Signs of fall migration

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Kevin VanDam

Kevin VanDam

In the world of professional bass fishing, Kevin VanDam is at the pinnacle and arguably the best in the world.

Labor Day weekend in Michigan signals the end of summer for many people who already are putting away boats, taking out docks and preparing for winter.

The lakes are emptying fast even though we’re coming off a week of 90-degree weather and balmy days.

Football season is underway, hunting seasons are opening, kids are in school and people have other things to do. That translates to less fishing pressure on the water.

It still amazes me, but it’s good news to fishermen because early September also signals the beginning of a very good fishing season.

It’s no different than what occurs in other parts of the country; it just happens later in warmer weather climates.

I’m not saying the fall fishing season is in full swing, but it is beginning in the north. Despite the hot weather, bass and baitfish are beginning to make that move. While we put a lot of emphasis on water temperature, the fish use shorter days as a signal to start that fall transition. That’s what triggers Mother Nature’s time clock.

That clock impacts the primary forage in each lake, north or south, and dictates what the bass will do. In the south, shad start migrating toward tributaries and the bass respond by following them.

In the north its perch and bluegills that are gathering in large schools on or very close to shallow water.

Water clarity determines how fast the shad and bass move into creeks. The more stained the water, the sooner that transition takes place.

You know it’s on when you see shad flicking on top and herons perched in backs of creeks.

For example, I just came back from Table Rock in Missouri where the main lake is clear. It was 90 degrees outside and the water temp was in the 80s, yet bait was already giving in the backs of tributaries that have more color.

The more I fished, the more obvious it became that it was happening. You could put the trolling motor on high and see shad running away from your spinnerbait when you pulled it through the shallows. I could run from creek to creek and catch a handful of bass in each one.

Now’s when electronics and polarized sunglasses become key tools in your arsenal, especially in northern lakes, where you can go to the edge of a dropoff or grassline and use those tools to see the bait.

For example, I was on a northern Michigan lake last week and saw clouds of bait suspended near the surface close to the dropoffs adjacent to flats.

When I saw that, I caught bass.

So my point is this: The sooner you can find schools of bait, you’ll find some bass and those predator numbers will grow as fall progresses.

One exception can occur on river-run lakes like Kentucky Lake where bait is everywhere. You can find shad on river ledges, flats and far back in creeks. In that situation, you have to hunt for the best types of structures that are holding quantities of bait.

Since most bass in river-run lakes utilize current to wash shad to them, they stay on river ledges and main lake areas longer and don’t transition to backs of creeks as quickly. Keep that in mind.

There are always fish in multiple stages this time of year, but generally speaking, the easy bass are the shallow ones hanging around bait in stained water and around cover.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

Kevin VanDam's column appears weekly on Bassmaster.com. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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