I’ve always found September to be the toughest month of the year to catch bass in Ohio, especially big bass. It’s the one month out of the year when I occasionally choose to watch college football over chasing bass. On most public bodies of water the fish are stuck between their summer and fall patterns, which means they are often suspended or living in obscure deep areas of the lake. The water temperatures are still high (although beginning to drop with the cooler nights), and the fish are disinterested in feeding for much of the day. And to make matters even worse, the baitfish that hatched earlier in the year have now formed giant schools, and those bass that are active are keyed in on the schools to the point that they will ignore most presentations that you throw at them. I won’t claim to be an expert on catching these finicky fish, because I’m not. But there are a few techniques that have worked for me in the past when bass are primarily focused on bait fish.
Jerkbait - Sometimes working a hard bodied jerkbait under and around the schools of bait can be effective. I personally like to use a Smithwick Rogue or a Lucky Craft Pointer. Smaller sized baits (3-5 inches) seem to produce best, but don’t shy away from trying something bigger to get their attention. Regardless of the size you opt for, make sure that the lure has a lot of “flash” to it.
Bladebait – Most people associate bladebaits with saugeye or crappie fishing. But they will work for bass this time of year. Casting a bladebait (Vibee or Silver Buddy) into the schools of bait and then either steady retrieving it or bouncing it under them can catch fish. Again, pick a color that is going to generate a lot of flash.
Topwater - When the bass are really exploding on the schools of bait, a Pop-R or Zara Spook will sometimes get them to commit. I avoid throwing these baits directly into the school because the splash will often frighten the school and scatter them. Rather, I try to fish it in front of or behind the school. Experiment with your retrieve and cadence, and let the bass tell you what they want.
Jig – If all else fails, you can target these schoolers by tossing a jig directly into them. Sometimes the bigger bass will suspend below the school, waiting for dead or injured shad to fall right in front of them. Pair a jig with a big bulky trailer that will slow the rate of the fall. This will give those fish a big target and plenty of time to find it as it drops in front of their nose.
Tomorrow I will be heading to the Ohio River for the final event of the 2011 Buckeye BFL season. I MUST catch a few fish in order to qualify for the regional tournament. I will no doubt be employing some of the techniques I just discussed during the tournament, as the fish on the Ohio are finicky right now, and feeding heavily on schooling bait.
I will give a full report on the tournament next week.