Fall Topwater Shorefishing
2014.10.5
Topwater bassing is great any time it happens but fall can be best of all for this exciting method. This article is adapted from Idaho Outdoor Digest.

From September into mid-November, most of us are too busy with birds and big game hunting to go bass fishing. Too bad – topwater bass action this time of year is great – all day long, too, and not just at dawn and dusk as in the summer.

In gentle autumn weather you don’t even need a boat for surface plugging if you’d prefer not fiddling with complexity for once. Just throw on a shoulder bag filled with lunch and terminal tackle, grab your rod, and take off walking downshore. With hungry bass cruising rocky banks and nearby weedbeds for forage throughout the day, you’re apt to do as well as boaters working deepwater points and ledges.

topwater fishing for fall smallmouth

Topwater fishing for bass is always exciting but fall is the time an anlger can do it the easy way, from shore.

On largemouths you may even do better than offshore anglers. In many lakes, elongated weedbeds lie just offshore, which leaves a narrow strip of fish-filled open water between weeds and dry ground. Hoofing bank anglers can reach this water much easier than boaters can – and a slowly-worked plug is perfect for tantalizing bucketmouths from beneath the nearby vegetative cover.

Spinning Outfits Work Best

What sort of equipment does an Idaho shore angler need? A medium spinning outfit is probably the best rod choice. Shore brush and rocks make flyrod backcasting difficult unless you wade or tube, and big reservoirs often call for extra-long casts that only a well-matched spinning outfit can produce. If fish insist on tiny flies, you can always use a water-weighted bubble with a spinning rod.

Lightweight chest waders are useful in places, but are too hot and bulky to hike long distances in. I use simple gym shoes and get wet as needed. In cold weather I just stay out of the water and cast harder.

You can carry all the day-hiking gear you’ll need in a small accessible shoulder bag. For extra space, supplement the shoulder bag with a dual-strapped rucksack. Only multiday upshore expeditions require rigid-frame backpacks to carry overnight gear. Don’t forget a flashlight. For me, a big part of bankfishing is to keep moving along ever-new stretches of shoreline, casting as I go, and for this it’s best to keep gear to a minimum.

Though catch-and-release bass fishing should be encouraged, you may want to keep hefty catches of good-eating crappie, perch, or catfish. Transporting these big loads of fish back to car or camp can be a problem for the bank angler. I find a cord stringer wrapped around a grip-stick works well for moderate catches. For bigger loads, I prefer a burlap bag repeatedly moved along water’s edge. A cooler with ice can be moved constantly as you work along the shore, but it’s a hassle.

Rig for Snagless Fishing from Shore

An annoying problem for shore anglers is snagged lures. Unlike the boat angler who retrieves lures away from sloping banks, you’re pulling those little treble-hooked gems into bank snags. You also don’t have a boater’s maneuverability to free a lure once it’s hung up. That’s why I prefer topwater lures for autumn bank fishing – or at least floater-divers than can be stopped and floated over visible snags.

Semi-snagless lures (Texas-rigged plastic worms, spinner-baits, wire-guarded spoons, etc.) are also good. Single-hooked jigs, especially when used under a float, hang up rarely and tempt autumn-shallow bass nicely. Floating crankbaits that travel nose-down protect their trebles with the lure body and can be slowly retrieved to bump bottom gently rather than digging in hard.

Since autumn fish are often both shallow and suspended, shore anglers using bait (or leadhead jigs) should employ floats. Bobbers are excellent strike indicators, suspend your offering at precise depths, and allow you to move baits slowly through brush to find holed-up fish. They also bounce nicely in small waves, fluttering your bait and drawing fish attention. A deadly variation on bobber-and-bait is to use a noisy bass surface popper with a jig or bait trailing about eighteen inches behind it.

Sometimes autumn shorefishing will produce only if you sink bait or lures near bottom. Many bait anglers have discovered the simple trick of impaling a small marshmallow or miniature “Okie drifter” on or near their hooks to float baits above bottom snags and weeds and into better view of cruising fish. Dropper hooks well above a bottom-resting terminal sinker also keeps bait in view, though not as well on a sloping bank as when “jigged” vertically from a boat.

Isolated sections of small low-elevation streams are especially overlooked by fall bank anglers. Such places can be real hotspots for smallmouth bass and channel cats. I know of several stretches of river and their adjacent sloughs where I can almost guarantee several nice smallmouth hookups on autumn days. A scuba-diving friend tells me the bottoms of these rivers are fairly paved in places with channel cats. Many of Idaho’s lowland streams flow mostly through private agricultural lands, so hiking anglers should ask landowner permission to enter.

Maybe we bank-hoofing anglers are old-fashioned and simple-minded in our fondness for low-profile shorefishing. But, you’ll find this approach is uncomplicated, peaceful, cheap, and highly effective on Idaho’s lowland waters – especially in autumn when fish stay fairly near top all day.