The most overlooked and under appreciated season for bass angling is early fall. Aside from the beautiful change in the leaves, cooler temperatures, and shifting light conditions, Autumn is rich with opportunities for anglers to rip lips with trophy-level lunkers. Understanding early fall bass patterns will help you reel in more fish during this shoulder season.
Fall is a transition period for bass from warmer to cooler water and weather. The mornings and evenings of moderate temperature days are the best time to hit shorelines and structure to maximize your chances of hooking into a fall bass.
However, there is more to setting a hook on a green machine in the fall than meets the eye. In this fall bass fishing guide, we will cover early fall bass patterns, including how the fish behave at that time of year and the best fall baits and colors that will help you reel some in.
How To Fish for Bass in Early Fall
Although it is self-explanatory, bass need to eat. The easiest way to target bass throughout any season is to locate bait fish. During the fall, the bait’s location can vary depending on several factors.
Since early fall is a transition period, the variance in temperature, rainfall, hours of daylight, and even animal behavior can leave anglers scratching their heads when their spring hotspot turns out to be a dry hole.
The guidance and tips below will help you better understand how to fish for bass in early fall.
Early Fall Bass Patterns
To know where and how to target bass in the early fall, you first need to learn their patterns. Understanding how they behave, where they go, and when they’re active will help you know how, where, and when to target them.
It’s not the same as summer. Here’s what changes.
Summer to Fall Transition Bass Fishing
The transition from summer to fall for bass is an often overlooked component of angling during one of the most beautiful times of the year.
During the warmer months of late spring through summer, bass tend to adhere to a pattern of the shallows during transition times, such as morning and night, and stick to the deeper parts of any body of water during the hottest part of the day.
Because of this, anglers will usually hit the water just after dawn or before nightfall for the highest chance of hooking into a lunker.
During the early portions of fall, bass hold to a very similar pattern. The weather is still warm enough that the bass will be found in the shallows during the morning and evening, but their windows will extend longer than the warm months of summer.
As the water temperature drops, early fall is the sweet spot where bass spend most of their time in the shallows, similar to spawning season.
There are two reasons for this. First, the water temperature plays a significant factor in a bass’s location, biting in water between 61°F and 84°F. The sweet spot sits in the 70s, a typical temperature range for fall lakes, ponds, and rivers.
Shallow water gains and loses heat faster than deeper portions of a lake or pond, making them a favorite of smaller baitfish and predators such as bass during early fall.
Because bass will follow the baitfish, which usually school around the structure or hide amongst aquatic vegetation, the shoreline is a safe bet in early fall.
With the temperatures hitting the sweet spot in the 70s, the bass bite ratchets up in preparation for winter. Similar to the feeding frenzy before spawning when bass fatten up for the upcoming activity, these green machines will increase their food intake to prepare for the colder months.
Like a bear preparing for hibernation, these fish will hit on various baits, lures, and insects if placed in front of them.
Best Bass Baits for Fall Transition
Picking the best lures for early fall bass fishing isn’t hard. The bass is stocking up for winter, and as long as the weather isn’t too cold, the baitfish, insects, and some amphibians will be plentiful.
However, a hungry bass is not a dumb one, and selecting a lure or bait that is out of season or not native to the body of water may lead to a wet but empty hook.
While many anglers swear by insect-like lures, fall is the time to break out your favorite imitation minnow swim bait, crankbait, or buzz bait you’ve been hiding in your tackle box.
The bass follows as the baitfish push into the shallow coves, creeks, cuts, and channels during the fall. Sunfish, shad, and other minnows make up most of a bass diet during early fall, so set yourself up for success by picking lures that resemble your local fishing holes’ baitfish.
When it comes to the best colors to use for bass in early fall, stick with neutral to moderately bright lures. Spring and summertime colors like chartreuse, neon, and other shades don’t naturally occur during this time so go with pumpkin seed, deep purples and reds, or burnished silver and gold.
Where Bass Go in Early Fall
There are three primary levels to any lake, pond, or reservoir that bass anglers need to know. These are referred to collectively as the water column.
Below, we cover when and why you should target each.
During the early fall months, the top of the water column is one of the best places to target. From mid-morning until noon, the water temperatures are usually optimal for the bass bite before heating up and sending the bass down into the thermocline. Once temperatures cool later in the day, the bass will usually return to the shallows and be caught in the upper portions of the water column.
The shallows are usually a favorite of largemouth bass, so anglers should expect big heavy strikes from ambush locations. Shallow running crankbaits are a favorite for the upper portion of the water column during early fall. Not only do they resemble the baitfish the bass are chasing, but they also can cover large swathes of water.
