Of all the months in the yearly fishing calendar, September is rightfully regarded as one of the most challenging for catching bass across the United States. “Harvest month” is awkwardly positioned between the summer doldrums and the cooling weather of fall, and as a result, bass fishing can be brutal.
However, September can also provide some stellar fishing in certain regions of the country. In certain fisheries where the water has already begun to cool, the schooling bite can lead to nearly nonstop action.
The following lakes are proven September producers, and they’ll fish well into the quickly approaching October and November cool-downs, too. Some are traditional tournament venues that don’t get much attention outside of spring and early summer. A handful of them have flown under the radar for years, either because of their remoteness or because they’re “hiding in plain sight.” But all of them are worth a look if you’re seeking a good late-September/early October bite.
One of the most popular fisheries in the Great Lakes, St. Clair gets plenty of attention from bass anglers and pleasure boaters alike. It’s become one of the premier smallmouth fisheries in the country and continues to kick out good numbers with quality bass mixed in all summer and well into the fall months.
The fish get more concentrated in September and October, and when you find them, you’ll find plenty. Bigger bass start to show up more frequently, as well, according to Bass Pro Tour angler Jonathon VanDam.
“It’s generally still a late-summer pattern, but the fish are starting to group up more and relate to baitfish,” he said. “It’s a time of year when you’ll catch better numbers and the fish will be more aggressive as they start putting the feed on. You can catch them a bunch of ways, but a 15-foot diving crankbait gets it right into the strike zone and is one of the best ways to catch them and cover water to find them.”
Georgia’s Lake Lanier has blossomed into one of the best spotted bass fisheries in the country. There’s never a bad time to visit this impoundment of the Chattahoochee River system, as the magnum spotted bass will bite year-round. Early fall can be especially good if you’re a fan of topwater fishing, according to Lanier guide and 2023 Phoenix Bass Fishing League All-American champion Emil Wagner.
“It’s a lot of schooling fish and throwing topwaters over humps, points and reef markers,” Wagner said. “Those schools will have anywhere from 10 bass to hundreds of them, and you can throw pencil poppers, walking baits, swimbaits and flukes to catch them, or slow down and get them to eat a drop-shot or jig.”
As the water cools and the baitfish begin to move around, expect nearly nonstop action on the surface when you find active fish. As a bonus, the striped bass are also plentiful and mean, and you’ll likely tangle with several in a day of fishing. Wagner advises visiting the popular lake just north of Atlanta during the week, and not just because of the decreased boat traffic.
“They draw more current through the dam during the week, and while it’s not as noticeable as other lakes, it makes a big difference,” he said. “The bass pull up and set up better on those spots when the current is running.”
Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains on the border between North Carolina and Georgia, Lake Chatuge is a beautiful fishery that’s full of bass. It’s good all year long but offers a great early fall getaway because of its cooler temperatures. Caz Anderson operates a guide service, Fish Chatuge, that caters to those looking for a unique fishing opportunity in the mountains.
“It’s a highland reservoir that stays cooler than other fisheries in the state,” he said. “The lake has a great topwater bite that starts in June and goes until October for bass chasing blueback herring. September is great because you have a lot less pleasure boaters out there. One highlight of the lake is the hundreds of brush piles placed by anglers that are perfect for topwater fishing with shiny pencil poppers, walking baits and swimbaits.”
While spotted bass are the dominant species, largemouth live there, too, and start showing up offshore in more significant numbers in September.
“When we get the first cold snap of the year and the lake starts to draw down, the largemouth will show up in the same places as the spots,” Anderson said. “The tournament-winning weights start to go up then because someone will find a 6- or 7-pound largemouth.”
Even though it’s the smallest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie is still a massive fishery. VanDam says September represents the start of a particularly productive time, as the entire lake can produce big bass.
“The Western Basin, the Eastern Basin by Buffalo, really the whole lake starts to turn on in September when the bass start to push shallower,” he said. “It’d be pretty tough to pick the best section, but the Pelee Island out from Sandusky, Ohio, and the stretch from Buffalo to Dunkirk in New York are some of the historically great places to fish Erie.”
With bass moving to shallower water this time of year, VanDam says anglers fishing Erie now can catch them several ways.
“Fish get on the rock piles and shoals in shallow water – 10 feet or less – and you can catch them with tubes or drop-shot rigs. The crankbait bite is very strong, and the spinnerbait bite can also be really good.”
It would be easy to assume that a reservoir located in the hottest state in America would be a dicey bet in late September, but 20,000-acre Lake Roosevelt in central Arizona is an interesting exception to the rule. Like many lakes in the West, Roosevelt escapes the hardcore early-fall turnover that stymies the bite in other regions of the country, and September represents the start of a three-month-long topwater bite that goes almost around the clock.
“As soon as the water temperature starts to go down even just a degree or two, you can catch fish on topwater all day long,” said MLF pro Josh Bertrand, who grew up fishing Roosevelt and guides here in the off-season. “You can stay out on the main lake, which has steeper drop-offs and clearer water, and throw walking baits to try to call fish up from the deeper cover. Or if you want to get gnarly and aren’t afraid of scratching your boat, you can get as far up the creeks and rivers as possible to find less pressured fish – that’s more of a buzzbait and frog deal.”
Roosevelt is also on the short list of lakes where anglers can find a dragonfly bite in the fall, starting in September.
