Shad Migration Means It’s Time To Run And Gun For Jackson Bass

Eric Perkins chases bait for fast-action October bass.

Walker Smith | September 26, 2012

In October, there’s a sense of urgency when Jackson local Eric Perkins hits the water. Because fall bass are always on the move following bait, he stays on the move also, fishing quickly and efficiently to find concentrations of bigger fish.

Lake Jackson is widely known throughout the state as a very good wintertime fishery. With multiple double-digit-class largemouths caught in the cooler months, Georgia anglers may lose sight of the great bass fishing Lake Jackson offers in other seasons of the year. As the water temperature begins to fall in October and the shad embark on their annual migration toward shallow water, Lake Jackson turns red-hot.

I recently hopped in the boat with well-respected Lake Jackson native and Net Boy Baits/Wackem Crazy Baits pro staffer Eric Perkins in order to get a taste of the “Jackson Experience.” A 30-year Lake Jackson veteran, Eric is the real deal. After hearing countless stories of the trophy-class fish the lake is famous for, I was pumped up and ready to go.

After meeting Eric at an Alcovy River boat ramp and partaking in the standard “fisherman’s greeting”—a quick name introduction and firm handshake followed by a long, drawn-out description of each party’s boat, any fancy new equipment, etc.—we were ready to jack some jaws.

As we idled away from the boat ramp, I was struck by Eric’s sense of urgency. Following a short run to a nearby concrete main-lake seawall, I quickly realized what the rush was all about. He prefers to spend the first few hours of daylight “running and gunning”—searching for large concentrations of shad and quality bass. Because autumn bass are always on the move, he fishes quickly and efficiently with multiple reaction baits, using each bite as a clue to determine where the bass are located.

With hundreds of shad busting the surface and chunky spotted bass blowing through the bait clouds, Eric explained the importance of effective time management when fishing a fall pattern.

For about the first hour of daylight, topwater can be productive on Jackson when running seawalls and into the creeks. But once that slows, Eric likes to go deeper in the water column with something like a square-billed crankbait or a jerkbait.

“This seawall is right on a long, tapering point that makes its way out into the river channel,” Eric said. “Both the spots and largemouths like to hang out at the ends of these points throughout the heat of the day—but in the morning, when the water is in the 70s, they move on top of the point to ambush these big balls of shad. This makes for a great opportunity to sack ’em up on a topwater plug. It usually lasts for about an hour on Jackson, so you have to hit your best stuff quickly.”

Excited by the mayhem happening just a few yards from the boat, I swiftly tied on a sexy-chartreuse-shad Lucky Craft Sammy and went to work. In the front of the boat, Eric was throwing a Foxy Momma Rebel Pop-R and the spotted bass couldn’t get enough of it. To get a feel for what the fish were wanting at that specific time, I studied Eric like a hawk.

Following a long, streamlined cast, he would “pop” the bait twice, let it sit for a few seconds, and start the cadence over again. The majority of his bites came while the bait was sitting still, which I thought was interesting.

“A Pop-R is most effective when fished slowly,” Eric said. “The initial surface disturbance gets their attention, and the occasional pause emulates an injured shad, which is an easy meal for a hungry bass.”

After watching Eric mop up on some smaller spotted bass, I finally got hooked up with one. Barely measuring 12 inches, the little guy was as mad as a hornet. If you’re a regular reader of my articles, you should know by now that if something can go wrong when I’m in the boat—it certainly will. As I swung the keeper spot into the boat, just as if it were planned, the darn thing fell off my Sammy and punctured my foot with its spiny dorsal fin. Just great—not even 30 minutes into the trip, and I was already bleeding like a stuck pig. Just my luck.

Not satisfied by the size fish we were catching, Eric decided to run across the lake and hit another main-lake point. On his third cast, it looked as if someone threw a cinderblock on top of his Pop-R. A huge bass blew up on his plug but unfortunately didn’t get hooked-up. Shrugging it off like the seasoned veteran that he is, Eric went back to fishing without skipping a beat. As we worked our way around the point, he was thinking aloud, allowing me insight into the very specific pattern he was focusing on.

“Every fall, the shad swarm toward the backs of creeks,” Eric said. “Of course, wherever the bait goes, the bass are sure to follow. Right now, we’re in the very early stages of the fall migration. The shad are positioned on primary points—the first stop on their travel route. There’s a little bit of bait toward the backs of creeks, but not enough yet to convince me to spend a lot of time there. As the water temperature continues to cool into the low 70s and high 60s, the shad will keep moving into the creeks. Their second stop will be on secondary points, followed by the back-creek flats. If you think this is fun, just wait a few weeks and you’ll have a blast.”

Following a few more short-strikes, our next plan of attack was to utilize a wide array of reaction baits, such as crankbaits and jerkbaits. With the bass’ primary fall forage being threadfin shad, almost anything that resembles a small shad will draw strikes. Eric prefers to start the day on top of the water column, while moving farther down the water column as the day progresses. If the bass aren’t eating your topwater plug, don’t assume they’re not there. Often times, simply focusing on a different depth can make all of the difference in the world.

