This was precisely the case for Chuck Porter on the upper end of Lake Marion with Davis one bright autumn afternoon.
Porter made about a half-dozen cranks of the reel handle, and a chunky Lake Marion largemouth loaded on. The scene was repeated numerous times that afternoon.
One of the oft-forgotten hotspots for fall fishing in South Carolina is Lake Marion, the uppermost of the two Santee Cooper lakes.
Marion, along with little sister Lake Moultrie, is a target-rich environment for spring and early-summer bass fishing, especially tournaments. But the lakes get much less pressure during the fall. Fishermen who seek largemouth bass are missing a special opportunity if they by-pass the lake this month.
According to Davis, a full-time guide from Manning, the fishing in mid-October, November and early December can rival springtime fishing in terms of overall productivity.
"In some ways, the fall fishing is even more predictable than the spring," Davis said. "Plus, there are considerably fewer fishermen on the lake."
Davis believes that November is prime time to crank in bass, lots of bass, at Lake Marion.
"I mean that both literally and figuratively," Davis said. "The month of November is known for producing largemouth bass in big numbers and huge sizes on a variety of lures at Lake Marion.
"The plastic worm is typically thought of as one of the most productive lures during the fall. That is true, and I'll use worms at this time of the year, too. But there's a very strong pattern for crankbait fishing. It is the trusty crankbait that may be the best- producing lure (in the fall)."
Using crankbaits for fantastic fall action on Lake Marion is nothing new, but it may be more of a revitalization of past practices. The late Randy Horne, who guided on Lake Marion for years, loved to fish crankbaits.
"Crankbaits are excellent baits for late-fall bass fishing for several reasons," he once said. "For example, the primary forage for largemouth in the fall of the year is the threadfin shad. (They are) the size where crankbaits can be used to 'match the hatch.' Plus, you can match the size and body shape of this favored forage. In addition, the water temperature is still warm enough (that) the metabolic rate of the fish is still cranked up. They'll readily chase (a) crankbait."
According to Davis, bass will literally chase a crankbait with a vengeance.
"The bass almost seem turbo-charged - they attack the lure so aggressively. Later in the year, when the water gets really cold, a slowly-worked, bottom bumper may excel," Davis said. "But the here-and-now for fall fishing favors the crankbait. In addition to working fish that are positioned along drops, ledges, and channels, working crankbaits near heavy cover is also a good bet."
Davis said that another important aspect of fall bass fishing is the nature of the fish to surface feed in shad-whacking schools of frenzied action.
"It's 'schooling' time," Davis said. "November is a great time to encounter bass busting into shad. This 'bonus' may occur at any given time of the day.
"A crankbait is one prime weapon when you encounter schooling fish. I'll also have a heavy-bodied tailspinner, such as a Little George, tied on in case I have to make a long cast into the next zip code on a distant, surface-feeding fish.
"The key to success here is to get the lure on the fish as soon as possible. Do that, and odds are great you'll get an immediate and arm-jolting hookup.
"I've caught many, many big fish, simply and only because I had the right lure already rigged and ready," he said. "Often, schooling fish will only be available for a few moments before moving off to another area.
"But if you cast a shad-like crankbait - or a bright colored tailspinner - and crank that lure right in front of the fish while it's still slashing and feeding, odds are great you'll hook up. That has proven to be very effective time and time again.
"I've also learned that by the time you use the electric motor to get into position to reach the fish with other lures, the action is over. The fish have sounded and gone. It's imperative you react instantly."
Davis has been guiding on the Santee Cooper lakes for many years. Until the past couple of years, he divided his work time between driving a UPS truck and guiding. Once he retired from UPS, he began to fish a lot more during the fall. By trial and error, he's worked out the crankbait pattern.
"It's been a great learning experience to fish Lake Marion so much during the fall," Davis said. "Before retiring from UPS, I generally saved my vacation time to guide as much as possible during the spring. But now I'm discovering the exceptional crankbait fishing during the fall.
"A lot of fishermen can effectively fish crankbaits; that's one reason they're so productive and so much fun. I've had my best success with the Bill Norman Little N, but there are others that work well. The key is getting on the right pattern. As everyone who bass fishes knows, that can be a day-to-day, ever-changing process. But the consistent part of the process has been the productivity of the crankbait.
"The key to success with crankbaits is figuring out where to fish them," Davis said. "But once a fisherman works out a good pattern, it's a great way to hook a lot of fish. And I'll admit, I've been surprised by the big number of large fish we've caught.
"I fish out of the Jack's Creek area much of the time," Davis said. "I like the upper end of the lake. It's a great place for me to start my trips, and I can go up toward the swamp or down toward the I-95 Bridge and have a lot of different water situations to fish. I have access to so many different types of water from there. However, you can find excellent fishing throughout the lake."
