Fish Small Baits To Catch Fall Bass
Fall is in full swing now, and we’re quickly making our way toward winter. The bait is plentiful and shallow. The backs of the pockets, bays and creeks are loaded with shad, and so the bass have plenty to choose from when dinner time comes.
During this time of the year, you’ll need to swap it up a little at times to draw strikes from the bulging bass that have been gorging themselves on shad for months. Matching the hatch has worked well up until this point, throwing shad imitators that mimic the color, flash, shape and sound of the real thing that’s swimming all around.
But now, going the other direction often works well. Picking baits that still mimic baitfish, but that are a little larger or louder in color often works well—like a clown-colored jerkbait, for instance. Or even fishing a glide bait. Basically, picking baits that will stand out a bit from the crowd can be really productive late in the fall when there’s an overabundance of shad shallow.
However, there is another way to increase your odds this time of the year, and that’s what we’re going to focus on in this article. Thinking small in the fall is a great way to get bit as the bait becomes more plentiful, the waters cool, and the bass become less aggressive. It is times like these when you may have to force-feed the bass a bit to get a bite. And going with smaller lures is a great way to do just that.
A 1/4-oz. buzzbait is a great place to start when talking about fishing with smaller baits in the fall, and one we should address right away as the topwater bite is quickly fading away. The waters are cooling rapidly now, but you might still sneak in a topwater bite or two before this bite dies completely for the year.
As the temps drop, a small buzzbait gives you the best chance to get bit of almost any topwater bait, because it can be reeled extremely slow along the surface. If you’re fishing a lake with mostly shad or herring, go with a white or blue-glimmer skirt and a silver blade. If you’re fishing a reservoir where bream and bluegill are the dominant forage, black seems to work best with a black or gold blade.
A small popper is another great bait to deploy if you’re looking to sneak in a few more topwater bites this fall. Poppers are typically on the smaller end of the spectrum size-wise compared to most topwaters, and they can be fished along slowly as well with either a gentle pop or a pretty good chug. The lighter pops seem to work best when the water is getting pretty cool though, or try simply walking the bait with no pop from the mouth at all.
Moving to baits that run just below the surface, a small wakebait can be the perfect little lure to draw a strike from a bass that won’t quite break the surface. Essentially a squarebill crankbait with an extremely shallow-running bill, these lures create a wake along the surface by diving down just beneath it and can be great fish catchers before it gets particularly cold.
A small spoon, like a Hopkins Spoon or one from Cotton Cordell, can be reeled right along or just below the surface and is great for targeting those last few schoolers that are still boiling along the surface. These baits perfectly imitate a small fleeing shad, and you can cast them a really long way. This will help you reach the schoolers, which can be pretty scattered out.
Moving a little farther under the surface, one of the best small baits for fall fishing is the 1/4-oz. lipless crankbait. Lipless crankbaits in general are great fish catchers in the fall. But these small ones in particular work really well in the late fall. You can cast them a long way, and you can fish them at various depths by counting the bait down and then adjusting the speed of your retrieve. These pint-sized lipless cranks can be fished a good bit slower than their 1/2-oz. counterparts, making them slightly more attractive as the water temps continue to drop.
A 1/4-oz. Scrounger rigged with a small fluke is another great bait for late fall. These lures compliment the 1/4-oz. trap really well when fishing flats. If you fish through an area and catch a couple of bass on the lipless crankbait, you can typically work your way right back through slow-rolling the Scrounger and catch a couple more of the less-aggressive fish.
Staying in the open water a bit longer, a Rooster Tail is another great bait to use when the bass are keying on smaller baitfish around flats. Rooster Tails kind of came and went years ago in relation to most hard-core bass anglers’ tackle boxes. But these should still be staples in the box of any seasoned angler, and they’re fantastic lures for beginners.