“Crankbaits and jerkbaits are another great way to catch a lot of fish in the fall, especially during lowlight hours,” Eric said. “When the sun gets high, bass tend to position very tightly to structure to hide from the harsh sunlight. However, in early morning or overcast conditions, bass are more apt to roam around searching for food, which can make them easier to catch.”

As the wind began to pick up, Eric instinctively reached for his chartreuse-shad Lucky Craft Pointer—an extremely effectively jerkbait in windy conditions. When the wind churns up oxygen in the water, Eric finds this bait hard to beat.

“On Lake Jackson in the fall, it doesn’t matter if it’s sunny, cloudy or rainy—as long as you’ve got wind, the fish are going to eat a Pointer,” said Eric. “I focus mainly on red-clay knobs and secondary points in the 7- to 8-foot range. Even though it can be obnoxious, it’s best to cast into the wind. Bass will set up on these points facing into the wind, ambushing shad that are blown their way. If you present your bait in this natural manner, the bass will get a much better look at your bait, resulting in more strikes.”

Continuing our run-and-gun pattern, we knocked around the Alcovy River like a pinball, focusing heavily on the primary and secondary points of long creeks. Catching fish on a combination of Lucky Craft Pointers and Spro Little John crankbaits, we discussed the lay of the lake. With a lot of bass being released following tournaments at Berry’s Boat Dock, there are tons of healthy fish to be caught in the immediate area. One of Eric’s favorite places to fish on Lake Jackson is Connelly Ditch.

“Connelly Ditch is really an awesome place to fish,” Eric said. “While it does get pressured at times, it’s for good reason. It has every type of cover you could imagine—docks, rocks, stumps, clay banks—there’s a type of cover for every situation you could imagine. I’ve caught some absolute toads in this area, but you do have to deal with increased fishing pressure occasionally. Honestly, anywhere from the powerlines up to the Alcovy shoals is probably the best place to be this time of year. I don’t spend much time anywhere else.”

In tough conditions, flipping a jig to docks and wood cover is a good fall-back tactic if you’re hunting a big fish.

As the sun got brighter and the wind died down, the bite got a little tougher for us. In order to combat the tough conditions, Eric made the decision to flip soft plastics for the rest of the day. Because the calm, sunny conditions were making the bass a little more hesitant to aggressively chase shad, Eric knew they would hunker down into their early autumn dwellings.

“I think we’re really going to have to slow down in order to have a chance at catching a big one,” Eric said. “Early fall can be very tough as the bass are in their awkward fall transition period. We need to stay focused on primary and secondary points like we have been all day, except we won’t be fan casting and covering as much water. I want to find any floating docks, blowdowns or stumps near points and pick them apart.”

When it comes to flipping soft plastics, Eric has a lot of confidence in a few very specific baits. If conditions call for a jig, he opts for a 1/2-oz. Net Boy Baits Flipp’n Jig or a 7/16-oz. Net Boy Baits Finesse Jig, as the hand-tied collars and Mustad hooks assure a great presentation and solid hookset. If a soft-plastic bait is necessary, he prefers a Wackem Crazy Baits Tater Bug.

“Lake Jackson fish are known to be finicky, but they consistently eat the Net Boy Baits jig and the Tater Bug,” Eric said. “The big flare of the jig and the floating claws of the Tater Bug resemble a crawfish in a defensive posture, and I really believe that is what they key in on. If you flip those two baits on Jackson, you are going to catch more fish.”

Boy, was he right—as he skipped the jig underneath the walkway of the first dock, I heard the distinctive sound of heavy line hissing through the water. As he swung a 2-pounder into the boat, Eric couldn’t help but grin. A few docks later, still concentrating on points, we caught a few smaller fish on both the Tater Bug and the Net Boy Baits jig. Almost as if the big ones were camera shy, we just couldn’t get that kicker bite.

Although the tough conditions forced us to fish a little slower than Eric would have liked, he also mentioned another key pattern that has produced some huge fall fish for him in the past years—lipless crankbaits on rocks.

“The Spro Aruku Shad will absolutely wear them out in October,” Eric said. “The bite isn’t quite happening yet, but it should be on fire by October. I love to fish them on chunk-rock banks leading toward points and have caught some monsters doing that.”

While the Aruku Shad can prove quite effective throughout the fall months, it is always important to “match the hatch.” Pay very close attention to the size of the shad in your area, and be sure to throw something that is approximately the same size. For instance, if the shad are small—you need to be throwing a 1/4-oz. version, while bigger forage calls for the larger 1/2-oz. version. With millions of live shad to choose from throughout the fall, seemingly insignificant changes in your presentation can make a huge difference in your success.

The earliest stages of the fall season can be some of the toughest fishing of the year, and Eric and I experienced this first-hand. With the fish being in a constant state of flux during this time, it can be quite difficult to pinpoint their exact location and behavior. While the fishing was a little slow for us, we saw some encouraging signs that proved to Eric that the big ones are on their way shallow.

Make no mistake about it—Jackson will be on fire in October, and the huge quantities of shallow fish can provide an unforgettable day on the water. You never know, you just might be the next to land a Jackson giant.

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