Adjusting to Fishing Situations in the Fall Months

By Kevin Kelly

Anglers become conditioned to expect high water on lakes in spring and stable conditions in summer before the fall drawdowns to winter pool.

Determining the conditions on the lake you plan to fish in fall is paramount for productive fishing. The fall drawdown begins on many reservoirs across Kentucky in middle September through early October that usually initiates several weeks of falling water conditions. However, a heavy rain system will cause lakes to jump up, even if the fall drawdown is underway.
A good place to get a handle on what your lake is doing before you head out the door is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ website for that district. The Louisville, Nashville and Huntington​ Corps’ districts provide up-to-date water information for many lakes in Kentucky.

“See what the water’s been doing,” said Geoff Roberts, a conservation educator with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and an avid bass angler. “See if it’s coming up. See if it’s stable. See if it’s falling. That’s going to determine where the fish are positioned.”

Rising water that floods new habitat draws smaller baitfish shallow. Predator fish are apt to follow and may remain somewhat shallow if the lake stabilizes before falling.

Damp rings around tree trunks are a giveaway that water is being pulled quickly through the dam. Treat this as a sign that fish are likely to be retreating to deeper water.

“A lot of times during that hard drawdown in the fall, we catch a lot of fish in our sampling nets because they’re moving,” said Jeremy Shiflet, Northwestern Fisheries District biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “Especially the mobile species – crappie, hybrids, white bass, walleye – they’re all on the move. The water usually gets dirty and turbid, so it’s hard for them to sight-feed. It takes them a little longer to really get cranking.”

If largemouth bass are what you’re after, resist the urge to pound the shoreline when the water is falling. Consider casting to the last row of visible vegetation or structure and note the contour of the bank.

“If you fish a flatter bank, then when the water comes up, that gives bass tons of areas to go,” Roberts said. “But if you fish a steeper bank, even falling water doesn’t affect those fish very much because the bank is straight up and down.

“I find it easier to fish those types of banks when the water is falling because those fish don’t get nearly as uncomfortable with falling water as the fish that have moved up on the shallow bank.”

A power or finesse technique can be effective for bass in falling water conditions.

A finesse technique employing lighter line and smaller jigs or soft plastic lures draws strikes from lethargic fish when fished slowly. Power techniques use faster presentations with larger lures such as crankbaits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, topwaters and heavier jigs to trigger reaction bites.

“Some anglers say they really want to finesse them and target spots that they think are holding fish and go with a really small bait presentation,” said Chad Miles, host of the Kentucky Afield television show. “Some people will say, no, you need to power fish them because the fish don’t want to move that much. They want to hit something and eat something big and be done with it for a while. Both options work depending on the day.”

Many anglers don’t have the luxury of being able to drop everything and fish when the weather and lake reports look favorable. They fish when they can.

By doing some study and adapting to conditions, fall anglers can have a productive day, even if conditions aren’t perfect.