The following appears in the October issue of California Sportsman:
By Mark Fong
The fall season is one of the most productive times to fish for bass. I love fishing this time of year because as the days get shorter and the water temperatures decline, the fish take these as clear signals that winter is approaching.
The resulting fall feeding frenzy is a time when the fish are aggressively packing on weight in preparation for the coldwater period. During this time, there are many effective ways to target bass, including topwaters, jerkbaits and lipless vibrating crankbaits. However, my favorite way to catch autumn bass is with a spoon.
When I first started fishing for bass, I was primarily a bank fisherman. In the fall I would put my boat on the bank and chuck and wind all day. I’d throw topwaters, crankbaits and hollow-body swimbaits. This is a textbook approach for targeting fall bass and it can be very effective, but somewhere along the way I discovered that there was a large population of less-pressured and very catchable fish living offshore.
FIND THE BAIT
The key to fall fishing, whether you elect to fish shallow or deep, is to locate the baitfish. Here in Northern California, that means either shad or pond smelt. If you are working shallow, your eyes are your primary tool to spot signs of baitfish activity, but if you elect to fish deep, your marine electronics are the key to finding the bait.
Even before I make a single cast, I will use my electronics to search for schools of bait. I’ll concentrate on high-percentage areas like creek channels, bluff walls, submerged islands and sharp dropoffs on the edges of a flat or a long, sloping point. Even though I may find balls of bait, it doesn’t mean that I will stop and fish them. The key is to locate the right combination of bait and active bass. I routinely target fish in 30 to 50 feet of water, sometimes suspended over deeper water. Last fall, one of my most productive areas on Lake Oroville was a deep, 80-foot timber-filled main-lake dropoff. The fish would suspend slightly above the timber in 60 feet as they gorged themselves on swarms of pond smelt.
Once I find the right mix of bait and bass, I will use my electric trolling motor to position the boat. From there I can make either a straight vertical drop or a short pitch with my spoon – all the while watching the screen of my electronics. The advent of live forward-facing sonar has made spooning for bass a true real-time video game. As the spoon falls, I will carefully track it on my graph.
Bass will almost always strike a spoon on the fall. It’s commonplace to see a hungry bass streak toward my spoon as it falls. If I don’t get a bite on the initial fall, I work the spoon in a jigging fashion and impart a short vertical snap of the rod to propel the spoon upward, and then lower the rod tip on a controlled slackline. This allows the spoon to fall with a tantalizing fluttering action.
A strike can vary from a sense of lost connection with the spoon to a bone-jarring bite. A lot of times the rod will just load when I begin the upstroke. When this happens, it’s time to set the hook. When the fish get on a spoon bite, there is nothing that will catch them quicker or more efficiently than a spoon.
Spoons come in all kinds of different shapes and profiles. My go-to spoons are made by Blade Runner Tackle. Normally, I like to start with a 1.75-ounce spoon; it mimics a dying baitfish to perfection. If the baitfish are smaller or the fish won’t react to the big spoon, I’ll downsize to a .75-ounce spoon instead.
My favorite color by far is UV morning dawn, a pinkish purple with a UV coating, but pearl white and black shad are great options as well.
I like to fish jigging spoons with a 7-foot parabolic medium/heavy-action casting rod and a 200-series casting reel. For years I used straight 20-pound monofilament, but today I have a preference for 50-pound FINS Braid with a short top-shot leader of 20-pound monofilament.
If you’ve never fished a spoon for bass in deep water, there is no better time than right now. You just might be surprised to find what lurks in the depths. CS