You probably don’t wander to your refrigerator just for the fun of it. You do it because you’re hungry and know there’s food there.
Fish are no different.
Outside of the spawn, fish are most concerned with finding food. As anglers, we often focus on the species we are chasing, but sometimes we forget they are also chasing something. We follow the bass, but the bass follow the baitfish. Baitfish must eat, too, and understanding baitfish feeding habits is key in the fall.
Why so shallow?
Regardless of the fishery, you may have noticed that come fall, banks and shallow areas are loaded with baitfish. In some southern reservoirs, the backs of creeks can get so full of baitfish the water turns black and it seems like you could walk across the top of the water on the backs of shad.
Shad are mostly filter feeders that eat primarily phytoplankton and zooplankton, often traveling many miles in search of plankton-rich water. Early in the year, as rains and runoff bring nutrients into the lake, sunlight and warming water temperatures cause plankton blooms out in open water.
Yet, as summer gives way to fall, main-lake water temperatures decline and nutrients get depleted. Thus, plankton growth in the main-lake declines, too. Fortunately, shallow creeks and other areas can warm quickly, allowing the plankton bloom to continue.
And where the plankton are, the shad will be also. Shad schools, which may include larger older fish from previous years and small juvenile shad that were spawned in late summer, migrate into these shallow areas in search of food.
Nowhere to hide
During the summer, shad and bass basically have free reign to roam every inch of a lake or pond. That gives them plenty of places to hide from one another and from anglers. But once they both go shallow, the game of hide and seek is over.
Suddenly, shad populations get condensed into small, very obvious locations, with bass following suit. It’s like taking fish out of a lake and putting them in a barrel, and we’ve all heard how easy it is to shoot (actually catch) fish in a barrel.
This is prime time to catch both numbers and personal bests, as bass look to gorge up on the easy pickings in preparation for the winter months. Simply look around the shallowest areas for bait – you’ll be able to see them swimming or flickering the surface in the shallow water – and then employ a couple favorite techniques.
With fish often being in inches of water, topwaters are king. Plus, you can cover water quickly with either a walking or tail-spinning topwater to maximize efficiency.
If the fish are a bit reluctant to grab the topwater, a soft-plastic jerkbait will often lure them to bite. Or, use it as a follow-up bait when a bass misses the topwater.
If the shallow area has a clean bottom (meaning less vegetation, dead leaves etc. to catch on your treble hooks), a squarebill crankbait can get reaction bites from fish that may already be too stuffed from gorging on shad.