South Carolina’s Michael Murphy has a history as a top level tournament angler and also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences from Purdue University. This combination of tournament experience and scientific knowledge gives him a unique outlook on the changing seasons and their effects on the locations of bass during the different seasons. Here he shares his knowledge on bass locations during the fall, both from a biologist’s perspective as well as fisherman’s point of view.
The water temperature is usually a big indicator of crawfish and bass activity, yet Michael Murphy believes that during late fall and early winter, bass are more in tune with the length of daylight. The length of day has a major impact on crawfish, which in turn affects the way bass react and where they will be located. According to Murphy, crawfish are most active during days that are in between 12 to 14 hours of daylight and this is when they will begin to burrow into the ground. This time period will naturally vary based on the geographic location of the lake, and will continue to evolve as the seasons transform, but is a good indicator of where you should be fishing. If you are out fishing during this period, Murphy advises to look for transition points that will hold active crawfish. “One of my favorite patterns this time of year is what I call the ‘brown dirt pattern’ and it’s basically to run the lake and look for areas where rock transitions into dirt. This is where a large amount of crawfish will congregate to burrow and the bass won’t be far behind them,” says Murphy. He adds that any transition point, whether its rock to clay, gravel to sand or any other combination in bottom composition will be your best bet for fall bass. Although as the length of the day changes, so does the attention of predatory fish like the bass.
Up a Creek
Once the length of day shortens to 11 hours, the bass will change their focus to baitfish. Typically it will be shad, but in northern locations it might be another schooling forage fish such as alewives. Regardless of the location, bass will naturally switch their diet to baitfish during this time of year to adjust with what is more readily available to them. One of the best fall fishing locations is fishing up a creek. Baitfish like shad will migrate to the backs of creeks. Murphy will switch to crankbaits, jerkbaits and grubs to better imitate a baitfish as the bass change their diet to adjust with the changing seasons.
The Drawdown Period
The drawdown period happens in many lakes across the country during this time of year. Some lakes are brought down to winter levels and others are lower because there is less rain; both of these causes will contribute to a change in location for bass. Many anglers feel that as the water drops, the fish automatically follow the water out with it to deeper water on the main lake. While this can happen, the migration of shad up the creek will have an opposite effect and Murphy believes it can sometimes create a perfect combination for fall bass fishing. “When the lake lowers you have many of the resident fish that will move out of the shallowest water due to the lowering water, but at the same time you have many fish that are in deeper locations moving up following the shad. What you end up having in some of these creeks is a much larger congregation of bass in a smaller area and they are going to be much more competitive,” says Murphy. He likes to focus on specific areas in creeks like creek bends, rock transitions and points as likely areas that will congregate both baitfish and bass.
It’s Always Pre-Spawn
Murphy theorizes that the biggest bass will typically stay close to spawning areas even in the middle of the winter. In his experience, the largest fish will usually be in areas that may be only 100 yards from where they will spawn during the spring. “The biggest fish are usually fat and lazy and will be close to where they spawn all year long if they can get away with it. As long as they have access to deeper and shallower water and have forage close by, there is no reason for them to go anywhere,” says Murphy. He adds that it is possible that the biggest fish stay in one general area for most of their lives as long as all of the conditions are right. He prefers late season fishing for the bigger fish because, “Bass in the fall are not affected as easily by water temperature as they are during the spring. They are much more sensitive and temperamental closer to the spawn, where in the colder months all they want to do is eat,” adds Murphy. Two of the South Carolina pro’s favorite cold water locations are secondary points and ditches that are close to both shallow and deep water.
One of Murphy’s favorite baits this time of year is a finesse jig. Common thinking is that smaller baits and a more finesse approach are better suited for cold water. This is true, but the science behind it is what makes it a better choice. “When the days get shorter and the crawfish start to hibernate, the bass will key on baitfish, but not all crawfish will go into the ground. The juvenile crawfish will often just hide behind rocks and stay out the entire year.” There are also certain lakes, like Table Rock in Missouri where most of the crawfish will not burrow at all. On lakes in this region, in addition to baitfish matching lures, he will not forget about the finesse jig as a way to catch late season bass.
Fall can be one of the most rewarding times of year to fish. Many anglers are busy hunting and the lakes are usually devoid of water skiers and pleasure boaters. Following Michael Murphy’s tried and true bass locations during the fall can help ensure that your trip is a most rewarding one.