Fall is here. Water temperatures on Lake Champlain are dropping into the mid 60’s, leaves are changing, and it means one thing, the bass are biting. The fall feed is on. This is by far my favorite time of the year. No hot muggy days of summer and just enough chill in the air to be comfortable. But the best part, the bass will bite just about any lure you throw. My good friend and FLW Pro Craig Powers, calls it Spook 30 time. In the past, when Craig has come to the North Country during September, it was almost impossible to get him off the lake. I remember one day we fished so long into the evening that after dark we ran out of gas and had to approach a lakeside resident and purchase gas to get back. The whole time Craig was still casting his Zara Spook and catching smallmouth. Can you imagine 10 o’clock at night and a smallmouth exploding on topwater bait? Scary, right?
So where to start, find the outside weed lines, you know the ones created by that troublesome invasive species Eurasian Milfoil. This time of the year it’s growing out to a depth of 12-15 feet. Work the weed line with top water Zara Spook or a crankbait that will run six to 10 feet deep. My personal favorites are Rapala DT 6’s and 10’s in perch colors. Since the bass are schooling up you may have to fish some long weed lines, but once you come across the school the action will begin. Usually it won’t be just one but a pack of ravenous bass all competing for your lure. I’ll keep a second lure tied on and ready, so when the school follows, I’ll pitch a tube or jig off the side of the boat and finish landing the one I have on, only to pick up my second rod and land a second fish. It’s fast and furious action. The topwater baits will work outstanding when the skies are high and blue with plenty of sun. It always amazes me that a giant smallmouth will explode on a topwater offering with the lake surface being slick and smooth. And remain calm because with a good pair of polarized sunglasses you can see them coming from deep out of the milfoil. If one misses keep working the lure, they will usually circle back and attack again.
Once you find the school and catch that first fish, they will usually scatter. Not to worry, remain in the same location, pick up bottom bait like a tube or jig and catch around the area. They are still there and will usually bite your offering while they are trying to re-school.
The biggest problem with fall fishing is the wind, especially in the North Country. It can be challenging and requires determination, but the rewards are great! Just remember to wear a rain suit to keep dry and keep your life jacket on as a rogue wave can put you in the drink. What is really nice is I usually have the lake to myself, as only the diehards are out this time of year.
As we get deeper into fall the fish move shallower following the schools of bait. Where one day you are fishing on a deep weed line the next day they maybe schooled on shallow reefs like Motte’s or Point a Fur. Be careful with the water levels in the mid 94’s many of these reefs have only a few inches of water. l have been asked what to do about the thick weeds; it’s simple, fish horizontal. Use floating topwater baits like a frog or swimbait. Even the old Sluggo still works great, rigging them weedless you can work your bait over top of the weeds. A hungry bass will find its way thru the weeds to explode on your offering.
With winter coming and my fall tournament schedule, this will be my last column for the year. I hope the column has been educational and raised your interest in our great North Country fishery.
Howard Hammonds is a guide and experienced bass fisherman living in Westport. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.