Reaction bites are key to catching bass when they aren’t feeding
When I think about October bass fishing in the Carolinas, I think about shad. All of our lakes have threadfin shad. Some of our bigger lakes have blueback herring, but I really think about threadfins when it comes to bass fishing this month.
Shad migrate from the main lake back into creeks in the fall. They’ll be in every major creek, and if you name any lake, it will have them. They live around the mouth of creeks and on the main lake most of the year. But in September and October, especially October, they migrate into the backs of creeks. Bass key on shad and eat them.
The thing about shad is, there can be millions of them. And that can make it tough on bass fishermen. You might get to the place where you’ve got so many baitfish, it’s tough to get a bass to bite a lure. It’s like when you’ve got three people at an all-you-can-eat buffet that’s 30 feet long, and you can serve on both sides.
I talk all the time about making sure you’re fishing around bait. And in October, that can be an issue because there’s so much bait around. Fish can eat anytime they want to. The problem is getting them to bite.
The key to solving that problem is fishing baits that will cause fish to react. We want a reaction strike — when a fish isn’t looking to eat but you can make them react to a bait and strike at it. It’s like in the spring, when bass are bedding, they don’t strike at lures to eat them; they strike to get them out of their beds.
Baits that I use to get reaction strikes are ones that I can work very erratically. These fish get a lot to eat, and the water is still warm. So you need a bait you can put in their lap and make them bite it, even if they’re not feeding. I have two baits I key on when I’m looking for this kind of bite: a soft-plastic jerkbait and a flat-sided crankbait.
Topwater fishing can be good from August through October. They’ll definitely hit topwaters. But soft-plastic jerkbaits have a lot of action, and flat-sided crankbaits will really deflect when you run them into cover. That’s why they’re my main weapons.
I like to fish a Yamamoto D Shad for a soft jerkbait. I’ll rig it on a 4/0 VMC offset worm hook on 14-pound fluorocarbon on a 6- or 6 1/2-foot, medium-heavy baitcasting rod and a reel with a 6.3-to-1 retrieve rate.
My favorite flat-sided crankbait is a Rapala OG Slim, a relatively new bait. I fish it on a 7-foot, medium-action rod with a reel with a 6- or 7-to-1 retrieve ratio, spooled with 14-pound fluoro. I want my tackle to be a little bit heavier than normal for crankbaits because I’m fishing this bait around cover, sometimes vegetation.
Bait and cover
For reaction bites, you need to be fishing around bait and cover. If bass are suspended over deep water around schools of bait, you’re not going to get a reaction strike. If you find them around stumps, brush piles, a dock or vegetation, they’re in those places because they’re ambush spots, and you can get them to react to a bait being retrieved erratically in front of them. If you can get a bait to deflect off cover, most of the time, a bass on that piece of cover will react.
An OG Slim will really deflect off cover when you hit a limb or a rock or a stump. Bass can’t stand it. And you can produce erratic action with a D Shad with your rod tip, especially when you feel the bait bumping into something.
In October, bass will be in groups, but you can’t count on those kinds of fish. I tell people that when you target schooling fish in October, it’s like chasing ghosts. They can be one place one day, and the next day, there won’t be a fish around. But bass will hold around cover in little pods. You might catch more than one off a stump or a brush pile or a boat dock or grass line. But don’t count on it.
This bite will usually last on into mid-November, but by Thanksgiving, it will usually be over, because the bait will change what it’s doing. But fishing can be pretty consistent all through October — if you can force-feed fish that are living in place with way too much food.