BOB MAINDELLE: The doors to fantastic fall fishing have opened | outdoor sports

I anticipated it. I wrote about it. I faithfully monitored water temperatures at depths of up to 65 feet every week looking for him. Finally, it has arrived!

“It is” a significant cooling of the water in our two local reservoirs, Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes, which will quickly cause a turnover, and which has already boosted the fishery considerably.

So what exactly happened? For starters, the shortened day length, cool nighttime temperatures, and recent cold fronts have all caused the surface temperatures of our local lakes to decrease. When the water temperature decreases, the density of water increases, therefore, cold water sinks.

As the cooling water sinks steadily into the warmer water below, the net effect is a cooling of the entire body of water. That’s what we’re seeing right now.

How does this affect fishing? Here’s what I’ve observed this week…first, the water temperature is cooling into many species’ preferred temperature range, prompting them to have longer periods of greater activity than I’ve observed during the summer months.

Then the fish came up less deeply. This week I have consistently caught fish in less than 34 feet of water, with some fish coming out of water as shallow as 18 feet.

Additionally, the fish began to aggregate into larger schools than they traveled during the summer months, when they were mostly suspended above the thermocline in smaller schools.

Finally, the fish have started to use the bottom more and are now less likely to hang.

After a long, hot summer in which 60-80 fish were put per trip in the boat, with only a handful of 100-fish days strewn across the schedule from June to September, my clients enjoyed the first 100-plus- back-to-back- fish half-day trips earlier this week when U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Aaron Sepaugh and his sons, Braden and Tucker, landed 119 fish Wednesday morning, and the local multi-species angler Dave Ross and I landed 127 fish Thursday morning.

What I mention above is anecdotal data from my own white bass research, but white bass aren’t the only fish positively impacted by cooling water.

Consider Justin Tatum’s observations. Tatum and his dad and fishing teammate, Cris, have many recent victories in the 3X9 and Tuff-Man series, both of which focus on catching and releasing largemouth bass.

Tatum said, regarding his team’s 3X9 series championship victory over Stillhouse on Oct. 10, “With the bit of cooler weather, these fish are starting to shift into a fall pattern. They went from feeding primarily on bluegill to starting to hunt shad. We changed our approach to covering a lot of water with surface water and small baits, having to weed a lot of small fish to get bigger bites.

Indeed, if there is a downside to fall fishing, it is that a lot of small fish will be caught. Also, I discovered that there is not much an angler can do to select larger fish. I have rarely seen where leaving an area producing small fish leads to finding bigger fish. Almost without exception, moving simply causes an angler to encounter new numbers of the same mix of large and small fish that they just left behind.

To enjoy the bite of autumn, it will be useful to observe a few basic principles. Consider the following: First, the first three hours of the day after sunrise and the last 2½ hours of the day before sunset tend to be the most productive. I just didn’t find any benefit to being on the water before sunrise at this time of year. Mornings tend to be more productive than afternoons, with the morning bite being longer and stronger than the afternoon bite.

Next, be sure to upgrade your sonar transducer and be as smart as possible about using Side Imaging. Side Imaging covers far more area than any other sonar technology and is your best search tool, bar none.

Plus, hone your ability to accurately position fish that your sonar has revealed to you. This is best done with trolling motor/sonar systems designed specifically for this task, such as Humminbird fishfinders paired with i-Pilot Link equipped trolling motors, or Lowrance sonar units coupled with Motorguide trolling motors, etc. If you have to, throw in a reliable old buoy – whatever it takes to quickly get back to the fish you’ve located, then bring them some bait before they get dragged in by the shad.

Finally, vertically working shad-mimicking lures using a tactic known as “smoking” will produce the lion’s share of my clients’ fish by mid-December. My favorite is a lure of my own design called MAL Lure. Give it a try and build confidence in its ability to produce fish. I’ve put together a pair of tutorial videos on YouTube showing how to fish this way. Just search the term “MAL Lure” in YouTube search engine to enjoy.

Don’t think if you weren’t on the water this week that you missed something. This fantastic fall fishing, according to many years of data in my own records, will continue until the water temperature reaches 58-60F and the metabolism of our warm water species begins to slow for Winter. Most years this takes place between the second and third week of December.

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