Another popular lure for working the upper portions of the water column for early fall bass fishing is my favorite: the top water frog. Although amphibians aren’t a staple in the bass diet, I’ve caught more monster bass with a topwater frog than any other lure. Cast it around lily pads, under docks, or next to vegetation along the shoreline, and watch a topwater explosion, worthy of a National Geographic cover, take your lure.
Also known as the middle of the water column, the thermocline is a consistent sliver of temperate water just above the icy depths but just beneath the warm surface. Bass tend to hang out here when temperatures are changing rapidly as it rarely shifts in temperature and still allows the bass to watch the surface for prey.
During the coldest and warmest parts of the day, I’ve found the smallmouth bass swimming comfortably in the thermocline waiting for the surface to return to optimal temperatures. While not as aggressive as in the shallows or near the surface, I’ve caught plenty of bass in the middle of the water column with the right lures or bait.
Surprisingly, a shad or minnow under a deep cork is one of the most successful setups I’ve used when fishing for bass during the early fall. Dead bait fish usually yield catfish, so make sure your minnow or shad is alive and kicking when you cast them out. Next to the structure or floated past creek or channel mouths, I’ve found this setup to work very well during the middle of the day or night fishing for bass during the early fall.
Soft plastics are another lure I use when angling for bass during the early fall. Pumpkin seed lizards or worms weighted with a slip sinker allow anglers to cover plenty of water at the proper depth. These lures are easy to retrieve and can be rigged weedless, making them a great choice around structure.
The bottom of the water column is the least likely spot to find bass during early fall unless a storm or a heat wave occurs.
Here in south Louisiana, it wouldn’t be early fall if a tropical storm or hurricane didn’t roll through. The wind and waves churn up the surface of every body of water, stirring up silt and pulling every dead or dying leaf off trees and dumping them into the lake or pond.
On the handful of occasions I’ve fished as a storm moves in, I’ve found that Texas or Carolina Rigs have been miracle workers. Everything from massive lunkers to hungry cats have bitten on the plastic worms or small minnows I’ve hooked and placed on the bottom.
During heat waves, the bass will seek respite from the hot surface level and head down to the coldest portions of any lake, pond, or reservoir. While this means the bite will be slower, anglers will still be able to catch their share of these green-eating machines using bottom rigs.
Similar to the cork set up for fishing the thermocline, you must use live minnows or shad as dead fish attract catfish or, in some cases, pickerel or gar.
Where to Target Bass in Early Fall
When it comes to angling during the early fall, location is everything. The following is a list of locations anglers should target when out on the water during early fall to rip lips with trophy bass.
Although anglers may not be able to see them, stumps are a common occurrence throughout freshwater, lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. With a root system that branches out, forming a nebulous web of cover, these are an excellent ambush site for bass and should be targeted if you can locate them with a fishfinder or by eye.
It’s always a safe bet to target the shoreline when the sun is out and the weather is warm. Aside from the middle of the day, casting against structure or vegetation on the shoreline or working your way down the bank is a surefire way to find out if there are bass in the water.
While most people consider docks to be a staging point for boats or to fish from, beneath the dock itself is often a haven for bait fish, and bass are hungry predators. Particularly during the warmest parts of the day, docks provide shade for bass and can be targeted by boat or from the shore.
This is where a fishfinder comes in handy. If anglers can locate drop-offs, there’s a good chance that big fish are waiting just beneath the rise. They’re lying in wait for the tide to bring them bait, fish, or to seek respite from the warm, sun-beaten surface water.
In most large lakes and reservoirs, feeder creeks are filled with bait fish and cut deeply into the shoreline. These are often the hunting grounds for large bass during the morning and evening hours. Anglers can target those by the bank or cast into the creek and retrieve them towards its mouth by boat.
6. Undercut Banks
Undercut banks are a favorite of large catfish and bass in rivers and large streams. Working a cork or a soft plastic past, these hiding spots are a great way to figure out what’s lurking beneath the surface.
Most waterways in North America have some form of aquatic vegetation within their footprint. This is a favorite of bass as it provides concealment for ambushing prey and cover from its much larger predators. Placing a Topwater frog or weedless plastic amongst the vegetation is a great way to rip lips with trophy bass.
Best Time to Fish in Early Fall
The time of day plays a massive role in bass patterns throughout the early fall. Due to temperature, fluctuations, light, variance, and weather systems, it’s essential to understand each segment of the day, when to target, and how anglers can capitalize on each.
Morning is probably one of the most angled times throughout the day. It is a temperature-rising, light-increasing environment where fish begin their daily feeding cycle as the water warms. Most early fall, bass and bait fish will transition into the shallows from just after sunrise until temperatures reach numbers that force them back into the thermocline or beneath the structure.
Anglers should pay attention to the weather cycle of the night before and the moon cycle, as this can affect the bite and the hours the fish are active throughout the day. For instance, a full moon the night before means anglers should probably head out later in the morning as the fish have been feeding all night.
