As we slip into late September, the inevitable truth starts to become clear: Summer is over. The long hot days and balmy nights soon will be replaced by brisk temperatures as our region slowly gives itself over to fall. Tennessee definitely holds the cold at bay longer than most, but I have no doubt that a change is coming. Fall in our area offers some amazing opportunities for trophy-class Melton Hill musky as long as you don’t get stuck in a summer pattern.
Identifying and capitalizing early on the fall transition is a surefire way to come in contact with a trophy-size bass, walleye or musky. But breaking from a “hot” summer pattern can be like pulling teeth for many anglers. It usually takes a few bad trips before you realize something is going wrong. Smart anglers gradually will transition their patterns to follow these seasonal changes long before the summer bite has disappeared.
When the surface temperatures begin to change, many species of fish begin making changes of their own. Most of these moves are based on their individual temperature preference and habits of forage.
In the early fall, baitfish will often take up residence in very shallow waters, seeking warmer temperatures that provide more abundant feeding opportunities. But the arrival of a cold front then will push the schools deeper into areas along break lines where predators are all too willing to follow.
Many anglers feel uncomfortable or lack the faith to fish anything other than shoreline cover, putting their desired catch out of reach during the fall transition. But targeting transitional fish, break lines and drop-offs isn’t a mysterious endeavor; it just takes a little forethought and practice. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, it is easy to get your feet wet with a little bit of the basics to build confidence in open-water scenarios.
A good way to attack this early fall pattern is by fishing shallow areas, while gradually working away from them, so that you are able to effectively work the adjacent structure in deeper water.
Take note of the changes in the bottom’s composition as you work out of a cove or away from the shoreline. As you pull away from the comfy confines of the weed beds, stumps and tree falls, keep a keen eye out for dramatic transitions, like drop-offs and holes. Steep depth changes adjacent to shallow water areas are prime real estate for marine predators. These drastic drop-offs allow predatory fish to quickly overtake forage while also providing them a quick escape to deep water. These structures can be made of dramatic cliff-like plunges into the abyss or gradual deep rolling hills as local reservoirs reveal an ever-changing and limitless bottom structure.
No matter the body of water, it is important to identify and subsequently begin to understand how these shallow and deep areas work together to support the ever-growing population. The composition of these areas can have a dramatic affect on the whereabouts of your prey in during any given season. Areas where a soft muddy bottom or sediment transition to a rock or gravel bottom might seem of little consequence, but even these seemingly insignificant changes are a magnet to predator and prey alike.
When working these deeper structures, a common mistake is focusing solely on deep-running baits. While deep-running crank baits and jigs can be effective, moving to a mid level or even shallow bait many times may produce more strikes.
Predators are using depth in this situation as cover, looking for targets above them in the water column. So more often than not, begin fishing transitional areas with mid-dept running cranks, spinners and plastics when looking for success. This will help you locate those predators hanging off the edge out of sight. If the mid-depth presentations are unsuccessful, only then should you move further off the structure and concentrate on deep divers. Deep divers are usually more productive as you move deeper into late fall and early winter when the surface temperatures have completely cooled.
The fall transition of predator and prey in the water column is an inevitability that can sometimes throw a wrench into the most successful summer pattern.
It only makes sense to move away from the known and try your luck seeking out prime drop-offs, slopes or transitions. So, when the “hot bite” mysteriously fades away from your summer honey hole, remember that the big ones might only have moved a break-line away.
Steven Paul Melton Hill Musky Guide