Art Ferguson isn't the kind of guy who is prone to making proclamations.
But there is one fishing situation about which the two time BASS winner from Michigan harbors some strong feelings.
"The biggest myth about fall fishing is that you have to fish deep," states Ferguson, who guides on lakes St. Clair and Erie in Michigan, as well as Florida's Lake Okeechobee. "In late fall, when it starts getting real cold up here in the North and the water starts getting into the 50s and 40s, I've always read that you had to go real deep and slow down for the fish. But that's not always the case.
"I've had some of my best fishing in late fall in 5 to 10 feet of water."
The four time Classic qualifier can provide undisputed evidence to support his contention — his CITGO Bassmaster Eastern Open performance on New York's Lake Oneida. He followed his own advice to win that event with 10 smallmouth weighing 32 pounds, 9 ounces.
"The Oneida tournament was a prime example," he continues. "A lot of guys fishing for smallmouth were concentrating on deep water. I watched them. But I found better concentrations of fish in less than 10 feet.
"I think a lot of fishermen think they have to go deep in late fall. A lot of guys believe they have to keep looking deeper, deeper and deeper, using a jigging spoon and stuff like that. But I've had some of my best success inside the grass or on the edges."
Where the grass is greener
Ferguson starts thinking about his fall patterns in early October when he's up north, which marks when the grass begins to die off in the deeper water. "That starts kicking out carbon dioxide, and the oxygen content gets worse. That's why the fish start moving shallower, because there is a lot less cover out in the deeper water," Ferguson suggests.
"Plus, the cover that's out there is no longer producing oxygen, which also pushes the baitfish up shallower," the pro believes. This is why you see less shad out in the middle of a reservoir and more in the shallows.
During this time, Ferguson targets the greenest, freshest patches of vegetation still available for both largemouth and smallmouth, with a fast moving spinnerbait, crankbait or lipless crankbait. In his Lake Oneida victory, he located productive spots with a shallow running Bandit 200 Series crankbait and then slowed down to work them over with a Yamamoto Spider Grub and Mizmo tube.
"When dealing with grass during that time of year, it's not so much where, but what you're fishing," he notes. "It's more a matter of finding the greener patches of grass. I'm looking for grass that's still alive. That doesn't mean any particular areas. It's a matter of finding that green grass."
Two time BASS winner and Louisiana guide Homer Humphreys is another fan of shallow vegetation in late fall. On lakes like Toledo Bend, Humphreys focuses on well-defined grass points created by hydrilla beds on shallow flats located near deeper water (such as a channel edge).
"During that time, you don't have to fish over 2 to 5 feet deep to produce some big-headed fish," he says. "The fish will set up on a point of grass and live in that area throughout the fall. They'll move along that flat to feed.
"Whole schools of fish will sit up on that one point of a grassbed. On Toledo, I've caught as many as 17 fish off one point of grass that came all the way out to the tip of a channel. You can catch great numbers with this pattern of running the points — as many as 45 to 50 fish a day on Toledo in the fall."
Most of Humphreys' success during this period comes with either a buzzbait or 3/8-ounce chartreuse or white Intimidator spinnerbait sporting No. 4 1/2 willowleaf and No. 2 Colorado (nickel and gold) blades. Both are worked relatively slow through the shallow vegetation. When the bass are especially active, Humphreys switches to a lipless crankbait or shallow running Divin' Ace crankbait fished across the top of the weeds or along the outside edges of the point.
"Running these grass points is one of the most reliable patterns of all in the fall of the year," he believes.
Swindle on isolated shallow cover
CovPrime shallow water action in the late fall is not confined to weedy situations.
During mild late fall seasons, 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle scores consistently on a 1/8-ounce War Eagle buzzbait fished around isolated cover on flats in 4 feet of water or less.
"I like shallow flats during this time, whether it be on the main lake or in a creek," the Alabama pro advises. "If I find a big flat in a creek that has isolated cover, I'll fish it. I'm just looking for one or two logs out there, and I'll make repeated casts to them. That's a pattern where you're not going to catch 100, but it's a great option for a competitive fisherman because you can pick up a couple of good fish a day."
Howell on finding the packs
Transplanted North Carolinian Randy Howell, now living in Alabama, has enjoyed some outstanding action as late as December on lakes Gaston, Kerr, Norman and Lanier. He describes his pattern as "sight fishing for little wolfpacks of largemouth" in clear water pockets with little cover.
