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Baitfish

Fall is in full swing and most outdoorsman and outdoorswomen turn their attention to the many hunting opportunities around the Cedar Valley. I'm guilty of this as much as anyone, but what most don't realize is right now is some of the best fishing you will experience all year. Weather patterns stay more consistent and the rivers are around normal levels. The fish stay in a more consistent pattern as the water cools. This week I'll break that down for you.

Anyone who knows me, and as you read my articles, will find that I'm a Bass nut! So a lot of what I'll be touching on is with Bass in mind, but a lot of the info pertains to all species of fish we have around the Cedar Valley. A few weeks ago I wrote that I was heading into my last tournament of the 2017 season. Most of that early fall tournament centered around one pattern, BAITFISH. What I mean by baitfish, is minnows and shad that school up and head shallow as the water temperature drops. In my last tournament we knew going into practice we would need to be following baitfish to find quality bass.

Our first morning of practice dawned chilly and foggy for a mid September day. The first couple areas we stopped on we managed a few bites, but we weren't seeing the baitfish we knew we needed. As we moved around through the day we found a wingdam at the top of a point near the main channel with a creek mouth that fed into the river. There were baitfish everywhere we looked in this area. We didn't even make a cast in this area, we could see bass chasing the bait all over. As we often do in Tournament practice, we left the fish alone to not educate or sore mouth them by catching them before the tournament.

Throughout the day we found a few more productive areas that we felt like we could catch a good bag of bass. One pattern throughout this tournament was the key ingredient in every area - baitfish. As we started the tournament we were very confident that we had quality areas and were hoping for a couple big fish in our five fish limit. The first spot we stopped on was the wingdam point we found in practice. I cast my rattle trap towards the top of the wingdam and immediately hooked up with a Smallmouth bass. As I battled him, the fish jumped and spit the hook. I cast right back out and another one loaded up with the same result. Adam cast in there and lost a couple as well. For whatever reason we couldn't keep the big fish pinned that day. We ended the tournament with a fourth place finish and a feeling of a missed opportunity for a win.

This baitfish pattern is the deal in the fall for all species of fish. What happens is when the water temperature starts to drop off of its summer time temp, the baitfish will school up and move shallow. A general rule temperature wise to put them into a fall pattern usually occurs in September and a drop of ten degrees from summer temps. The fish will use this feeding pattern right up to freeze up as they bulk up for the long winter months when they move into deep wintering holes. It always amazes me how shallow fish can get in the fall. In that last tournament Adam and I caught thirty fish off of one log that was in a foot of water! So don't be afraid to get shallow when looking for the schools of baitfish.

As far as baits to use, I like to mimic the bait size as best as I can. I love using a spinnerbait this time of year. With that I will select a blade size that is roughly the size of the shad I'm seeing in the water. Also it's tough to beat small shallow running crankbaits in the fall such as a Rapala dt 4 or lipless crankbaits such as rattletraps.

Another tactic that is great for bass in the fall is topwater, I love to throw a pop-r or a Zara spook. The bass will absolutely blast it on top and it's such an exciting way to fish in the fall. As far as colors go, you also want to mimic the color of the bait in the water. Flashy colors and one of my favorites is gold. These same tactics also work for walleyes and crappies, you try your best to mimic the bait. Walleyes will be all over your crankbaits and rattletraps in the fall. Also a twister tail or flashy colored ringworm will work well for walleyes in the fall. You can get after the crappies the same way by throwing inline spinners or a minnow colored twistertails.

There are many areas along the Cedar River right here in the Cedar Valley where you can use this tactic to catch some quality fish. Check out Blackhawk counties conservation webpage to find great accesses and Parks along the Cedar that have fantastic fishing opportunities. You just might have some of your best fishing of the year! Until next time, Get Outdoors!






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