Fall means football season and the image of defenders using the sideline to corral fleet-footed runners is the fodder of weekend cheer-fests. Now, take that allusion to the lake and let’s see if we can find a scenario in which bass can leverage narrowing confines to tackle the baitfish upon which their autumn gorge depends.
If that sounds like a bridge, you’re right on target. Indeed, with declining water temperatures and shortening daylight periods, bass make packing on the weight top priority. They still have plenty of vigor for chasing baitfish, but it’s just so much easier to stake out the piling eddies or run the riprap to find those easy meals.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Dennis Tietje said that coast-to-coast, bridges will offer some of the most consistent fall opportunities, as seasonal drawdowns create current. Anytime you combine current with structure you get ambush spots and bass need no clarification here.
Any bridge, large or small, will do, but the ones that cross major creek arms generally hold higher potential, as bait schools heading back into their fall objectives traverse these pinch points. Even main lake structures will continue to offer great bass opportunities throughout the fall.
“Typically, this time of year the bait starts balling up and bridges are pinch points where all that bait that’s heading back to the creeks gets funneled through a tight area,” Tietje said. “As that bait washes past, those bridge pilings make a current break and the bass will position on the downcurrent side to ambush baitfish as they pass by.
“In lakes, that’s a consistent (scenario), but in tidal waters, that will change. The fish may be on the south side of the bridge in the morning, but they may be on the south side in the afternoon. So paying attention to your tide schedule and current flow is the main deal.”What to Throw
Fall finds bass at the peak of indiscriminate feeding, but consistency requires purposeful presentations. Here’s how some of the top Western anglers approach fall bridges.
Ken Mah – Elk Grove, California: The FLW Rayovac Series pro starts with a large, heavy spoon like a 2 1/2 - to 3-ounce Blade Runner spoon tied to 20-pound fluorocarbon and fished on a 7.5-foot Loomis rod with a high-speed Shimano Metanium reel. A speedy line retrieve, Mah said, is a critical element in his game plan.
“I like to drop the spoon on a semi-slack line and I pay attention to the bait as it falls because you usually get the biggest fish to bite first as these spoons are not small,” he said. “It's a really aggressive spooning technique as I start off with long, upward sweeps on my rod until I figure out how they are biting it.”
Mah’s also fond of throwing a large topwater bait around bridges because the pilings and support create a natural highway or path for bass to travel toward his bait.
“The fish feel very safe to come out of deep water when they have a line or path to follow,” he explained. “Sometimes this is a great way to approach a bridge on the initial cast before you start throwing all of those traditional vertical baits that so many people throw.
“Those fish on bridges are accustomed to baits falling towards them and big fish always love to move and feed vertically along the supports, cables, or pillars.”
Mah’s bridge fallback is a dropshot tweaked for enticing performance. Using a 1/8-ounce weight, he’ll crook his worm on the hook so it spirals as it falls. Linking his main line and leader with a swivel eliminates line twist while allowing for maximum spiraling motion.
Brent Ehrler – Redlands, California: Having fared well on bridges in falls past, the FLW Tour pro typically starts off with a 5-inch green pumpkin Yamamoto Senko. Wacky rigging is the way to go for suspended fish, but for probing the base of pilings, he may switch to the more slender Pro Senko on a Boss shaky head. (1/8-ounce for 0-15 feet, ¼-ounce for 15-30)
“The second bait would be a 4-inch Yamamoto swimbait with either a ¼- or ½-ounce Boss swimbait head,” Ehrler said. “I can use this on suspended fish or fish on the bottom. Any shad color will work, depending on the lake and clarity.”
Saving the best for last, Ehrler said his favorite bait is a Lucky Craft 1.5 DRS in pearl threadfin shad. He fishes this one around the bridge’s rocky embankment.
“All bridges create a bottle neck and the bait always seems to congregate around the eaves of the opening and up and down each side of the bridge,” Ehrler said. “You can literally just go up and down and all around all sides of a bridge and catch fish on a crankbait. Make multiple laps and casts because the fish move up and down and filter in and out.”
Matt Newman – Agoura Hills, California: One of Newman’s top bridge tactics takes into consideration the potential for fish to hold just about anywhere along a piling’s vertical profile.
“No matter how deep the pilings are, fish can suspend all the way down the side of them, especially spotted bass,” he said. “I have done really well casting a weightless Senko at a piling in over 80 feet and letting it slowly fall until it stops.”
For more of an active approach, Newman will throw a swimbait or a Scrounger all around the bridge. His preference, though, is the shady section. And on this point, he offers a closing lesson.
“I will usually start with the shallower pilings first and always fish the shade side. Any pilings with irregular bits to it or with extra support beams are good. I will time those parts to be in the shade. If the best part of a bridge is in the sun I will try to come back when it’s shaded.
“Spotted bass will tend you use the deeper ones and suspend on deeper. If there is bait around, it will stay in the shade as well. Throwing a swimbait or scrounger to those areas no matter where they are is key.”
As Newman notes, the bridge shadow may reach into open water 100 from the structure. When sun angles create these extended dark areas, he’ll throw out a Scrounger, let it sink and then slowly reel it back it in through the shade.
“I also try to project the shade, meaning it may be sunny on the surface but the shade line starts 20 feet down,” Newman notes. “Mid-morning can be great because it will squeeze the fish into a small area, making them easier to target.”