November 19, 2021
By David A. Brown
Grass equals bass. We’ve heard that all our lives and for good reason. However, if you assume more is better, consider how the seasonal die back of hydrilla and milfoil meadows presents a particular opportunity for anglers tracking down fall bass.
Driven by the instinct to pack on weight for winter’s approaching leanness, bass relentlessly pursue the baitfish that have packed into creeks, pockets and various backwaters until the year’s frigid conclusion. Open water schooling happens a lot, but bass find their most efficient pursuit is picking off baitfish clustering amid cover.
That’s where the seasonal grass transition plays a key role.
As the grass starts to die back, the decline first appears along the edges, where random tattering occurs. What was once a somewhat solid line starts to resemble the edge of cut-off blue jeans. Rather than a couple football fields of homogenous congruity, fall grass lines present considerably more points, pockets, lanes and isolated clumps.
This benefits fish and fisherman in one particular way—focus. As baitfish move throughout the backwaters, bass quickly dial in where the forage is clustering. Much of that remaining fall grass carries a coating of the algae baitfish eat, so don’t be surprised to see a few dozen silver shards grazing through their way through the fragmented grass edge.
Bassmaster Elite angler Greg Hackney put it like this: “The fish are hard to target in the fall when they don’t set up on anything; when they’re just running around chasing shad. But when they set up on that grass, you can figure out a target, right where that fish is sitting.”
And don’t expect to find many window shoppers. As Hackney notes, fish that tuck deep into matted grass may react to a heavy punch bait dropping in front of them or a frog skittering across a thinner spot; but the ones nosing up to the broken edge are there to eat.
Positioned in perfect feeding posture, these aggressive fish are watching intently for wayward baitfish, so mimic what they seek and you’ll find plenty of takers.
As long as some level of grass bed density remains, you should keep a punch rod handy. Send a creature bait escorted by an ounce or more of lead or tungsten into most grass mats and you stand a good chance of irritating a real one.
Most of the fall action will take place along the edge, so think in terms of baits that imitate size, profile and/or the frantic motion of baitfish. Effective options include:
Topwaters: Obviously, you’re not going to bring a treble hook bait across even those isolated grass clumps, but tracing the open perimeter waters often produces. Walkers and poppers will generate interest, but hybrid baits like a Lucky Craft Gunfish or Team Ark Topwater Blower 115 allow both presentations.
Note: Be careful not to oversize your presentation. Fall baitfish are often small, so trying to convince fish focused on 2-inch bait to eat something twice as big may not be the best strategy.
Buzzbaits: The sputtering commotion is a bona fide attention getter, but Alabama pro Jimmy Mason chooses his bait prudently. He typically uses a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce Booyah Pond Magic buzzbait, unless post-frontal conditions slow the bite and necessitate the lighter appearance of a 1/8.
A versatile bait that traverses the gaps amid those isolated grass clumps, while also appealing to any peripheral schoolers, these smaller buzzbaits are highly effective at “calling up” the fish. In windy conditions, Mason removes the buzzbait’s skirt and adds a 4 1/2-inch Yum Breaking Shad for a more streamlined, castable form.
Swim Jig: Kind of a 4-wheel-drive bait, this one’s ideal for cleverly navigating the tattered grass line edges where other baits may face stubborn resistance. Braided line’s a must, as you’ll need to slice through the salad when a hooked fish plunges into the protective cover.
Swimming Worm: Rigged with a light bullet weight, this thumping bait traverses the grass as well as a swim jig, but with a longer, thinner profile.
Lipless Bait: Identify the grass edge and yo-yo this bait to snag and rip through stalks until someone mistakes the ruse for a fleeing baitfish. Long casts parallel to the grass also produce.
Frog: For the fall season, refocusing those topwater frogs from the thick inner reaches of a grass line to that tattered edge is your best bet. Shorter, roll casts are the deal here and learning to make your frog wiggle with minimal forward motion will serve you well.
A couple of closing thoughts: First, downsizing your frog often helps, as the diminutive profile of a Bronzeye Pop 40 or a Lunkerhunt Pocket Frog better matches the indigenous forage. Also, whichever frog you throw, adding tiny BBs or bird shot gives your bait a frantic sound that mimics bustling baitfish.