Which way do I go?

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Steve Bowman

Every time we launch our boats, we face the question: Which way do I go? Well, this time of year, that question becomes even more complicated because of overlapping seasons.

For the next several weeks, a lot of lakes in the country will have some fish in their fall patterns and some moving into their winter patterns. Some people might view this as a limitation, but I’ve always considered it a great opportunity.

Let me explain this.

If I’m given the choice of what to fish, I’ll choose the winter pattern because it’s more predictable. The fish have reached where they’re going and will be there a while.

Fall patterns are usually more exciting because the fish are still on bait and they’re feeding aggressively. But they’re traveling; they’re coming out of the summer pattern and they’re constantly on the move.

You might have a great day in practice but then lose them the next day. It’s definitely a give-and-take scenario, but fall patterns can be really frustrating.

What’s happening right now is the exact opposite of what happens in the spring when the upper end of the lake warms first because it’s shallower and more influenced by the sun. So the backs of those creeks warm and then that warmth moves on down the lake and over that deep water.

A lot of guys are programmed to look for that warmer water in the spring, and they carry that over into the fall. But when I used to run that late fall/early winter patterns on the lakes near my home, there would be nobody up there on the upper end.

They’d see that 58- to 59-degree water down on the lower end, while I’d run to the upper end and fish that 48- to 49-degree water and you’d never see anybody. They were looking for more active fish, but what I was targeting was more predictable. It was basic wintertime fishing with jerkbaits, finesse jigs and crankbaits.

Now, I’m not going to say I won’t fish a fall pattern; I’ve actually had some great success doing that. But you have two different choices this time of year, and a person needs to stick with the one that A) they’re most comfortable with and B) the one they think is going to last, not only over one or two days, but for a few weeks. 

We always talk about staying in front of the fish, and I feel like if I fish that wintertime pattern, I’m fishing where they’re coming. Even though there are already fish in that area, there are probably more fish that are coming. If you’re fishing that fall feeding pattern, a lot of the fish are going away from you.

Sometimes, you can fish both patterns in one day, but you have to pay attention to the conditions. I can remember running to the upper end of the lake or the back ends of the big creeks to fish a wintertime pattern in the morning and then maybe midday or so I’d move down to the lower end where the water is still warmer and those fish are more aggressive.

It seems a lot of those fish will feed early in the morning and late in the afternoon, so I’ll run both of those patterns to get the most out of a day. 

A lot of guys may think that’s the opposite; they might think you should wait until the water on the upper end warms up a little bit. But once that cold water sets in, it’s there to stay through early spring.

So, as far as my bait choices for the winter pattern, I like a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce Booyah Finance jig with a YUM Craw Pappy, a Smithwick Rogue Perfect 10 and a Bandit 300 crankbait. I’ll also include that Bandit 300 if I’m fishing a fall pattern, but I’ll add a 1/2-ounce Booyah buzzbait and a 1/2-ounce double willow Booyah spinnerbait.

This is a diverse time of year, and I feel confident that this selection of baits will allow me to take advantage of whatever this overlapping season offers.