The beauty of a Rooster Tail lies in its simplicity, as well as its effectiveness. You can simply tie this lure on, cast it out, and reel it in. And almost anything in the water will hit it. So it’s a great bait for keeping the attention of a young angler, as it will draw strikes from the bass that are schooling, but also from the white bass and stripers, as well.
Moving a little farther below the surface, an underpin is another great bait for catching bass as fall turns to winter. The bass will often pull back a bit from the banks and shallows as we move toward winter. They dip down into the ditches and suspend around points. Yo-yoing and slow-rolling 1/4-oz. underpins can work well to trigger strikes from these bass.
If the flash of the underspin is a bit much, you can also throw a small swimbait on a light jighead in these same places. These are great lures for fall fishing because—similar to the lipless, Scrounger and underspin—a single swimbait like this can be fished throughout the majority of the water column.
Now, although a large part of the shad and bass population will start to move back out of the shallows as winter comes along, there will still be a few bass that hang around the bank all the way until spawning time in the spring. And there are certainly some up shallow along the banks throughout the earlier parts of the fall, as well.
So it’s important to have a few smaller baits that work in these areas that you can more effectively fish around cover than the lipless cranks, spoons and other baits with open hooks. This is where a compact spinnerbait really shines. Spinnerbaits in the 1/4-oz. range have a nice small profile and flash that is just enough to show up and show out shallow in the late fall.
Choosing a more natural-colored skirt with strands of blue glimmer and transparent chartreuse paired with a couple small willowleaf blades is a great choice when the water is clearer or getting a green tint to it. And then as the early winter rains start to fall and the waters muddy a bit, it’s good to go with a more visible white skirt with a Colorado/willow combo or even a double Colorado setup.
Another great bait for fishing around rock and wood in the late fall is the miniature crankbait. These can be shallow-running squarebills or medium divers. The key is that the body has a smaller profile. The squarebills work best naturally around the shallower wood and rock, and the medium divers should be reserved for the ends of the treetops and the 45- degree banks.
It’s also a good idea to have a couple of smaller baits ready for action that aren’t shad imitators at all. For instance, a compact flipping jig like the Strike King Bitsy Flip or MISSILE Baits Mini Flip can work great when the bass are keying on smaller bait in the late fall but wanting a little variety in their diet after eating shad for months.
Pitching and flipping a 1/4-oz. jig like this paired with a trailer that has minimal action like the MISSILE Baits Baby D-Bomb gives you a great complimentary bait for shallow stumps, laydowns, docks and other cover.
For the open water and deeper banks, a Ned rig fills this gap nicely. Another bait meant more to mimic a crawfish or other small prey, a Ned rig works really well along the 45-degree banks, bluff walls, shallow points and deeper points when the bass are exhausted with the shad.
To recap, there are lots of small baits to choose from when it comes to fall fishing, and more than a few things to consider when selecting your bait. If you still think there’s a chance to get a bite on top, slow-rolling a 1/4-oz. buzzbait or gently walking a small popper along the surface will give you the best shot at capitalizing on this fading bite.
If the bass won’t quite commit to a topwater, a wakebait and a spoon are the next best things. Once bass get reluctant to enter that last foot of water beneath the surface, now it’s time to venture a little deeper. When fishing flats, a 1/4-oz. lipless or Rooster Tail will likely serve you well. If the bass are off the flats and in the ditches, you can try slow-rolling or yo-yoing the trap, or just swap over to a Scrounger or underspin. If they’re hanging right on the bottom, don’t be afraid to pick up a Ned rig.
Finally, if the bass are along the banks and around cover, you can lean pretty heavily on miniature crankbaits and compact spinnerbaits. If the shad imitators just aren’t doing it for them anymore, small jigs with simple trailers will typically do the trick.
Making your way through this progression, you’re sure to find some smaller bait that the bass will bite this fall. The overabundance of shad, fall turnover and cooling water temps can all slow the bite down. But thinking small in the fall is often all it takes to unlock their jaws.
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