The fall turnover dilemma

It’s been a busy week. I just finished up the Strike King Media Conference that started while I was fishing the Toyota Texas Bass Classic on Lake Conroe.

It was a marathon trip. I drove from Michigan to Conroe late last week then made it into the Classic finals on Sunday. As soon as the tournament ended, I drove 14 hours to get to Paris, Tenn., for the media event the next day.

The drive gave me a chance to reflect on an experience I encountered at the Texas tournament that I’ve never seen in all my years of bass fishing.

The weather had been hot all week. It was 90 degrees and very little wind for the first two days of the tournament. It was typical summer pattern with stable conditions.

I was fishing offshore structure with crankbaits, hitting a lot of deep brushpiles and doing quite well. I was in third place going into the last day.

However, the weather changed. There was a tropical depression in the Gulf and a front crashed in on us overnight from the north. The cold, north wind blew hard all night.

When the tournament started the next morning and I got to my first spot, I noticed that the water temperature had dropped 10 degrees! I found that odd since it hadn’t gotten that cold over night.

I quickly lost two on crankbaits and had two pull off of jigs, so I lost the first four bites I had. I also noticed the fish were not as aggressive as they had been.

So I was trying to figure out what was going on and was assuming it had something to do with the fronts coming through.

About 11 o’clock, the sun came out enough that I could see that the water color was a different than what it had been. It was a dirty brown instead of green as it was the previous day.

I ran to some short creeks off the main lake and they were the same brown color.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that, with the wind blowing hard all night and the sudden drop in water temperature, the lake had turned over during the night!

I’m quite familiar with lake turnover, but I have never seen it happen so abruptly.

The turnover is a fall phenomena that occurs when previously warm surface water cools rapidly and sinks, mixing with colder water beneath it. One tell-tale sign is a change in water color, but you will also notice bottom gunk coming to the surface. It usually happens gradually, but in this instance, it was overnight.

It’s quite a shock to the fish in the lake and it takes a few days for them to recover. When it happens on reservoirs, I go into the backs of larger creeks and look for areas that are least affected by the wind. I was able to do that at Conroe and find a few shallow areas with greener water and catch a few bass.

That’s the best strategy for catching bass during the turnover; fish close to cover with reaction baits on the shallowest, flattest areas. If the water is stained, I will fish square bill crankbaits or even buzzbaits with an erratic presentation. On northern lakes and if the water is clear, I’ll fish jerkbaits around shallow patches of grass or milfoil beds.

The key is to use baits that work the strike zone longer and try to trigger the bites.

Eventually, the fish will recover and begin feeding aggressively again. The first day is the toughest, but it’s usually over in a week. Once things settle down, the bass get extremely aggressive and resume feeding up prior to winter.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

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

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