By Jake Blimline
So, living in the Southeast, it is a given that I fish for Largemouth Bass. And yes, there is nothing more exhilarating than watching a big ol’ bucket mouth annihilate some poor unsuspecting top-water fly. But this post isn't about that. This is about my all-time favorite time to chase bass in an uncommon way.
Fall-time in my area of the country conjures up thoughts of colorful leaves, pumpkin pie, cooler temperatures, and for a lot of folks, time to put up the fishing gear and transition to hunting season.
This year, though, I beg you to keep your fly rods out just a little longer, but not for a brown trout spawning run! During the Fall, Largemouth Bass tend to school up and cruise shallow water. Searching out a last-minute buffet to pack on some extra weight for the cooler months when things slow down. This time of year, depending on your Latitude, can vary from September to well in to December. During this time of the year, it becomes the perfect storm of everything you need to sight-cast to cruising largemouth bass!
If you live in an area of the country such as I, where TVA controls the lake levels, it's hard to find the right conditions during this time. The Fall lake levels are usually dropped below the flats and back into the river beds. If you live near or are willing to travel to a recreational lake, or one that doesn't go through extreme water level fluctuations, you are in luck! On the flats, you will find that the sun will warm these areas of water drawing in all sorts of forage, all looking for the same thing, FOOD!
The bass now become super aggressive due to competition. Usually an ambush predator, the switch is now flipped to a "hell on wheels eating machine" with their main purpose being to beat the other fish in their small group to whatever helpless creature is swimming in the vicinity.
My preferred fly selection for this part of the year goes away from big surface flies that move a lot of water and make noise, to streamers that mimic bait fish, crawfish and leeches. Don’t get me wrong, some time you can entice a fish to take a top water fly now, but 9 times out of 10 they will cautiously swim up to it and look at it; frustrating you beyond the point of wanting to chuck 10-pound rocks towards them.
My top three flies I pick for these days are any of the EP baitfish patterns, Wooly buggers, and Bunny Strip Leeches. I have found colors really don’t have too much effect on the bite because it is more your retrieve that entices the strike when they are in this feeding mode. I do like to stick to more natural colors though, and at times add some sparkle or flash in with them. Black, White, and browns are usually my go to but I have good luck with purple too.
Your retrieve for this type of fishing is going to be erratic 6-10-inch strips. Let the fish dictate stripping speed and frequency. Some days you can’t jerk it past them quick enough, other times they want you to float it past their faces before they pay attention to it.
At this time of the year the water clears up and settles, so the fish can key in on the fly and movement from a surprisingly long distance away. I like to cast a good couple of feet in front and past the lead fish (if there are multiples) and start stripping at a pretty good rate to simulate a baitfish that has already spotted the predator. Usually after that, it is like enticing a cat with a piece of yarn. If it is trying to make a run for it the bass are usually right there. If the fly is too slow for them, you will see them come and look at it and stare until they become bored. A quick strip will get them re-interested in it most of the time.
So, during this glorious time of the year when the Fall colors are just starting to emerge, and the crisp mornings cause you to dig through the closet for that nice warm sweater, don’t grab that hunting gear or head to the tail waters quite yet. Head out and find some shallows and get ready for one last Largemouth bonanza for the year!
Jake Blimline is a native Tennessean who's interests include competitive shooting, cooking, and of course fly fishing.