When I was a kid learning to fish, I dreaded September. I used to keep a log of every fish I caught all year, and in September, the number of fish I caught would drop by half. I fished Falls of the Neuse Lake most often, since it was only a few minutes up the road from where I grew up. I’d mix in smaller lakes and ponds, especially after school when time was short.
What was going on? I remember the water just seemed dead, and it was still hot. There were virtually no fish on the offshore places where I’d caught them all summer, and nothing happening beating the banks. Sound familiar?
September is a transition month. A few cold rains in the middle of the month translated into what I call “mini-turnovers,” stirring up the unoxygenated, deeper water and mixing it with the surface water. You may notice the water might look particularly green as the sediment, rich in nutrients, rises to the top and causes algae blooms. The main turnover event can take a couple of weeks, but it generally happens when the high temperatures are mid-70s for a week or so and some cold rains are mixed in.
Yes, September is a tough month to fish, but there are still ways to have a productive trip.
No. 1 and the one you hear the most about is to fish the backs of the creeks and up the rivers where the water is not stratified in the first place. There is no turnover there, so fishing should be good. The only problem is, there are generally not big numbers of fish there yet. You can still pick up a few and have a good time. Three baits work well for me — a 6th Sense Crush 50 crankbait, a Dave’s buzzbait and a 7-inch black shad Culprit Fat Max worm — all in shad colors. I’m looking mostly around shallow wood in the backs of the creeks.
One recommendation: if you think you are shallow, go shallower. I often see guys who think 5 feet is shallow. Often in September, the trolling motor will be kicking up mud, and I’ll be throwing shallower. I know sounds crazy, but trust me on this one; a good fish can hide itself easily in water less than a foot. Your boat probably needs 2 to 3 feet to float and for the trolling motor to run. So if the depth finder is flashing zero or hitting the bottom, you still have enough water. Don’t blame me if your boat gets torn up a little though; I’m only telling you where the some of the fish live.
If you are going to venture into the shallows, remember that bass can be very spooky in there, so make long casts. Always be looking way ahead for your next cast; timing is everything. Sometimes I even use a push pole if I know a good area and want to approach it with little noise. Generally, however, you will want to be fishing fast, since most of the fish up that shallow will be singles.
If you don’t like ultra-shallow water, the second option is to fish current. So this is similar to going up creeks, but it can extend to bridges when the wind is blowing, and rivers rather than lakes. I could write a book on current, but I’ll spare you and just give you two nuggets of info that should help. One is to look for backflow on a strong flowing river. Backflow is water that runs up the bank in the opposite direction the river is flowing. This little seem is the main thing I look for on rivers and is always associated with a bend in the river. This creates a place where baitfish are confused — a perfect ambush spot for bass. My favorite lure here depends on water clarity. If it’s clear, I like a topwater bait. If it’s dirty, a 7-inch Culprit Fat Max worm.
The second nugget is obvious but often overlooked. Follow the wind, especially in “necked-down” areas where the lake or river gets narrower. The most obvious spot is a bridge. It is amazing how you can fish a bridge in September with no wind and get nothing, then fish the same bridge a few hours later with wind and catch some nice fish. Crankbaits and swimbaits like the Culprit minnow on a jighead get the nod for bridges.
So hopefully this will give you some direction on the tough September bite. The good news is, October fishing is awesome, and everybody else will be hunting.