Is the timing of bass transition into fall patterns a matter of calendar or conditions?

“Both,” says Major League Fishing pro Kevin VanDam.

“The biggest thing about seasonal movements is the length of the day,” VanDam assesses. “Like the whitetail rut or the salmon spawn, time of year is most important. Yet water temperature and conditions dictate some of those seasonal movements.”

So how does VanDam zero in on bass location in autumn?

He follows the bait!

“Shad will move towards the backs of creeks, shallower flats and things like that,” VanDam explains. “You need to narrow the search and find the bass. And bass are going to be around the bait.”

In lakes where shad are primary forage, VanDam searches for concentrations of shad and the nearby structural elements that bass can use for ambush.

“The bass are going to be packed up,” he says. “You can fish for a while without getting any bites, then it’s bam, bam, bam.”

Drawdown and current

Typically, dam authorities lower lake levels for winter. Drawdown influences forage and bass location.

“Bass will pull to points during drawdown,” VanDam says. “Fishing can be incredible while that is happening. Drawdown creates a lot more current in most river systems than those lakes normally experience during the year, and the bass gravitate toward that current.”

Bass do not necessarily move toward deep water, VanDam is quick to note. Shallow wind-blown flats can also be very productive.

“But you want to target the mouths of creeks, the flat points, the corners of bridge – places that constrict the current while the drawdown is happening,” he advises.

Once lake levels and conditions stabilize and current slows or dissipates, nature manages the transition.

“Water temperatures drop, shad move shallower and to the backs of pocket, bass look again ambush points,” VanDam points out. “And I’m doing the same thing.”

He hunts for conspicuous structural elements where bass are likely to congregate and feed.

“I’m looking for that one unique area, that particular zone that’s unique to everything else around it,” he continues. “I will be looking to where a channel swings against a flat or for a flat point in the back of a creek with deep water all around it.

“Bass gather on features irregular to the area that make for a good ambush point. If everything is flat, it may be a deep point. If everything is deep, it’s going to be a flat point. If I find one long finger along a series of rounding points, that’s usually where they are going to be.”

Baitfish and baits

Baitfish presence is critical, and VanDam stays alert to any sign of forage presence.

“Keep an eye open for the birds,” he advises. “Watch your electronics for signs of baitfish on the graph. Be alert to shad flipping on the surface. All are important.”

His bait choices, too, are search tools.

Topwater: A Strike King Sexy Dawg is his first choice in clear water. A buzzbait is good as well.

Spinnerbait: He’ll opt early for a double willow blade spinnerbait, shad-colored.

Jerkbait: “Whether you’re fishing a soft plastic like a Strike King Caffeine Shad over shallow grass or fishing deeper with KVD jerkbait with treble hooks, jerkbaits are key baits,” VanDam says. “You can use a lot of things to catch them, but the most important thing is to cover water, find the bait, and find the bass. After that, you can pull out your whole tackle box.”