Autumn is my favourite time of the year to be on the water chasing bass.
With usually stable weather and very little wind, Autumn brings crisp, cool days, often opened by foggy mornings.
Spring might be the best time to catch big fish but Autumn definitely is the best time to catch good numbers of bass.
The fish become very inactive in the cooler months and won’t eat much so they need to feed up now to survive the oncoming Winter.
In the rivers, the bass move downstream to prepare for spawning.
In the impoundments, although they cannot breed they begin to school and roam the dam in search of masses of baitfish.
Two major factors trigger changes in bass behaviour at this time of year.
Firstly, the hours of darkness begin to outnumber the daylight hours.
The second and more variable aspect is the cooling effect that the longer and colder nights have on the water. The trigger in the dams is usually when the water falls below 20°.
Another important factor to come into play when searching for impoundment bass in this Autumn mood is the dam’s stratification.
In early Autumn there is usually good oxygen in the top layer, or epilimnion, which can go down to around 5m to 7m.
Below this is the thermocline, which also has plenty of oxygen and is usually around 2m to 3m thick but below this layer, in the hypolimnion, there is little to no oxygen so the fish will not hold up there.
If there are strong winds at this time of year then this water column changes and it is all mixed, with oxygen spread through the entire three layers. This is referred to as a turnover.
This can allow the fish to go deep if the water is sufficiently warm.
As during the rest of the year, dam bass normally migrate along contour lines and along structure such as river beds when changing locations.
However, in Autumn they appear to move from main deep areas to shallower channels or gullies and from shallow channels to the backs of bays.
I am trying to emphasise that in Autumn bass tend to shift towards shallower strata but remember, shallow is relative.
For bass that have held up in 3m to 5m during Summer, this may eventually be 1m to 3m before they move back into deeper water for the Winter.
The deeper Summer bass that tend to hold up in 6m to 8m in may therefore shift to only 5m to 7m in Autumn.
When on the deeper side of a 7m to 8m slope, bass are less likely to be caught than when you find them in 5m to 7m.
During April-May I have tracked schools of bass and they shift around a lot.
Some weeks they move quite long distances, especially after a cold front blows through, but then when the barometer is steady for a few consecutive days, they remain in situ.
The intelligent use of a good sounder cannot be understated. It can find the fish and gauge the depth they are holding.
It also can indicate the surface water temperature so it can save a lot of time locating active fish.
The main food sources for impoundment bass at this time of year are smelt and gudgeons. These can easily be seen in the water column, especially with the new HD screens.
If you start by fishing the deep points, work to progressively shallower points as you fish towards the backs of the bays. This is the same for the deep gullies: Start out deeper and then move progressively shallower.
The bass will, as I’ve said, move to shallower holding areas during the day but also will tend to shift towards the bank or nearby shallows to feed in the evening, at night and early morning.
Unlike during Summer , the bass tend to stay in these shallower feeding zones longer in the mornings and arrive back earlier in the evenings. This means you have a longer period of time to work topwaters.
If you can find some water that is just a little warmer than other sections, then give the surface lures a try.
When looking for this warmer water I search for banks or structure that faces north; it gets more sun on it all day and therefore will attract a lot of baitfish.
Prime examples of suitable structure include dam walls, old roadways, rocky banks and large trees. In the rivers you can also add large rocks, rock walls and even bridges.
The spinnerbait is well suited to Autumn fishing because you are usually fishing for aggressive feeders. Unlike when bass are sluggish in the colder waters of Winter, you won’t have to work too hard to get them to hit a lure.
My choice is a compact spinnerbait with a combination of willow and colorado blades, which give excellent vibrations and plenty of flash when worked at a moderate retrieve.
Lipless crankbaits, such as the Jackal TN60 or TN50, also let you cover considerable water and again they appeal to feeding bass that have an extended strike zone at this time of the year.
Soft plastics can also work well. With the wider strike zone and more aggressive fish, curl-tail grubs can be used with a more rapid stop-start action instead of the slower retrieve more suited to Summer days.
And there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t troll spinnerbaits or lipless crankbaits; they are very productive.
If you need to bet them down a little deeper then all that’s required are a few trolling sinkers pinned with toothpicks on the line above.
The most important factor for Autumn fishing is location and this is usually relative to the basses’ food source, mainly baitfish.
Because the weed is now starting to die off, these schools of bait move around so you must use all your knowledge of the waterway and all your abilities to get the most from your electronics to find them.
When I find these baitfish schools I like to mark them with the GPS and make a note for upcoming Autumn seasons, because patterns in baitfish and bass movements do emerge.
In my local impoundments I have seen these schools absolutely nailed by bass out in the open bays, especially after the dam has turned over.
While it doesn’t produce as many hot bites from big fish as Spring can, once you adjust to the conditions and work out the movements of the bass and the baitfish, Autumn fishing can be great.
Blair Whitney with a pair of quality Autumn bass from Glenbawn caught working lipless crankbaits along a drop-off.
Autumn bass are often eager feeders, ready to put on condition for the leaner times ahead.
With a northerly aspect and sunken timber as additional heat sinks, this is a good section of bank to fish.
A promising bay with a deep gully and gently sloping adjacent banks. Usually water in an area like this is a little warmer in Autumn.
A bass’s breakfast: These baitfish were spewed up by one unhappy bass. The partially digested ones are probably Australian smelt and the fish at bottom right is likely a firetail gudgeon.
The spinnerbait is an effective weapon for hungry bass, such as this St Clair model caught by the author. Purple is a perennial favourite colour for hardbodies and spinnerbait skirts in the Hunter dams.
Lake St Clair on a foggy Autumn morning that promises very little wind to come.
This north-facing section of bank in Lake St Clair has plenty of rocks to warm the water and provide cover for baitfish and bass.
This sounder snapshot shows bass holding along the north-facing edge of a gully just below weed and structure.Reads: 4272