You don't need a lake map or depthfinder to find one of bass fishing's most reliable types of cover. Simply scan the shoreline and look for fallen trees.No matter what you call them — laydowns, blowdowns or windfalls — these targets always seem to deliver strikes, even though they remain one of the most heavily pressured targets on a river or reservoir. In short, they rank high on the "most reliable" lists of even the best fishermen in the nation.For example, windfalls often figure heavily into the game plan of Texas pro Alton Jones, an Elite Series angler who has qualified for nine Bassmaster Classics. Fishing windfalls produced his first Bassmaster victory in May 1997 during a Top 100 event at Alabama's Lake Neely Henry.
The bass were mainly in a postspawn mode, according to Jones. And he vividly remembers making a daily milk run of all the fallen trees that were located in the reservoir's shallow backwaters. The trees replenished each day, and Jones picked off 43 pounds, 11 ounces. His primary patterns consisted of pitching a craw worm."Windfalls produce bass year-round," Jones said. "But you have to fish the ones that match the season."
In the springtime, Jones keys on windfalls in the backs of shallow spawning pockets. The water here warms first, and bass love to make beds next to windfalls.When bass move to their summer haunts, Jones hits windfalls in the major tributaries, and on main lake banks that extend into flats or points. The windfalls on these shorelines must have at least 2 feet of water covering them or they won't be as reliable, he emphasized. Once the autumn months usher in cooler temperatures, Jones returns to the backs of creeks and in tributaries when shad move up from deep water. The bass follow their forage and use windfalls as ambush points.Windfalls on bluff and creek channel banks yield bass to Jones in the winter, because the bass need access to deep water at that time. The best windfalls are on the main lake and in the lower halves of creek arms.In other words, this cover can be a year-round proposition to the serious bass fisherman.
Any tree that has fallen into the water represents quality cover for both baitfish and bass. But only a few can be classified as primary cover. Several factors might explain this phenomenon, according to Jones.
"The longer a windfall has been there, the better. You'll have a population of bass that are in the habit of going to that tree when they're ready for a meal."Even more important to Jones than the windfall's age is its location. The best windfalls are the most isolated. In other words, he would "rather fish one windfall on a mile-long stretch of bank than have a mile-long stretch of windfalls."The reason that isolated windfalls are more attractive to him relates to basic human nature. A jungle of laydowns appears to be an ideal situation. But this scenario turns bass fishing into a needle-in-a-haystack venture. By contrast, an isolated windfall typically receives less fishing pressure because most anglers aren't willing to stop to fish one piece of cover.
The Milk Run
"A milk run of isolated windfalls is one of my favorite patterns," Jones explained. "If I catch a good fish out of a tree, I might come back to it five times in one day. A lot of times it will produce more fish."Such a milk run earned Jones a 17th place finish at a Bassmaster Elite tournament on the Potomac River in August last year. He collected a check with a total creel weighing 37 1/2 pounds by pitching a Yum Wooly Bug (green pumpkin) with a 1/4-ounce sinker to windfalls with 50-pound braided line. He incorporated a 4-foot leader of 20-pound-test Silver Thread fluorocarbon to retain line strength while targeting the heavy cover.Jones stressed that you should always cast back to a windfall after catching a bass from it. He believes you'll often nab another. In fact, he emphasized that he has often caught limits of bass from one windfall without ever moving the boat.
A 3/8- or 1/2-ounce black and blue Booyah Jig is Jones' favorite windfall bait. He dresses the hook with a Yum 3 1/4-inch Craw Papi, which features wild, flapping pinchers. The Yum Wooly Bug is his No. 1 soft plastic bait for Texas rigging. He adds a Yum Dinger and a Yum Tube to his arsenal during the spawning season.Other key players include a Booyah 3/8- or 1/2-ounce spinnerbait (chartreuse/white) with a Colorado blade leading a willowleaf blade, and a 1/3-ounce firetiger Cordell Big O."The Big O is simply one of the best crankbaits I've ever used around wood," Jones added.
Dissecting A Windfall
Jones first probes a windfall with a spinnerbait and crankbait by running these lures parallel down the length of the tree trunk. Then he moves closer and works a jig or a soft plastic bait rigged Texas style into the darkest shadows. The bass might prefer one bait and presentation over the others, or it may take a combination of baits to extract them.
"I try to pick off the outer fish first," Jones said. "If you start out by pitching into the heart of the cover and catch a bass, you'll spook the rest of them."When the spawn begins, which it will in some parts of the country this month, Jones stays farther back from his favorite targets and "blind casts" a tube or an unweighted Yum Dinger to bedding bass that he assumes are there.On the second day of a major tournament at stingy Beaver Lake in Arkansas several years ago, he once caught two 4-pound bass this way — a "windfall" by any angler's definition.