Alternatively, little to no moon means the anglers should be out on the water as early as possible to catch the ravenous fish heading out for breakfast.
Early fall mornings are usually moderate in temperature, so anglers won’t have to worry about the water warming up for feeding to begin. That said, cold snaps do happen, so paying attention to the weather cycle is vital to know when to hit the water in the morning.
When it comes to lures, I’ve always found it’s best to start your day off with a bang. I prefer buzz baits, topwater, or soft plastics when targeting bass during the mornings. These often make quite the splash and are great for targeting cuts, coves, creeks, and channels.
Probably the slowest time of day on the water is midday or noon. There is a lull in the bite and many anglers call it quits. However, if you understand the bass pattern, it can be easy to make the most out of the hottest part of the day.
During the sun’s zenith, anglers usually find that bass head to deeper water to escape the heat and only return when the surface temperatures have reached acceptable feeding levels. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t catch bass in the thermocline or lower portions of the water column during the middle of the day.
For the most part, early fall days will be warm around noon and likely sunny. This means anglers should target deep structure, drop-offs, or shaded portions of water with submerged vegetation. All of these provide cover for bass until water temperatures return to normal.
The one exception is if a cold snap rolls through, in which case bass may prefer to feed during the warmer portions of the day and may be found in the shallows.
During the early fall, I have found that spinnerbaits or deep corks yield the best results for mid-day lures or baits. This is because they tend to sit deeper into the water column and provide an excellent presentation in murky water.
Deep corks, baited with small sunfish, minnows, shad, and Texas rigs baited the same way, have yielded excellent results during the middle of the day in early fall bass fishing. Spinner baits allow anglers to cover more water, and as an active option, anglers can work from a boat or shoreline to target, submerge, structure or dropbox.
Evening bass fishing during the early fall is one of the most active times of day to hit the water. The golden hours between late afternoon and sunset tend to be the least affected by temperature or weather as bass make one last run for food before the darkness sets in.
As the setting sun illuminates the water with its golden rays, it’s not uncommon to see large topwater strikes or schools of bait fish being blown out of the water by a hungry bass. Anglers’ best bet during this time of day is to stick to the shallows. Shorelines, cuts, and coves make for some excellent fishing, particularly around aquatic vegetation and structure.
I find that docks are some of the best locations to angle around during the latter part of the day, as bass are transitioning from beneath the structure as shade and begin hunting the surrounding shoreline.
Getting under these docks can be tricky, but the evening hours is the time to use both midday rigs and morning lures to figure out what the bass are biting on. A deep cork or topwater frog retrieved out from the underside of a dock can work magic. Anglers can also use a crankbait or soft plastic along the shoreline with great success.
Nighttime angling is an often overlooked opportunity to rip lips with some trophy bass during the early fall. With the weather still relatively temperate, anglers can catch the tail end of the summer night fishing high for a cooler yet beautiful time on the water.
Nighttime fishing largely relies on the weather and the moon cycle cooperating. If these two factors line up, anglers should ensure their drag is set, as some of the largest bass I’ve ever caught have been at night from late August through mid-October.
Drawing in the bait fish is the trick to angling for bass at night. Most often done from a dock, I’ve seen underwater lights and chum used to bring in the bait, and the hungry bass lurks just outside the submerged illumination.
Working directly around the structure, deep corks and crankbaits tend to work well, while the shoreline is ripe for the picking with spinnerbaits.
Pro Tip: Silver spoons work best at night.
Early Fall Bass Fishing Tips
Here are a few tips to help you successfully fish for bass in the early fall.
1. Hit the Docks
Underneath docks tends to be one of the most successful locations when fishing for bass during the early fall.
2. Watch the Wind
Wind can help anglers determine where the fish are. Locate a structure that shelters water, whether on a river, pond, or lake, and fish the protected water where bass lay up in wait for bait.
The color of your bait is critical. Gold spoons tend to work very well in the daytime during the early fall. While spring and summer bring colorful insects, amphibians, and small fish, fall is a time for more neutral, toned lures such as silver, gold, deep reds, purples, and greens.
4. Temperature Time Bomb
The early fall window is short, often no longer than a month. During this time, the weather is spectacular for bass fishing, with largemouths preferring the warmer waters closer to summer, and smallmouth activity picking up as the weather cools.
Anglers should capitalize on this sweet spot but watch for variances like heatwaves, or cold snaps to help them determine which day is best to hit the water.
Bass fishing is one of the most popular pastimes in North America, and there’s no better time to hit the water than early fall. Not only are the views spectacular, the weather pleasant, and the days long, but the bass activity is second to none.
Check out our winter bass fishing article for more on seasonal bass fishing.