Other areas that have excellent launching facilities and equally productive fishing include Wyboo Creek near the dam and the popular multi-ramp facility in Taw Caw Creek near the Goat Island area.
Davis said that the ability to be versatile and hit new spots can be a key to success.
Since schooling fish are part of the process, it makes good sense that having forage in the vicinity is a key element to success.
"There are a number of different types of places I'll find bass at this time of the year," Davis said, "but if I move into an area and don't see any sign of baitfish - even if I've caught fish with a week or two in that spot - I get an itch to move. You may catch a straggler here and there, but the great action I'm looking for will be around forage. Plus, the bigger fish almost always seem to have a belly full of shad."
Davis said to look for some unique feature on the bottom or along the shoreline to which a bass can relate.
"I like a point of weeds, especially if there's a downed tree or log lying right there," Davis said, "or a small, open pocket in the weeds or cypress trees or even a cove or indentation in an otherwise straight line of trees that has a little bit deeper water than the rest of the area. Any of these types of places can be great."
Davis said that island points on the main-river channel can be good spots. Island points close to the main river channel are especially productive.
"Another place that is consistently productive are the cypress tree flats between Jack's Creek and the railroad trestle at Pack's Flats, several miles up the lake," Davis said. "Here, I look for small pockets of deeper water or a small ditch run through the trees. The bass seem to use these as travel routes, and you may happen upon the fish at any place.
"Also, I am always on the lookout for surface-feeding fish," Davis said. "Anytime I see a fish on the surface, even a single fish, I work that area hard looking for the big bunch of fish. Sometimes, we'll (find) a big school, and the action will be great. Then, when the surface action is over, we'll continue to pick up fish throughout the area. Those days can be absolutely awesome."
Davis fishes a lot of different types of cover and structure. One key is that if he's not getting bites where he's fishing, he moves to a different area after trying a few different lures.
"I give an area a fair shot, but if it's not producing, don't hesitate to change locations and look elsewhere," Davis said. "Somewhere out here, there are a bunch of bass just begging to be caught. And that's the action I'm looking for."
Diversity in lure presentation and types is also a key. Davis keeps different types and colors of crankbaits tied on. He said his philosophy is, it's up to the fishermen to give the bass what the bass wants on a given day. Fish enough different lures in enough different water and depth situations, and you're more likely to figure out a pattern than by sticking to only one or two lures.
Of course, not every bass in the fall is going to be caught cranking. There are times and places where the Texas- or Carolina-rigged plastic worm will produce excellent action.
Porter, who fishes Lake Marion regularly, said that while crankbaits allow you to cover more territory, plastic worms will certainly catch fish.
"I've seen times when you can locate the largemouth using crankbaits and catch several fish," Porter said. "Then, when the action slows on the crankers, you can often pick up a few more bass by switching to the plastic worm. It's kind of like the ol' one-two punch."
Davis said that one facet of fall fishing is that being on the lake early doesn't seem to matter as much. While morning fishing can be good, he often starts his trips mid-morning or mid-day.
"There's certainly good fishing in the mornings during the cooler weather," Davis said, "but I've found it's not as essential to be on the water at daylight during this time of the year - as compared to spring and summer fishing. However, I do like to stick around until dark, because as the water warms up a bit during the day, there is often a flurry of feeding action right at dusk."
The keys to successful crankbait fishing are simple, but crucial, according to Davis. First, find the forage, and don't hesitate to move around a good bit until you do. One strong point Davis emphasized is that even if he returns to an area where he had caught a lot of fish recently, if the shad have moved out, odds are good that the larger bass have, too.
"Look for areas with plenty of cover the bass can use as ambush points," Davis said. "That's typically not a problem on Lake Marion, but you'll need to work the lures tight to the cover at times. Sometimes, even sidearm or underhand casting is required to get your lure under the branches of the cypress trees.
"Accurate casting ability will affect your success rate in many situations. Seek out shallow flats that have some deepwater access nearby. This will enhance the odds of really big fish being there. You can catch smaller fish in remote, shallow areas, but generally not as many big fish.
"Fish an assortment of crankbait sizes and depth patterns," Davis said. "Vary the speed until you figure the pattern. Some days will be a cast-and-retrieve day. On other days, you need to work more of a stop-and-go retrieve to trigger a strike."
Finally, keep rods rigged with a variety of lures and change frequently until you figure the pattern. Have at least one or two rigged specifically for schooling fish.
If you're looking to crank up your bass fishing success this fall, Lake Marion is a prime destination.