One thing I can count on in September — in addition to college football and deer season getting cranked up, is that baitfish will start moving off the main bodies of reservoirs in the Carolinas and into the tributary creeks.

It’s always in September in the Carolinas when the baitfish start to move — and the bass follow them. When you see a lot of baitfish on the surface, that’s when they’ll start moving. 

When I was just a teenager, fishing in a john boat without any electronics, I could see them on the surface in September —even in late August — and now, with the electronics we have, we can look around and find the biggest concentrations of baitfish. And the bass really get keyed in on those baitfish on the surface.

There are definitely certain creeks on every lake that the baitfish like better. Maybe they have more fertile water; we don’t really know why. But once you fish a lake a lot, you’ll know which creeks get the bait in the fall.

If I was fishing on a new lake, I’d go into a live creek, a creek that tends to have more flow. And it’s not hard to tell live creeks from just drains. Look for current.

Early in September, the baitfish — gizzard shad, threadfins and blueback herring —  they made be over deeper water, suspended, as they move from the main lake into the creeks. 

Swimbait time

That’s when I really like to use a swimbait. Swimbaits are so versatile and have progressed so much over the years, they’re great baits to fish around big concentrations of baitfish. When I was growing up, I threw a Sassy Shad in the fall. That’s really a swimbait, but there are so many more options nowadays: different colors, different sizes, different ways to rig and fish them. You can imitate gizzards, threadfins and herring. 

I like to fish a 360 GT swimbait in 31/2- and 41/2-inch sizes. You can really do so much with them. You can fish them at the surface like a wake bait, or you can fish them 20 or 30 or 40 feet deep if the bait is that deep. I like to fish both ways, counting the bait down to just above big pods of bait if they’re suspended.

I fish a 360 GT on a 7-foot, medium or medium-heavy BPS carbonlite baitcasting rod, a BPS Johnny Morris signature series reel with a 6.3-to-1 retrieve ration, spooled with 12-pound XPS fluorocarbon.

Square it up

Now, if you go into the same creek later in September and find shad in there wall to wall, when that’s the deal, you’ve got to get fish to react to a bait to hit it — even if they aren’t feeding.

We’re talking about times when there’s so much bait in a creek that throwing a lure in there is like putting a baloney sandwich on a buffet line. It may get eaten; it may not.

That’s when I like to fish a square-billed crankbait, a Rapala BX Brat, in particular. I want to fish it around some kind of cover — grass, wood or rock — and get some contact and a reaction bite, because you can trigger a reaction bite even when the fish isn’t feeding.

You want shad there, and you want good cover, because there will be shad and bass around most of the cover. You’ve got to get them to react to the bait to hit it.

I fish the square-bill because it doesn’t hang up as much as a crankbait with a normal bill, and I’ll go away from a swimbait because they will hang up on cover.

I’ll fish that square bill on a 7-foot, medium or medium-heavy BPS Crankin’ Stik, which is a composite rod. That’s important because there’s plenty of give in the rod, and that allows you to feel the bite before the bass realizes that he’s bitten a chunk of hard plastic instead of a shad. I’ll fish it on the same Johnny Morris reel that I fish a swimbait, but it will be spooled with 14- to 17-pound XPS fluorocarbon. 

You can really work on the bass when you find them ganged up on baitfish in the September, and these two baits are great tools for catching them. When the fish really get back in the creeks in October, you’ll have a little bit different attack plan, but a swimbait or square-billed crankbait are the real ticket in September.