Fishing for fall bass can be confusing. These fish migrate back into creeks this time of year, following schools of shad and feeding ravenously to build energy reserves for winter. But as the baitfish roam around, the bass do likewise, and finding and staying in the action can be mystifying for some anglers.
But not Pete Ponds of Madison, Miss. This Bassmaster Elite Series pro has a system for locating and catching fall bass. He replaces random fishing with an orderly approach to search out his quarry. Then when he finds them, he catches them with a strictly business efficiency. "I've had many days when I've boated 50 to 60 bass doing this," Ponds states. "It's a great method for some of the best action of the entire year."
"This" is crankbaiting shallow contour breaks in side pockets of major embayments. "These contour breaks are like underwater roadways for both baitfish and bass," Ponds explains. "They're where these fish travel, and they're also where the bass feed and where they hold when they're not feeding. So by following and working these shallow contour breaks, you concentrate on the high percentage areas where the fish should be, and you eliminate the random searching that throws a lot of anglers off."
Specifically, Ponds targets large secondary pockets (e.g., 200 acres in size) off the sides of major embayments. Such a pocket typically has a definable gully or creek channel that empties into the main creek. He starts fishing on the secondary point at the entrance of a pocket and works his way toward its back.Here's the key," Ponds stresses. "I concentrate on fishing the first contour break out from the bank. I'm not talking about the creek channel, but instead the first definable drop in water depth. For instance, the bottom may slope gently from the shoreline down to 4 feet at 50 yards out, then suddenly the depth may drop to 7 or 8 feet. This is the break I'm looking for. I'll get on this contour change and follow it with my electronics back into the pocket. As I do so, I work this break with a shallow running crankbait (such as a Bandit Flat Maxx), fancasting to both the shallow and deep sides of the break looking for bites."
Ponds continues, "The bass form little wolf packs this time of year. They stalk after the baitfish schools, and linger at certain places along these contour drops. So I'm just covering water and casting continuously to try to contact these wolf packs. When I do, it's not uncommon to catch eight to 10 fish quickly in one spot."
Actually, Ponds tries to initiate a feeding frenzy. "When I hook a fish, I'll drop a marker overboard immediately for a reference for where to make a repeat cast. When I catch one, I think the commotion excites others, and if I can get my bait back into the same spot quickly, I've got a good chance of getting another bite, and another.
"Then, when the bites finally quit coming, I'll lay the crankbait rod down and pick up a drop shot rig and work the spot some more," Ponds continues. "Sometimes this is a good way for picking up another extra bass or two when they get spooky (with) the crankbait."
Also, Ponds says the first fish of the day can provide important clues about where other schools of bass might be located. "How deep was he? Was he on a bend in the drop? Was he on the inside or outside of the bend? Was he holding on a stump or other piece of cover? Was there any surface activity? All these things go into determining the pattern for that given day."
Ponds adds, "I always wear my Costas (Costa Del Mar polarized sunglasses) to help me see underwater objects where bass might be hanging out. Any piece of wood or rock or anything else on that drop is a high-percentage target for catching a bass."Besides crankbaits, Ponds uses other baits/techniques when working these contour breaks. He keeps a Heddon Zara Spook and a Rebel Pop-R rigged and ready in case he sees surface activity. "I'm talking about both active surface feeding and little swirls or baitfish flips. If I see anything moving on the surface, I'll fire a topwater lure in there to see if I can get a taker."
Ponds bases his topwater selection on the size of the baitfish. If the predominant forage is large (i.e., blueback herring), he casts the Spook. If the baitfish are smaller (threadfin shad), he opts for the Pop-R.As he's working toward the back of the creek, Ponds keeps an eye out for lily pad stems and aquatic grass. "These are two very good cover types for holding bass this time of year," he explains. "Dying lily pads can be magnets for fall bass. I can't tell you how many times I've caught good fish by working points of dying lily pad beds with that Flat Maxx."
If he fishes to the back of a pocket without contacting fish, Ponds changes tactics. "Then I'll locate the actual creek channel with my electronics, and I'll start following it back out of the pocket. I'll work it basically the same way I did the contour drop coming in. I'll cast crankbaits and have my topwaters and drop shot rig in reserve."
Gear To Grab
Here are specifics on rods, reels and lines that Pete Ponds uses when fishing creek contour breaks in November.
Line for drop shot rig: 10-pound-test Vicious braid with an 8-pound-test Vicious fluorocarbon leader (rigged with a small Spro swivel and a 3/16-ounce Tru-Tungsten sinker)
When working shallow contour breaks with his Bandit Flat Maxx crankbait, Pete Ponds uses an erratic stop-go retrieve instead of a steady swimming action. "After making my cast, I'll retrieve the bait seven to eight reel turns, then I'll stop it for a couple of seconds," he explains. "Then I'll pop it, reel it five to six cranks and stop it again. I prefer this erratic retrieve over a steady retrieve. I've learned through experience that this triggers more reflex strikes from bass that are competing with other fish in the school for available baitfish."