The leaves changing colors, days getting shorter, and water temperatures getting colder, are a sure sign that the fishing is about to change in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, across the country. While you don't have to worry about dehydrating yourself with intense heat, this more comfortable time of year can actually be a very frustrating time to really figure out and pattern the fish. During the fall of the year the fish are very scattered and roaming around looking for food. In one single day you could catch fish in 1 foot and then switch gears and go catch a fish in 30 feet. While junk fishing or throwing the kitchen sink at them can be a successful approach, there is an option that in my opinion is at times easier to figure out. Abandoning the wide open lower end of lakes and reservoirs and heading up to the river is a great option when trying to figure out what to do in the fall of the year.
The way I look at it river fish quite simply have less places they can hide. Rivers are pretty simple you have a winding channel with flats, drop-offs, rock piles, lay down logs, shoreline vegetation, and shallow creeks and backwaters. The thing I really like about a river, is that all of these types of structure are generally in close proximity to one another. Where on the lower main lake end of a body of water there are multiple levels of depth changes, channels and structure, which the fish will move back and forth on throughout the year. Sometimes these main lake fish will move half a mile or more to go from a spawning pocket to a creek channel and then on out to a main river ledge or point. In a river often 100 yards is all a fish has to move throughout the year making river fish easier to pattern during scattered out time of year like the fall.
Just like figuring out any part of the lake in the fall finding the bait fish is a very important step. To do this I use my Lowrance HDS 8 Fishfinder, as well as physically looking for schooling fish or balls of bait on the surface. Baits such as spinner baits and crank baits are extremely effective for covering stretches of river bank, in order to search for aggressive fish. If the reaction baits aren't working then baits such as Jig and Pigs, and Texas Rigged soft plastics are also great choices for pitching to shoreline cover. A key thing to always remember in a river system is that current is everything. Current positions the bait fish and the bass use the current to there advantage in order to ambush the bait. Bass will often sit just on the edge of current areas in current breaks caused by lay down trees, stumps, rock piles, and points. An accurate cast or better yet, pitch is crucial for catching river fish with the current running. An underhand pitch is my method of choice because of the accuracy and gentle presentation it can achieve.
When fishing soft plastics or jigs around lay downs and stumps I try to look for little eddies where there is a backup in the current and then present my bait as close to the cover as possible in the slack water. When using this technique bites come quick, often as soon as the bait begins to sink, so being able to either pitch left handed or use a left handed real is critical for hitting the fish quick and getting them out of the cover before they get you in trouble. When fishing points or rock piles I generally throw above, or upstream from my targeted current break and with a semi tight line I feel the bait as it washes down over the structure. With either technique your cast angle and accuracy is critical, but once you master it these river fishing techniques are extremely rewarding, and not to mention a boat load of fun! It is very important to use a strong rod such as a, TFO Tactical Series 7'3" Heavy Action, and a good high gear ratio 7.9:1 Pflueger Patriarch Reel in order to horse the fish out of the often cover littered banks and fast moving water. When fishing your moving baits such as Spro Little Johns and Stanley Spinner baits you should target the same current break areas. I often use a short roll cast to accurately place my bait where I can run it through the slack water past the cover. Another key to river fishing is boat positioning and understanding how to work your boat in the current in order to give yourself the best casting opportunities. If you have a 36 volt trolling motor and the water isn't overly swift then you can slowly move your boat against the current up stream, casting ahead at a 45, or more, degree angle. If you don't have a strong trolling motor to make headway or the current is just too strong then back drifting, holding your boat and then letting it slightly drift down for each cast can work very well.
So if you're having trouble catching fish this fall, check the current generation schedule, and abandon the open water lower end of your local lake or reservoir, and head up to the river portion of your lake for some awesome fishing action. I'll see you on the water!!!