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Bass fishermen in the Dallas/Fort Worth area will find bass changing their patterns this month as the first shifts of season from summer to fall work their effects on area lakes.
By John Thompson
Texas anglers always look for a little something extra, and in the fall they find it at Hubbard Creek Lake. In September, the lake just outside Breckenridge often finds sportsmen loading not only rods and reels into their boats, but also shotguns.
It's a popular stunt for hunters and fishermen from Fort Worth and westward: Hit the lake after dove season opens and, while fishing in such locations as Ranch House Slough on the northwest end of the lake, bag a few mourning doves. It's quite a trick trying to keep up with the bass while watching for birds at the same time - but what a great problem to have!
In many ways this points out something many bass fishermen don't take time to consider. September is a transition month - not just because dove season gets under way, but also because of the way black bass begin altering their behavior.
"Our lakes begin to change in the fall," says fishery biologist Allen Forshage, head of the Freshwater Fisheries Center at Athens. "The lakes begin to destratify because of water temperatures and wind action. As a result, more of the lake becomes available to the bass, and they are able to move into sections - mostly deeper waters - that they haven't been able to use through the hot periods of summer because there wasn't enough oxygen below the thermocline."
Forshage also pointed out other changes that begin to take place in the fall. This is the time that sees threadfin shad begin to spawn - which is pretty neat timing, since the bass are beginning to feed up for the winter months.
"This winter feeding surge is experienced by many fish and animals," Forshage pointed out, "and it certainly takes place with our black bass. They know there will be months ahead when food won't be as plentiful, and when they won't have a lot of energy to forage."
All bass fishermen have experienced some of this September feeding, but not all have any knowledge of why it is happening. As our lake waters begin to mix and lose that stratification Forshage talked about, it reminds us that bass may now begin to move a little deeper. This may not happen in September, but in the months to follow it certainly will. This sets the stage for such things as deep worming and jigging spoons to begin paying off in good catches.
It also doesn't mean that all the fishing in September is going to be easy. Whenever our lakes begin to turn over, or other changes occur, the bass will often respond by going off their feed for a period. Usually this doesn't last for long, because of the other urges, but it happens.
When September bass decide to make it tough on you, remember the techniques you might think of in the spring when fish turn off. Begin to fish slower and tighter to the cover. One alternative may be a change in the size of your presentation. In spring you think about fishing smaller, as in tiny spinnerbaits, small cranks or little jigs.
Bass in the fall are normally feeding on larger forage, so the sissy baits may not be needed. The exception here might be for the fish feeding around newly hatched shad, and there you definitely want to think small. Granbury pro angler Mike Singletary has a go-to bait for this sort of action. Whenever the bass are busting clouds of tiny baitfish, he'll be chunking a white or chartreuse Beetle Spin.
That little spinner is a killer in this battle of getting small. Although the hook isn't exactly something you want to have pinned to a large fish, it will hold most of the fish that hit it - and a lot of them will hit it.
For an opinion on September bass fishing on the opposite side of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, I called guide Kirk Armstrong, who works Lake Lewisville. Kirk feels strongly about the old lake, and has caught enough large bass there to make those feelings understandable. Kirk doesn't feel there is much turnover on Lewisville, because it is so silted in; most of the lake sees little stratification taking place.
Armstrong is convinced there is a low dissolved-oxygen level in most of the lake. That forces the bass into shallow water, often along windy shorelines. As a result, he points his Champion toward the shallow brush along such shores and hits the cover he finds in 5 feet of water or less.
"Normally we have enough late summer and fall rains to have the lake at a good elevation. This means flooded cover in the shallows, and this fall should be no exception," he said recently.
Lewisville is a lake many anglers would just as soon skip when it comes time to drag out their boats and head for the local bass waters. For those like Kirk who regularly fish this lake, that attitude has been great. Fewer boats mean fewer lures searching for the same number of fish. This year, however, Lewisville has been showing up on many more tournament lists.
This new popularity seems to be keyed to two factors: The fishing is normally pretty darn good there, and some of the other lakes around the area are having problems. Once again, lakes Possum Kingdom, Granbury and Whitney have been hit by a golden algae bloom that killed a lot of fish at each lake. Take these three lakes out of the picture and you soon see why Lewisville has become so attractive.
Another lake in the D/FW Metroplex that is gaining in popularity with the black bass set is Joe Poole. Located just south of Grand Prairie below I-20, this little gem is getting a lot of attention these days. One fellow who knows this lake about as well as anyone is a fireman/guide named Les Pratt.
Les lights a fire under Joe Poole's fall bass by concentrating on two distinct types of cover: tank dams and humps. Because this lake flooded land that was formerly inhabited mostly by cattle, it also covered a large number of small stock tanks. Each of these tanks comes equipped with its own channel, the dam itself, and, normally, some pretty good cover.
Stick all that in front of fish looking for spots along a natural migration route that holds baitfish, and you can see the attraction. The bait also seems to gravitate to a few humps left in the lake. "Fireman's Hump" is something of a community hole at Joe Poole. It rises to 18 feet, and the fish just love it.
When talking about the "how" part of this equation, Pratt often goes to big crankbaits like the Norman DD22, which he fishes in an unusual way. After cranking the lure down to a depth where it will tick the tops of resident brush, Les uses his rod to work the lure rather than the reel, as most anglers employ.
"You have a much better feel of what the lure is doing as it works through that deep timber if you pull it slowly with your rod tip," he explained. "I generally pull the lure along with a sweeping motion of the rod, and then use the reel to take up the slack line. That way you keep in touch with the lure all the time it is working through the cover."
Most fishermen take the crankbait at face value and fish it with the reel by cranking it in at various speeds, or possibly with a pumping motion of the rod. With the suspending lures available nowadays, the steady retrieve isn't necessary because it will stay at the desired depth while you take up the slack line.
Les believes structure fish are school fish. Find feeding fish in this sort of structure, he feels, and they won't be alone. And once they have been caught or spooked from one location, all you have to do is find a similar location elsewhere and you're back in business.
So while the temperatures may not have changed that much since the searing days of August, the bass are responding to the urges of fall. Fishing can be shallow or deep, depending on the lake you choose, but remember there are fish to be caught. And, where it is legal, you can always take along a shotgun and some shells just in case you can't get the bass interested in anything. There may be some early-season dove action to spice up your days as we enter this time of transition.
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