By mid October both the shad and the bass have typically begun to move back into the creeks in earnest. As water temperatures continue to cool down, the fish will move farther back into the creeks. Now, probably more so than any other time of year, it is very important to find good concentrations of baitfish. Everything a bass does during the fall is centered around eating, and shad are the primary food source on West Point.
“The fish really begin to move into the creeks when the water temperature hits 70 degrees and below. We will follow the bait into the creeks and fish any cover that we come to that is in the right location. Blowdowns, stumps and points are usually productive,” Steve said.
Frank and Steve still like the worm and jig, but they now add a little more variety to their arsenal. With the bass so dialed in on shad, they begin to fish shad-imitating baits more frequently. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits and topwater lures now begin to shine. Zoom Super Flukes are also a very good choice. One important thing to note is that bass often become very size specific during the fall, no matter where you fish. Since they are feeding on shad almost exclusively, the bass become tuned in to the size of their prey. An angler should pay special attention to the size of the baitfish in a given area. If you are unable to get bit, often all you have to do is change the size of your offering to more closely match the size of the forage.
I have seen many times during the fall when you really had to downsize your baits. A couple of years ago I was fishing a BFL regional when I found a large school of bass on a flat near the back of a creek. The shad the bass were eating were very small, and I couldn’t buy a strike on conventional baits. I switched to an ultralight offering and immediately began catching fish.
Toward the end of the month the water has usually cooled into the low to mid 60s. The shad can now be found mostly in the very back of creeks and coves, and the bass are right there with them.
“When the fish get all the way in the back of creeks they get really shallow. They get on stumps, blowdowns and rocks,” Steve explained.
“When they get really shallow in the back of the creeks we like shad-imitating baits. We’ll throw spinnerbaits, crankbaits and flukes,” Frank added.
It’s important to not discount any piece of cover, no matter how shallow it is. During the fall bass will hold surprisingly shallow. Fish can be caught off cover so shallow that you would swear if a fish were there you would be able to see it. Don’t take anything for granted. Make a cast to any piece of cover you see. It doesn’t matter how shallow the water is or how small the piece of cover is. If it is in the water, fish will relate to it.
To be successful during the fall, it is important to know not only what the bass are doing, but what their food source is doing. As previously mentioned, the shad are migrating to the backs of creeks as the water temperature cools. They are moving there to take advantage of late algae blooms and other food sources. In turn the bass follow them.
Shad often congregate in large schools during the fall, which makes for some easy meals for the hungry bass. All fish, prey and predator alike, realize that as the days grow shorter and the nights grow cooler cold winter temperatures are just around the corner. Cold water means slower metabolisms for all fish.
The last warm weather of the fall season is the last opportunity for fish to feed up before winter. They need to pack on the pounds to carry them through the lean times of winter. This is what makes fall fishing so enjoyable. The weather is nice and the fish are feeding voraciously.
Frank and Steve have spent countless hours fishing West Point. They average about three tournaments per week from spring through fall. All of this time spent on the water allows them to keep up with the patterns and locations of the bass. One of their keys to success is the fact that they plant and maintain approximately 100 brushpiles in the lake. They put the brush out at different depths and in different locations so they will be effective throughout the year.
“We fish each tournament with a milk-run strategy. We are on the lake so much that we pretty much know where the fish are concentrated. We will decide on a milk run of different spots that we will hit during the day. It may be 10 spots or it may be 20 or 30. If the fish don’t bite at one spot we don’t waste a lot of time there. We’ll pull up to a spot and make a half-dozen casts and then move to the next one if we don’t catch a fish,” Steve said.
Frank added, “If a fish is going to bite it will usually do it on the first good cast to a piece of cover. We will make a few casts to the heart of the cover, and if we don’t catch a fish we’ll move on. We may hit our milk run spots two or three times during the course of the day. It’s all about being in the right place when the fish decide to turn on and start biting.”
It takes a lot of hard work to put out brushpiles. I know, because I have put out my fair share over the years. Some areas always seem to hold fish, while others never hold any. Over time you will learn which ones are good and which ones aren’t. Then you can concentrate on keeping the goods ones fresh. There are mixed feelings about which type of cover is best to build your brushpiles out of. Perhaps the easiest and most convenient is to cut trees off of the bank and sink them in the lake. Be sure to check with the local lake authorities as different rules apply regarding removing trees from the lake shore.
One point of note is the way Frank and Steve fish blowdowns. They always fish the outside, or deep end, first. They will make casts to the ends of the blowdowns and slowly work their way in to the bank. This works for them especially when the water is clear and the fish are spooky. It also enables them to possibly catch multiple fish out of the same tree.
“If you go right to the center of the blowdown you are running the risk of spooking fish that are holding on the outside of the cover,” Frank said. “By working from the outside in you increase your chances of catching more than one fish off of a piece of cover.”
As far as exact locations to fish on West Point, there are no real magic spots. Frank and Steve fish mostly from the railroad bridge down to and in Yellowjacket Creek.
This area has all of the ingredients mentioned above to hold bass during the month of October. Base your search on water temperature, time of month and shad location. Once you pinpoint the migration of both shad and bass you will be able to run that pattern all over the lake.
As far as bait selection is concerned, the duo keeps it pretty simple. For soft plastics and jigs they use shades of green when the water is clear, and darker colors when the water is dirty and under low-light conditions. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits should be shad-colored in clear water. Adding some chartreuse will increase the bait’s appeal when the water is stained or the skies are dark.
There you have it. Two of the most successful and respected anglers on West Point have outlined their strategies and tactics for catching bass during the month of October.
Based on Frank and Steve’s proven track record of success it would benefit everyone to heed their advice. West Point can be tough, but it’s nice to have the inside track from the lake’s dynamic duo.
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