JEFF KNAPP: There's still time for late-fall fishing trip
Even though the weather of the past week makes it feel like January, it’s really only early December. It’s likely we’ll have enough seasonal, late-fall weather to offer up a last-minute open-water fishing trip or two.
For bass anglers, late-fall fishing often means concentrating on drop-offs. Areas of rip-rap, as well as spots where deep channels swing close to shore, are drop-off areas with great late-season potential.
Rip-rap — where rock is used to stabilize bank sections, dams and causeways — tend to be productive during the fall.
Rip-rapped dam faces are sometimes off limits to anglers. But on the ones that are open, the rocky, fast-dropping shoreline is attractive to gamefish. Such spots provide access to deep water. The rocks gather algae, which in turn attracts minnow life, and consequently bass and walleyes. During sunny weather the rocks gather heat. Submerged vegetation is sometimes found in concert with areas of rip-rap, which is likely to provide that spot-on-a-spot where gamefish will be found.
Rip-rap areas can be lengthy, so plan on devoting some time working them. If there is a slight breeze blowing parallel to the area, allow it to push the boat along. If the wind is more significant, it’s usually better to work into the wind with the electric motor. And on still days you can leave the electric motor on a low setting and slowly work along the bank.
Rip-rap lends itself to a variety of presentations. Diving crankbaits are effective on bass. Bounce the crankbait along the rocky shelf, expecting most hits to occur when the bait breaks free of the bottom. Drop-shot rigs are another good option, especially along smoother rip-rap. Keep the weight as light as possible to avoid dropping it in between the rocks. In areas of submerged weeds, use a skirted jig/crawfish trailer combo or Texas-rigged worm to ply the edges and open pockets within the cover.
On lakes where bass and walleyes coexist, it’s common to find walleyes holding in deeper water than the bass; i.e., if you are catching bass in 15 feet of water, explore the 25- to 30-foot depths for walleyes. Yo-yo a leadhead jig with a grub down in the depths, or work a blade bait. Blades can also be effective on bass, smallmouths in particular, when water temperatures drop into the 40s.
Like the above-mentioned creek channel scenario, areas of rip-rap often have specific spots that consistently hold fish. The feature may be so subtle that you never really discover what it is that holds the fish. But the place does, and it tends to do so each fall.
Sections of steep-dropping shoreline — often where the river/creek channel swings in tight to the bank — become attractive to gamefish during the fall.
Cover options are many. Drop-off shoreline areas feature lay-downs, where the eroding banks allow trees to fall into the water. Rockslides are common for the same reason. Stumps are often part of the picture, too.
In the unstable, changing weather of fall, gamefish can move vertically in the water column as their activity level changes.
A skirted jig worked throughout the limbs of lay-downs is an effective way of pulling bass out of the wood. Watch how the limbs and branches lie; work the bait along the same “grain” to minimize snags. Jigs hopped along rocky shelves, spots crayfish call home, will also be intercepted by bass.
Walleyes tend to hold in deeper portions of these drop-off areas, often at the base of the structure. Pump a blade bait along the base of the ledge. Or tip a three-eighth-ounce jig with a big minnow or chub and drag it along the bottom.
These spots are quite snaggy. Carry along a lure retriever to knock free blade baits that get caught on rocks and stumps.