JEFF KNAPP: As fall approaches, largemouths reappear
Tournament angler Deron Eck has experienced success on a variety of waters. But at heart he’s a river rat, having cut his angling teeth on the tough-to-fish industrial rivers of western Pennsylvania.
As summer moves into fall, Eck expects to make contact with quality-sized largemouths on the Monongahela River, fish that frequently do a disappearing act in mid-summer, as evidenced by recent BASS and FLW championships headquartered in Pittsburgh. One of Eck’s more consistent patterns is targeting rafts of coal barges tied up along shoreline pilings.
“A group of barges provides a huge umbrella that attracts bass, just like a big lily pad field,” he explained. “The best barges are empty ones. They don’t sit nearly as low in the water as loaded barges.”
Eck finds that river largemouths will suspend along the edge of a barge. While it might be sitting over 20 feet of water, the bass are three to four feet down. During the early fall his first choice is a popper-style topwater. As the water cools during the late fall, and bass become less willing to take a surface bait, he’ll go with something that gets a bit deeper.
“Often they’ll hit a shallow-running crankbait like 100 series Bandit,” he said. “You need to get the boat right up close to the barge and make accurate casts that put the bait parallel to it. Good casting is important, as you’ll bang up crankbaits if you bounce them off those tough, old barges.”
In addition to topwaters and shallow cranks, Eck has found a beaver-style bait productive when allowed to slowly filter down through the top 5-or-so feet of the water column. In situations where a network of barges are moored end to end, he’ll often pick up bass by skipping a beaver back in the void where the rounded bow of one barge butts up against the rounded stern of the next one.
On the lower Allegheny River, where smallmouths far outnumber their big-mouth cousins, Eck eagerly anticipates wet weather, which typically pushes the river’s biggest bronzebacks into current breaks formed along vertical concrete structures like bridge piers.
“There are a variety of current breaks along a typical pier,” he said. “But the most consistently productive spot is the front of the pier, where a current vortex is created.”
Eck likes two bait styles for fishing vertical columns during higher, dirty water: big, thumping spinnerbaits and wide-wobbling crankbaits like Storm’s Wiggle Wart.
On free-flowing river sections like the middle Allegheny, Eck often relies on a soft jerkbait for late summertime fishing — and not just any soft jerkbait, but one in a bubblegum color.
“There’s something about that pink color that makes it productive, at least for me,” noted Eck, commenting on the effectiveness of what is certainly an unnatural color.
Eck fishes the “pink fluke” with an aggressive action, imparting a sharp jerking motion to the bait that often has it breaking the water’s surface. Despite the fact he fishes it in the upper part of the water column, it often calls fish up from runs that are 4 to 5 feet deep.
Rigging-wise, he uses a fairly heavy wide gap hook in a 3/0 or 4/0 size. This hook gives the bait some added weight, which allows the bait to slowly fall on the pause, a movement that often triggers a strike. A baitcasting outfit spooled with 10- to 12-pound test fluorocarbon line completes the setup.