After his win last month in the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup, FLW Tour pro Anthony Gagliardi, a Team Rainshadow pro staff, shared some pro tips for fishing schooling bass.
Here is what he had to say:
The first tip that I have for fall fishing in general, is to make sure to pay attention and always be observant. I keep my eyes to the backs of pockets or coves. That is where the feeding activity will be. If I see one or two shad pop up out of the water, it is a pretty good indicator that there are bass feeding on 'em and I know I should be fishing there.
Fisheries can vary around the country but most lakes have some type of shad population. As the temperatures cool from summer into fall, the shad will start migrating to the backs of creeks and the bass will follow them back, shortly thereafter. During the this time, the bite can get tough, because there are so many schooling shad to compete with a lure.
In the fall, the shad are typically kind of small. In order to trigger strikes, I balance out the lure size to the actual bait size. It can be hard to closely replicate the smaller size and get the bass to readily bite, but if I can get a lure sized accordingly, most of the time, I can get a fish to bite.
When I am picking a bait to imitate these small schooling shad, key factors are bait size, water clarity and conditions.
My top three choices for fishing schooling bass are a small topwater bait like a popper, a small prop-style bait and a small swimbait. It is getting to the point when I always have some type of swimbait rigged up and ready for all times of the year, but for fall in particular. There are going to be times when the bass are not going to want to come up and hit a topwater lure, so that is when that swimbait becomes very effective.
The feeding activity can tell me if a topwater lure or a sub surface bait will be more effective. If the bass are coming up and breaking the surface to eat, then I'm going to fish a topwater bait; but if I'm seeing boils and they fish are not busting the surface, then the they are just feeding a foot or two under and a topwater isn't going to be as effective.
I will use a popper for calmer, slicker, clearer water conditions.
When I fish a popper around breaking fish, I am not going to use much of a pause on the retrieve. I would pause if I was fishing around cover, but not in this schooling fish situation. When I throw a popper up next to stump, I know that's where the fish should be and I can pause to trigger a strike. With schooling fish, I don't really know where they are or where they're are chasing, so I just want to keep the bait moving to attract the fish.
I am trying to get their attention away from the live shad. I want the lure that I am fishing to be distinguished from the live bait, but at the same time, it has to be realistic enough to get the fish to bite.
I want to get my lure within a foot or two of the feeding fish. Most of the time, the fish are going to bite at the first short movements, regardless of the speed of my retrieve. If they don't bite right away, I will work it back in with a "faster is better" retrieve. That being said, faster retrieves are less effective as the fall changes into winter and the water becomes even more cooler. I start to slow down as the water temps get down into the 50's.
Downsizing to light line can be a key factor when I am fishing a lure among all the live bait, so I use Gamma 6 lb monofilament for a small popper. I throw this on a 6'8" or 7' medium action rod. I like a longer rod that can get the bait out there, but not so stiff that it will pull the bait away. I also want my rod to have some tip on it to handle the lighter line.
Sometimes, if the fish are really aggressive or feeding on bigger bait. I will throw a bigger topwater lure.
A prop bait really shines in windier conditions, so if the water has a little ripple to it or a little color, that is what I will use. The retrieve on the prop bait is more of short, crisp twitch of the wrist. I will also work it with a side-to-side, walkin' the dog action, similar to a walking bait, but with more commotion and splash, because of the prop.
I fish a prop bait on a 6'8" or 7' medium to medium-heavy casting rod with 12 lb monofilament.
I will always try a swimbait, even if I was catching 'em on a topwater lure, because a swimbait might get a bigger fish to bite, since it can get a little deeper. Regardless of the conditions, when I am fishing schooling bass, I am always going to tie one on at some point and give it a try.
I don't get too fancy when I'm throwin' a swimbait. It is pretty much a cast and wind retrieve. Sometimes when I'm reelin' it in, I will kill it, give it a little bit of slack line and let it fall a foot or two. There are times that can trigger a bite; but most of the time, I just throw it out there, wind it back and then start to figure out if they want it fast or slow. A slower retrieve will allow it to be down a bit deeper and a faster retrieve will get it up there closer to the surface.
Depending on the size of the shad, I am going to throw a 3 to 5 inch shad colored (whites, silvers, grays) swimbait with a 1/4 oz head. I use 12 to 16 lb fluorocarbon. The line size will be determined by the water clarity and bait size. The smaller the bait and the clearer the water, the smaller the line. If the fish are more aggressive or the water is little bit stained or windy or if I was using a larger swimbait, I would go to a little heavier line. I throw this on a 7'2 medium-heavy casting rod.
Gagliardi is currently developing a signature series rod line with Batson Enterprises using Rainshadow rod blanks.
More information to come.
Photos courtesy of FLW Outdoors and Anthony Gagliardi