No. 1 for bass: FIND the bait

Bass key on shad so much in the fall that you should have plenty of baits tied on that imitate them, like this baitfish-colored soft-plastic jerkbait.

September fishing can be easy if you get in the right areas, places bass are feeding

I love it when September arrives. The days start to get shorter, the nights get cooler, and there’s deer season and college football. And early in the season, when the games are on Saturday nights, you can bass fish all day. And you’ll still get to the game on time.

The problem with bass fishing in September is, it’s not early spring. In February, March, April and May, we can all find fish and catch them. They’re all in shallow water, and we don’t have any problem finding them. Then, it gets tougher in July and August.

In spring, when 90% of the bass are in 3 feet of water or less, you can eliminate 90% of the water in a lake. In the fall, well, no. Fish are so scattered; they can be in a foot of water in the back of a creek. Or they can be out chasing bait over 80 feet of water.

What happens is, nature kicks in. Bass are cold-blooded, and when the water temperature starts to fall, they know they need to feed up for the winter that’s coming. So they start following bait. Getting them to bite isn’t that difficult. It’s finding them, because they’re on the move. You can get them to bite if you can just get around them.

So, because bass are moving so much in September and early October, you need to find the baitfish that is the dominant forage in the lake you’re fishing. And that could be gizzard shad, threadfin shad or blueback herring. You have to find the bait. Period.

Visual clues

The first thing you can look for are visual clues. You can see bait on the surface, usually early or late in the day. Second, you can pay attention to the birds of prey. Seagulls move back to our lakes in September and October, and they can show you where the baitfish are. The other thing is, one of the biggest changes in bass fishing lately is how good our electronics are.

I can remember starting fishing on Lake Murray 30 years ago with a Humminbird Super Sixty, which was a flasher. Now, my Humminbird Helix 10 has got 2D sonar, side-imaging, down-imaging, 360-imaging. You can use all of it, and very effectively, to find bait.

These fish roam with the bait. If you’re a fishermen who only gets to fish on Saturdays, you may find them shallow one Saturday, then the next Saturday, they’re not there. They move with those schools of bait. But in a week’s time, they will probably not be more than a mile away.

Trust your electronics

When I talk about finding the bait, I don’t mean you have to run from one end of the lake to the other. You can probably find the bait somewhere between the mouth and the back of a creek. Use the tools you’ve got, especially your electronics.

If fishing is tough for you this month, you’re probably not around the right kind of bait. When you get around the bait and the fish, you can catch them. They’ll be feeding. It isn’t like trying to catch them in July and August.

If you try and try and still can’t find bait, look for places where you can see some bream on the bank. Bream are going to be near the best shoreline cover in a lake, whether that’s vegetation, riprap, stumps or dock pilings. That’s an option.

Don’t overthink

This is one time when you need to make it as simple as possible. Sometimes, you can outthink yourself fishing for bass. You can take into account turnover, the barometric pressure, the weather, cloud cover, current. But really, all you’ve got to do is find the bait. It’s like having something like X+Y+Z+X2 = baitfish = bass. You can skip right to the answer, because all of the other things are just parts of the whole.

When I do my homework and find the bait and the fish, I like to fish baits that bass will react to. I love to topwater fish, and this is an opportunity. I’ll have a walking bait tied on, something like a Chug Bug, and maybe a Skitter V or an X-Rap Pop. I’ll probably have all three of those baits tied on, plus a soft-plastic jerkbait like a Yamamoto D-Shad.

Have multiple lures at the ready

If I’ve found fish toward the back of a creek, say a flat creek with ditches where the bass will have some deep water close by, I like to fish crankbaits in those situations. So I’ll have a square-billed bait and a regular diving bait tied on, maybe a BX Brat and a DT-6.

But everything is secondary to finding the bait, because when you finally get in the right spot, with the right bait, you’re going to be able to get bass to bite. It’s not going to be difficult, because they’re hungry and looking to feed, and you put a bait in front of them, and it works.

And you can spend a few weeks on the lake, with less boat traffic. If you’re like me and you don’t get excited about deer hunting until it gets cooler, it’s the perfect time to be on the lake.

Just find the bait.