Follow the bait into fall


James Overstreet

Regardless of where you fish, this is the time of year you need to start paying close attention to where the bait is and what it’s doing.

We are starting to see weather changes over most of the country, and the bass are starting to focus on baitfish.

It happens on northern natural lakes as well as reservoirs; it might a bit premature for those Deep South lakes, but it will happen before you know it.

Baitfish always is a staple for hungry bass but there are times when they are dialed in on crawfish or other aquatic creatures.

However, when the nights start to cool and water temperatures start dropping below summertime highs, or a noticeable cold front passes with a big storm with a lot of rain, the baitfish begin transitioning to fall movements and the bass notice that.

That weather change sends cooler water into the creeks and the shad begin their movement toward those areas.

Watch for pods of minnows schooling near the surface, shad flipping on top or note if gulls are dive bombing areas of the lake. Blue herons will offer another clue; you might see multiple herons sitting on points or in the back of creeks, especially early and late in the day. Those are all signs that bait is in the area.

On natural lakes, pay attention for pods of bluegills transitioning from the bottom to closer to the surface. It doesn’t mean the bass have gone shallow but they will be following and repositioning differently.

Those natural lake bass may spend their summers on deep weed edges, rocks or shoals, but when the baitfish transitions, they may be on top of the grass or suspended around deep humps. Oftentimes, those bass are feeding up, not on the bottom.

When you start seeing this, it’s time to transition your lures and presentations, too. You might want to forgo those bottom bouncing baits and consider mid-range presentations with baits like spinnerbaits, mid-range crankbaits and topwaters. Jerkbaits – especially deep runners – often get overlooked this time of year, but they can be a real player when the bass are dialed in on bait.

As fall progresses in reservoir systems, the shad are drawn into the back of stained creeks where the bass will get really shallow around cover. That’s where you can catch them on square bill crankbaits, buzzbaits and spinnerbaits.

So, as you head onto your favorite lake in the coming days, start looking for the bait and consider how the bass might be transitioning to take advantage of it. If your standard summer presentations aren’t doing the job, make the necessary adjustments and begin thinking fall.

And of course, remember it’s all about the attitude!

Kevin VanDam's column appears weekly on You can also find him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.