By Ron Cervenka
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." We have all heard that line before. It is, of course, the opening sentence of the great Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities, written in 1859. Who would have ever thought that Charles Dickens was a bass fisherman? Of course he probably was not, but that immortal line from one of the greatest books ever written clearly describes what our fall-to-winter transition has been like in Southern California for the past two years.
When normal weather patterns prevail, the fall-to-winter transition can be " the best of times " However, when weather patterns are not normal, as has been the case in Southern California for the past two years, it has been " the worst of times."
Under normal weather conditions, the fall-to-winter transition is when our bass began to "bulk up" for the approaching winter. During this time, they will often feed almost non-stop all day long. This is why it is not uncommon for us to catch our highest numbers of fish per outing during this time of year than at any other time of year, including the springtime. But while the numbers may be high during this transition period, the quality is usually on the small side - BUT NOT ALWAYS. My two largest bass to date were both taken during the month of September. A normal fall-to-winter transition period is, by far, the best time of year to throw reaction baits such as topwater baits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and crankbaits.
But what about non-normal weather conditions during the fall-to-winter transition period like we have been having? What happens to the bass then? Why has fishing been so bad when it should be at its best? Why are the best of times the worst of times? The answer to these questions is actually very simple: There is too much food.
We all know that the primary forage of our bass is threadfin shad. Threadfin shad spawn and flourish during the summer months and are very abundant in most of our lakes. These young shad grow very rapidly and usually remain shallow throughout the summer and well into the fall. I call these shallow shad "surface layer shad." They are the reason why the reaction baits that I just mentioned work so well during this time of year. Under normal weather patterns during the fall-to-winter transition, the days get shorter, the nights get cooler, and we usually get a cold and wet winter type storm passing through every three or four weeks. This normal weather pattern (especially the storms) triggers the fall-to-winter transition. It causes the water temperature to fall - sometimes VERY rapidly. This falling water temperature causes a major "die-off" of the surface layer shad. Once these shad are gone, most of the bass begin to seek out deeper layers shad, usually found in 35 feet of water and much deeper.
With the non-normal weather patterns that we have experienced for the past two years, our summer weather has extended well into the fall, and the normal cold and wet storms have been virtually non-existent. While these conditions have given us some beautiful and very comfortable fishing days, they have put us into a severe drought condition. Many of our lakes are at record low water levels, with water temperatures remaining much higher than they should be at this time of year. These conditions have prevented the surface layer shad die-off and have allowed the shad to overpopulate. While this has certainly helped our bass get bigger, it has created a very unique problem for us as tournament anglers. There is simply TOO MUCH shad in our lakes right now and you have to literally hit the bass on the nose with an artificial bait to get them to bite it. It is extremely frustrating for tournament anglers using artificial baits to go down a bank and not get bit, only to see live bait fishermen come down that very same bank right behind them and catch a fish on almost every cast on live shad. If fact, some live shad fishermen are claiming that, if they have ten live shad, they will catch ten bass; if they have 100 live shad, they will catch 100 bass.
We all know that the cold and wet weather will eventually come. But because it hasn't thus far, we have all but lost out on one of the best bass fishing times of the year. Once the cold winter storms do arrive and water temperatures drop into the mid to lower fifties, the surface layer shad will die off. This is where our knowledge of "bass fishing basics" will come into play. Question: What is the favorite forage of a bass? Answer: Crawdads. While shad are the most prevalent bass forage, crawdads are, by far, their favorite forage. A bass needs to eat as many as 30 threadfin shad every day to maintain a normal growth rate of one pound per year, but they need only to eat one crawdad every three or four days to equal that same growth rate. What does this mean to us bass anglers? That's an easy one. Put down the shad imitator baits and pick up the crawdad imitator baits; and crawdad imitator bait Number One is, of course, the jig. Herein lies the significance of the fall-to-winter transition
Keep in mind that crawdads usually go dormant once the water temperature hits (around) 50 degrees. Now this certainly does not mean that a bass will not hit a jig or other crawdad imitator when the water is colder than this. It just means that we might want to think about using our winter tactics and techniques, as the fall-to-winter transition is now complete.
Thanks for your time and always remember: "The shortest distance between two points is a reef!"
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