When the Major League Fishing GEICO Select pros found their way to the waters in and around Alpena, Mich., to contest for a spot in the MLF Challenge Cup, a late summertime cold front passed through the area.
A front that turned the August wind to the north…and signaled forthcoming changes on the weather horizon.
Such change is the annual transition by fish from typical summertime patterns in the Great Lakes region to those that that will dominate their daily activities come fall.
While the timeframe of summer-to-fall transition can vary from region to region across the country, the bottom line is that usually, the annual cycle can be a tough time to fish according to MLF Select angler Scott Ashmore.
Why is that? According to the FLW Tour competitor, it’s because of the actual definition of the word transition, something that is literally a process of change from one state or condition to another.
And that instability can make fishing conditions somewhat difficult.
“Some of them (bass) transition before the others transition,” said Ashmore, a northeastern Oklahoma resident. “Sothey’re kind of scattered around, they haven’t reached the destination yet.”
“(And) they’re usually harder to find,” he added. “They are moving around and some of them are in between seasonal locations. Some of them have made it (where they’ll be going in the fall) and some of them are still left out there (in offshore summertime patterns).
“So it’s a lot harder to find them and get a pattern going that you’ll feel comfortable with because you’ll catch them at both ends of the spectrum or somewhere in between.”
When does this annual transition take place? Ashmore says that up north, it can happen as early as August and way down south, it can be as late as October.
How does the Oklahoma angler tackle such fishing?
“You really have to bank on what you think the best program is going to be (for that lake at that particular time of the year),” Ashmore said. “It’s going to be more on one end of the spectrum or the other, so you’ve got to figure out where things will be best for you because it’s kind of hard to do it all (when you’re out there).”
When I asked what baits he prefers using during the transition time, Ashmore pointed to several on the front deck of his MLF boat.
“You want to use baits that will allow you to cover some water,” Ashmore said. “You want to start by looking with topwaters, then throwing a spinnerbait, then maybe a squarebill crankbait. Again, stuff that you can cover water with.”
What about the rod-and-reel set-up for such baits? Like other pros, Ashmore likes using high speed baitcasting reels. But in terms of rod selection, his general purpose rod selection might raise an eyebrow or two.
“I’ve got a (St. Croix) Legend glass rod that I love to cover water with (on those baits),” Ashmore said. “Whether I’m cranking (deep) or throwing a Whopper Plopper topwater, it’s fantastic.
“They make it in a 7’2″ or a 7’4″, so if you want to throw the bigger one or the smaller one, it will help meet those (various) needs. Its parabolic action allows you to throw it a long ways and to (still) keep the fish on when you catch them.”
What about his favorite line for transition baits?
“It depends on what I’m throwing, but on a topwater like the Whopper Plopper, I prefer fluorocarbon,” he said. “I don’t like braid on that. If I’m throwing a crankbait, I still like fluorocarbon.”
For Ashmore’s MLF counterpart Marty “The Party” Robinson, bait selection for this transition period isn’t about covering water as much as it is about figuring out what the fish are wanting to eat.
“It can be a tough [time to fish for sure],” admitted Robinson. “But whether we’re up north or back home [in South Carolina], when the transition time arrives, it’s all about the bait [that fish are feeding on].”
While most anglers talk about threadfin shad as the primary forage fish in a number of southern lakes, that isn’t always the case in the North Country according to Robinson.
“Up here (in Michigan and other Great Lakes states), sometimes it isn’t as much baitfish as it is crawfish since there is a ton of crawfish up here,” he said.
In fact, the lake bottoms of various waters around the Alpena, Mich., area actually seem to crawl with crawfish, so Robinson’s point – that you’ve got to focus on the dominant bait that local bass will be fattening up on – is a good one.
“Even up here at this time of the year, the fish relate to (a) particular bait, (whatever that happens to be),” Robinson said.
When I asked Robinson a question about the bait selection process, he smiled and stopped me in mid-question.
“That’s not the hard part,” said Marty the Party. “We’re all used to tough fishing conditions. We fish all over the world and get into some places at times (of the year) that are super tough.
“And since we’re used to fishing that way – to fishing in different places when it’s hard – I don’t think that really is the tough part for us since we’re all still going to be scrambling and fishing wide open.”
So what is the tough part?
“Staying as mentally tough as you can,” grinned Robinson.
And with that, the Marty the Party Robinson turned away, put his mental blinders on and went about the early morning process of rigging up his rods-and-reels for another day’s worth of MLF Select action.
And the ongoing cerebral process of actually trying to figure out how to catch the Alpena, Mich. area bass just a little bit better than the rest of the MLF field.
Whether it’s summertime, early autumn or somewhere in between.