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Fall is a transition for all species, us included. Depending on where you are in the country, you may experience drastic temperature changes that change your day-to-day routines. Fish are no different. In many places, water temps plummet with each passing day towards winter. Like people, fish change their day-to-day habits to adjust to the changing conditions.
As the fish adjust, so must our fishing techniques. Different baits, different retrievals, and more importantly, different locations can all help you find fish. Even though fall is regarded as one of the most active seasons to catch fish, if you don’t change your techniques, you may find yourself striking out often.
Let’s talk about some general rules of thumb when it comes to fall fishing. Fall fishing patterns can vary greatly depending on your location (midwest, south, or the coasts), so you may need to add a few more to your own list depending on where you live.
5 Tips for Fall Fishing
1. Follow your baitfish patterns
No matter where you live, game fish will follow their main sources of food. When targeting a specific species, learn what their preferred meal is specifically on the water you will be fishing. When you identify the main bait fish, learn the baitfish’s fall migration habits. Where your baitfish goes, your targeted species will follow.
2. Find Water Depth Transition Points
Thermocline is defined as a separation of warmer water closer to the surface and the cooler water below that. In later fall, after the baitfish have either migrated or finished spawning, they typically seek out the best conditions as outside temperatures continue to drop.
In most areas, this means baitfish will be drawn to areas that sit on a steep drop off to deeper water. A steep transition from shallow water to deep water typically indicates a thermocline transition of warm water and cooler water. Fish in many areas prefer these locations and having access to both water conditions. Using a fish finder is a necessity to identifying water-depth transitions.
3. Increase Your Bait Size & Slow Your Retrieval
The colder the water temperatures get, the less active larger fish get. During the summer, many fish species become less picky about their next meal and will chase down anything they can get. As water temperatures plummet, many game fish tend to seek out larger baits – a big meal all at once conserves more energy in the long run.
If you are using artificial baits & lures, it is vital you slow your retrievals. If you are trolling, slow down significantly. As mentioned above, as water temperatures decrease, fish begin conserving energy and moving more slowly. They may view a normal retrieval speed of your lure as not worth the energy. Slowing your retrieval will not only mimic the decreased movement of a baitfish, but make your presentation easier to get for your targeted gamefish.
4. When Waters Get Really Cold, Find the Sun
In the summer, we all seek the shade to beat the heat. Fish are no different. But when temperatures drop, shady spots accentuate the fall bite in the air. Just like humans, when the temperatures drop, fish tend to seek out the sun and soak up the extra few degrees of heat it may offer.
As mentioned before, fish slow down as the water temperatures drop to conserve energy. In the waning days of fall, fish can, and will, seek out areas that are in the sun and offer even just an extra few degrees of water warmth. Shallower areas with any weeds still present, flats with dark-colored bottoms, and water protected from wind or currents will tend to be slightly warmer than the surrounding water. Fish often collect in larger numbers in these warmer areas during the day.
5. Be Adaptable & Ready for Quick Changes
While this may not seem like an overtly helpful tip at first glance, fall fishing requires adaptability. As you know, temperatures can swing wildly as fall inches towards winter. With big fluctuations in water temperatures, you need to be prepared to change your technique from day-to-day.
Check your forecasts for each week and take advantage of warmer days sandwiched between colder days. This idea combines everything we’ve talked about already. When a warm day, especially in the midwest, follows colder days you can often find extremely active bites employing all of the tactics above.
Above all else, research your area. When you are going to set out for a day of fishing, research the water you will be going on, the bait fish that your game fish feed on and the habits of those baitfish for the current time of year. It may take some trial & error, as all fishing does, but when you do find fall fish they tend to be nice fish and in bunches.
Important Tips for Kayak Fishing in the Fall
Fishing from a kayak always presents different challenges, and dangers, than fishing from the shore or from a larger boat. When temperatures drop both outside and in the water, you need additional gear and strategies to stay safe in your fishing kayak. Here are some things to consider when fall fishing from your kayak:
Ask Questions, Share Strategies & Keep Trying
If you are new to fall fishing, the transition can be surprisingly difficult. If you are like the author of this blog, you may find that your favorite hot spots 'shut off' overnight one day. When it is later in the year, this is a clear sign that water conditions are changing and the fish with it.
Kayak fishing can take you to all sorts of new spots that many boats can't reach. This is an asset in the fall when fish may move to areas that are only accessible by fishing kayaks. But, with that transition, your fishing strategies need to adapt as well.
One of the biggest mistakes anglers can make is being stubborn. Ask for help on sites like our public fishing forum, the Kayak Anglers Resource. Sharing knowledge (like in the discussion, Fall Fishing Tips) is how we grow our sport. If you find something that works for your area, share it. If you have questions about specific areas or fish species, ask those questions! There is a learning curve to every season of fishing, but you don't have to learn alone in the cold!