By Lenny Rudow
6 Best Bet Fish for Atlantic, Gulf Coast, Great Lakes, and West Coast Anglers
No matter where you live, fall brings a burst of fishing activity – and we want to help you catch more kingfish, largemouth bass, redfish, striped bass, and tuna.
Coast to coast and everywhere in-between, fall fishing action heats up the bite on everything from kingfish to largemouth bass. Want to get in on the excitement? Of course you do! Here’s the low-down on six top fisheries that will be busting loose as the seasons change.
Redfish are the key species from Florida to Texas and everywhere in-between. How will you find ‘em? With water temperatures falling, clarity becomes better and better. That means sight fishing becomes easier and easier. Cast lures – like the classic Johnson Silver Minnow Spoon in gold, DOA shrimp, or shad-body jigs – beyond the fish you see, and retrieve the lure past them. Always aim your cast so the lure travels through the fish’s field of view, but never so it approaches the redfish from the rear; that can startle it, and send the fish darting off.
Another good bet for fall reds is working the passes and inlets, especially if you’re on the hunt for big bulls. Lures will work in the passes as well as on the flats, though strong currents and moving tides can make it a bit tougher. In this case, live bait may be the best way to go. Live mullet and pinfish are both good choices, and are tough enough to survive for a while on the hook. Try fishing several lines at once, some with little or no weight and some with enough weight to take the bait to the bottom, and keep it there. Live shrimp also work well.
Largemouth bass are the most popular freshwater gamefish in the nation, and as lakes, ponds, and river water temperatures chill out from their summer-time highs, bass will put on the feed bag to fatten up for winter. They’ll also be easier to locate and easier to catch than they were a couple of months ago. Bass move shallower at this time of year, and casting the shoreline becomes extremely productive. Stick with relatively large lures, for two reasons: the bass will be ambitious as they try to put on weight to carry them through the winter, and the small young-of-the-year have either grown up or been eaten by now.
Another factor that has a big impact on how these fish act is fall weather patterns. In many parts of the country cold fronts will push through on a regular basis, and these fronts can trigger a fall feeding frenzy. Try to time your fishing right after the front passes by. Also, remember that fall fronts tend to carry less regular rainfall than those in the spring. As a result, you’ll often find good numbers of fish near creek mouths and streams that feed into the lake.
Who’s ready for walleye? Yeah, that’s what we thought. This gamefish is one of the most sought-after by northern anglers, and this time of year is one of the best for targeting them. During the fall they leave shallow, weedy areas, school up into large groups, hold over the same structure for a week or more at a time, and eat, eat, eat. Trolling is probably the most productive way to catch them but cast-and-retrieve anglers will score plenty of fish, too. In both cases, this is prime season for crankbaits. Use lipped-plugs that dive to the depth the fish are holding at, and once you find a fish or two, work the spot hard to hook into his buddies.
As the temperatures fall lower and lower, expect the fish to move deeper and deeper. The key factor to keep in mind here is to “pattern” the fish. The walleye will be transitioning with the weather, and if you can identify the pattern they are following, you’ll catch fish with more regularity. Let’s say, for example, that one day you find a slew of fish in 15’ of water on a point. The next time you go fishing, it’s five degrees cooler and the fish are gone. Luckily, you locate them in 20’ of water. A week later, if the temperature has dropped again and the fish are no longer in 20’, where will you look? Start at 25’, and so on. You may also be able to identify daily patterns. In some areas, for example, the fish may hold tight to bottom structure during the mid-day hours but move to different near-by structure to feed aggressively at daybreak and sunset. Whatever patterns you may be able to discover, once you identify them, your catch rate will soar.
North and Mid-Atlantic Coast
Striped bass are the number-one target of anglers who live along these coasts. They’re also a prime species for southern California anglers, and inland fishermen plying reservoirs and rivers where stripers or striper hybrids have been stocked. In fact, these fish are so darn popular we’ve already published an entire article all about them: Top 10 Tips for Striped Bass Fishing in the Fall. Check it out!
From the Carolinas and on down the coast, fall fishing heats up with smoker kingfish (king mackerel). These toothy predators follow schools of migrating baitfish as they head south for the winter, which means they’re relatively close to shore and often can be pursued by small boat anglers, as well as those with larger sportfishing machines.
Standard time-tested tactics, like slow-trolling cigar minnow or ribbon-fish, are hard to beat. But one method that out-ranks the classics is live-baiting with bunker. You’ll have to throw a cast net or use a bunker snagger (a large, weighted treble hook) to get live baits for a day of fishing, but it’s worth the extra effort. Harness the baitfish with a single hook through the nose and a treble trailer hook placed just behind the dorsal fin, then slow-troll it at minimum speed. If there are any kings around, they won’t be able to resist. But remember to keep your drags set very light, at just a few pounds. Often kings that get hooked on the treble are just barely snagged, and if you try to horse them to the boat, the hook will rip free. For the same reason, long, slow-action rods that bend a lot are preferred by most kingfish sharpies.
Along with the great freshwater bass fishing and localized striper fishing, west coast anglers are treated to their warmest offshore waters of the year during the fall—and that means mahi-mahi and some seasons even tunas, for Californians. It may involve long runs offshore and a bit of travel to the south, but if you can find weed paddies in water above 70-degrees, there’s a good chance mahi (called dorado or “dodos” on this coast) will be nearby. To hook them up, troll around the weed paddies with rigged baits, spoons, or diving plugs. Light-tackle anglers will also enjoy tossing handfuls of chunks into the water to tempt the dorado out from under the weeds. Then cast jigs, bucktails, and plugs, or drop a live bait over the side, and hang on tight.
Many anglers put away their rods as the season changes and a chill hits the air, but don’t let this hot fall fishing pass you by. It’s often the best bite of the year – from coast to coast, and everywhere in-between.
- Lenny Rudow is Senior Editor for Dominion Marine Media, including Boats.com and Yachtworld.com. With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, he has contributed to publications including Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design who has won 28 BWI and OWAA writing awards.
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