"I think they're bunching up and just cruising the shallows, waiting to move out to the deeper water when it gets colder," Howell says. "They're just kind of ganging up and waiting to move out. All of a sudden, six or seven 3- and
4-pounders will come up swimming in a little school down the bank for no reason at all. There are no baitfish there. And you can really catch them with something like a floating worm or Berkley Jerk Shad."
Stone on staying shallow
Marty Stone sees good reason to stay shallow through late fall.
"I'm going to stay shallow because invariably all of our fall tournaments are won shallow somehow, someway," the North Carolina pro confirms. "You can catch them shallow until the baitfish leave. When the baitfish migrate back out to the main lake, that's when it stops."
Stone's top two tactics include cranking a shallow running Lucky Craft CB100 in the back third of off-colored creeks (where he theorizes that resident bass have seen "tons of jigs and spinnerbaits") and waking a silver-skirted 3/8-ounce Gambler Pro Series spinnerbait with tandem silver willowleaf blades through clear water flats on the main lake.
To enable his spinnerbait to be retrieved briskly along the top without its blades breaking the surface, the two time BASS winner adds a 1/4-ounce Lunker City Belly Weight to its hook shank. The modification allows him to use a small profile spinnerbait.
"If I can ever get a combination of wind, rain and clouds to go with that clear water, that's the way to catch a really big sack in the fall," he adds. "When you get those conditions, they move to the bank to feed. Even on a bright, bluebird sunny day, it will happen first thing in the morning and late in the afternoon."
Jens on structure
Noted Alabama guide Troy Jens (telephone 256-534-8657), who guides on lakes Guntersville, Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick, thinks shallow throughout the fall when he's aiming for roaming schools of big bass. His tool of choice is a royal-shad colored 1/2-ounce Cordell Super Spot lipless crankbait that proves its versatility in a variety of situations.
"On lakes with grass, I target the ends of shallow humps and points or look for cuts or pockets in the grass where baitfish are schooled up," Jens explains. "On lakes with no grass, I look for the shallowest pockets I can find, and usually pockets or creeks with some current flowing into the back are best.
"Even when the water temps dip into the upper 40s, the shallow bite can be very active. Two to 5 feet is my target range, and over the years I've been surprised to discover that bass don't really slow down much under these conditions. I've had bass knock slack in the line many times while I was working baits fast over the shallow flats. The fish will dictate the speed of my retrieve, but I usually don't slow down until the water temps get near 40 degrees or below."
Evers on retrieves
Edwin Evers agrees with that approach. As the cold temperatures of winter advance, the four time Classic contender from Oklahoma targets drains and similar bottom contour features in hydrilla-laden lakes, like Sam Rayburn in east Texas, with a 1/2-ounce bleeding shiner or shad-pattern lipless crankbait.
Two types of retrieves usually produce during this time of year: ticking the top of the submerged vegetation or ripping it through sparse grass edges near the surface.
Four great fall lakes
Lake Ontario/St. Lawrence River, N.Y. This area combines perhaps the best smallmouth fishery in the country with an underutilized largemouth population that would rival the better lakes in America. High points include: lack of fishing pressure and plenty of water; impressive numbers of 2- to 4-pound largemouth and smallmouth; soft plastic jerkbaits, grubs or spinnerbaits fished along any spot where rock mixes with vegetation will catch both species.
Kentucky Lake, Ky./Tenn. This fall fishery has the potential to rival any in the country. High points include: outstanding largemouth fishing with bass up to 9 1/2 pounds combined with a burgeoning smallmouth fishery; good buzzbait, topwater, worm and spinnerbait fishing back in the creeks and bays around isolated clumps of vegetation.
Lake Seminole, Fla./Ga. Seminole has plenty of hydrilla that harbors a huge number of 4- to 7-pound bass that are especially active in the fall. High points include: Deep water patterns really shine as a Carolina rigged lizard worked around outside grass edges (10 to 14 feet) will produce consistently.
Lake Champlain, N.Y./Vt. This great northern largemouth and smallmouth haven gets little sophisticated pressure. Highlights include: sixth-largest lake in America that harbors incredible populations of both species; largemouth fishing heats up as the fish feed heavily in preparation for winter, and will fall victim to any fast moving lure (particularly a topwater plug); smallmouth will be found on the deeper rocky reefs and points where a small crankbait, grub or tube jig can quickly catch a boatload.
Tim Tucker's Bass SessionsTM 2005 covers the national tournament scene on the Web at www.timtuckeroutdoors.com.