I’m not exactly a freshwater bass expert and don’t spend many days chasing them, which is probably why I like to fish for them in the fall. Both largemouths and smallmouths put the feedbag on in October and can be easy to catch, especially from the kayak.
October is one of the best months to be on the water in New England. Between the comfortable temperatures and the beautiful scenery, it is tough to beat the experience of kayaking right now! I like to get to my fishing spots early so that I can rig up and be on the water before the sun rises. That magical time between first light and sunrise is extra special. Being quiet in a kayak lets me see much more of nature than boaters do, and, without a motor, the wildlife doesn’t get spooked off. When fishing rivers and ponds around Boston, I often see deer in the fields and the occasional bald eagle soaring overhead.
As October wears on, both the water and air temperatures become noticeably colder so pay close attention to the forecasts. Dry gear with layers is important and make sure to be dressed for the water temperature – contact with cold water will quickly shorten your day!
Bass are more active during the middle of the day once the cold nights arrive. Sometimes, the morning bite is very quiet because the water is cold, but as the sun warms it, the bite turns on. My favorite time to fish in the fall is late afternoon since it is the warmest part of the day. Usually, just before the sun goes down, the fish get a little crazy.
Morning and evening both present great times to get some surface action; for me, this is what fall bass fishing is all about. My go-to surface lures are buzzbaits, small spooks, and stickbaits. Buzzbaits are good for covering water, and bass and pickerel really crush them, especially in shallow water. The advantage of buzzbaits is that you can work them through light cover without hanging up. By early October, most weed beds have deteriorated and the water is considerably more open, which is perfect for running your buzzbait through. I find that the slowest possible retrieve while creating a disturbance on the surface is the most effective.
Spook-style baits, especially small ones like the Zara Puppy, are especially effective now. Most rivers and ponds are loaded with small baitfish that have been growing all year, and there’s usually a big population of young-of-the-year fish. Look for areas where baitfish are dimpling the surface and then work them with a small topwater. Calm mornings are a great time to scope out the water, looking for the bait on the surface or listening for the splash of a bass as it chases the bait to the surface.
Alter your retrieve until you find the speed the fish want. I usually start with a slow, but steady walk-the-dog action; if that doesn’t buy a hit, I go to a twitch-and-wait approach where I work the bait extra slowly.
Stickbaits like Rapalas are time-tested bass catchers in the fall. With bass keyed in on minnows and other small fish, these are the best imitation of what they are after. This is especially the case when fishing a pond with a herring run – stickbaits easily match the young herrings’ size and color. There are so many modern choices in great colors and all kinds of suspending, slashing, or wiggling actions that it can be hard to pick one, though a favorite of mine is the old-school balsa Original Floating Rapala. With its high floating action, it is easy to keep above the weeds and is a killer for the twitchand-pause approach. If you’re patient enough, you can twitch it and wait for the circles to disappear, then twitch again. This is a fun technique to use when the fish are a bit sluggish.
Of course, stickbaits aren’t the only way to catch the fish. As a plastics guy, I always have one rod rigged with a worm. Plastics are great when you find some heavy cover to explore; by rigging them weedless, you can put them in places no other lures can go. As the bass are usually shallow this time of year, I fish them weightless and let them slowly fall, a technique that is especially effective with Senko-style lures.
If your target is bigger fish, a larger swimbait is a good tool. You may not catch as many, but the average size will be considerably larger – larger baits target the true trophy bass. I have a Big Fish Bait Co. Mayhem Minnow that I am looking forward to throwing this fall because it proved to be very effective swimming over deep weedbeds this summer. I can’t wait for the shallow weeds to open a bit so I can swim this bait where big bass and pike lurk.
Don’t forget to bring pliers with you! I don’t use trebles that often in the kayak, but most of my suggested lures have multiple treble hooks. A good pair of pliers will keep you safe from hooks and help you get that bass back in the water faster. The October bite goes by quickly, reaching its prime when the water is in the 50s and the bass are especially active, but by the end of the month, the water can get very cold overnight, pushing the bass out of the shallows.
There are many ponds and rivers in New England with herring runs, and these places often support largemouth and smallmouth bass, but don’t overlook the stripers that lurk around these runs as well. October is the best month to get a New England bass slam: a striper, a smallie, and a largie all from the same water body. I usually have one trip where I get a slam every year, so make this the year that you get one too!