“Any day it’s not super windy and fish can see well, you’ll see back coming up and doing a somersault to eat a dragonfly buzzing along a foot above the surface,” he said. “You can almost always catch those fish on a buzzbait, it’s a pretty cool deal.”
One of the most scenic lakes in the country, Coeur d’Alene – or “CDA,” as it’s called locally – is a bass fisherman’s paradise, with surprising diversity. Whether you’re after big largemouth in grass or smallmouth in stereotypical Pacific Northwest clear water and rock, you can find plenty of both on CDA. The early fall fishing can be great here, according to Washington’s Luke Clausen, who spends plenty of time on the fishery each year after the Bass Pro Tour season wraps up.
“September is a time when you can catch them shallow or deep, largemouth or smallmouth; it’s pretty much whatever you feel like that day,” he said. “The frog bite for largemouth is great, especially in the Chain Lakes, but you can catch them just as well targeting smallmouth by throwing a small swimbait in deep water on the main lake.”
As fall starts to set in, the fishing will continue to get better with each passing day.
“When it gets a little cooler, especially late September and into October, the fishing will get progressively better,” Clausen said. “It’s a great place to be in the fall.”
The fishing in the north is pretty good everywhere from ice-out to ice-in, and Lake Champlain is no exception. Spanning more than 100 miles south to north, Champlain has everything an angler could ask for, from milfoil beds and largemouth to smallmouth and boulders.
On the largemouth side of things, Champlain is especially good later in the year; the fish are fat and frequently set up on hard cover. Plus, the grass beds have had time to mature all over the lake, and when you find a good one, you’re in business.
For smallmouth, the fall brings plenty of forward-facing sonar opportunities to target fish chasing alewives, and you can usually find a good deep bite on reefs and boulders. Plus, given the right conditions, an umbrella rig or topwater pattern can be a lot of fun. September and October are generally the heaviest weight times of the year for tournaments, with a 23-pound limit of smallmouth not out of the question.
September weather is the north is delightful, and if you’re willing to risk some iffy weather in October, you can also get some top-notch foliage viewing and good cider donuts while you’re smashing smallmouth.
California’s Clear Lake is no stranger to lists of top bass lakes in the country. Early fall can be one of the better times to visit the famed Golden State fishery, according to BPT pro Cody Meyer.
“Clear Lake is always awesome, but what I love about it during the early fall is that you have so many options,” Meyer said. “If you want to throw a frog or punch mats all day, you can. You can also fish deep rock with a jig, drop-shot or crankbait. If you want to skip docks, you can do that, too. There is also a great topwater bite every morning that time of year.”
The past few years have seen low water on the lake, but Clear Lake is now back to normal. While the lake was low, the vegetation exploded, which has helped the overall fishing quality.
“The fishing has gradually gotten better every year,” Meyer said. “It was really low, but a ton of grass started growing in the lake. That’s helped the fishing, and the lake is much better now – any time of year.”
Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes (or 11,842, to be exact). Of all those lakes, Mille Lacs is one of the most well-known in bass fishing circles and continues to pump out big smallmouth every year.
And September is a perfect month to visit, as evidenced by Dustin Connell catching 20 smallmouth for 82 pounds, 9 ounces – a tad over 4 pounds per fish – on the final day of Bass Pro Tour Stage Seven in early September 2022. VanDam finished 14th in that event and eighth in a 2017 Bassmaster tournament (also held in September), so it’s no surprise that he’s a fan of Mille Lacs in the early fall.
“Mille Lacs is fairly unique for a northern smallmouth fishery because there are so many more rocks, shoals and boulders in shallow water that hold fish,” VanDam said. “It also has a good bit of grass, and September is a great time to catch big smallmouth on topwaters around it. It’s also a perfect time to throw crankbaits, spinnerbaits and swimbaits.”
Even though late-September weather can still be pleasant during the day, VanDam says that the bass can feel that winter is approaching, which kicks the bite up a notch.
“The days are getting shorter and they know it’s time to feed up,” he said. “The nights will also get a little chilly, but the nice thing is that it can still be pretty warm when you’re out fishing during the day. You start seeing that mid-September, and the bite will only get better once you get into October.”
The Upper Mississippi River is no stranger to the spotlight, having hosted national tournaments at all levels for years. Most of its attention has come during the summer, with July and August events being the norm, but the fishing continues to get better as the days get shorter. September is a great time to fish any of the pools, and you can catch bass with just about any technique you choose, according to Wisconsin pro Matt Stefan, who claimed victory on this fishery at Tackle Warehouse Invitationals Stop 6 in late July.
“All those pools are great, and the bass start to follow the shad migration and you can catch them with a lot of different baits,” he said. “During the transition in September, you have current-related fish and some in the deeper backwaters as they follow the shad at the mouths of backwaters on wing dams and sand drops. It’s a numbers deal, and you see a lot of fish grouped up. You can catch them on Alabama rigs, swimbaits and walking topwater baits.”
As a bonus, the fishing pressure decreases significantly in this hunting-crazed region.
“The amount of bass anglers continually drops (in September),” Stefan said. “It’s nice to have the best stuff to yourself.”
Tucked into the southeast corner of Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay has been one of the best smallmouth fisheries in the country for years. While made popular by springtime tournaments like the Sturgeon Bay Open, which kicks out massive bags of smallmouth every year, this fishery is excellent any time it’s not covered in winter ice.
During the 2020 Bass Pro Tour season finale on Sturgeon Bay, Justin Lucas caught fire on the final day with 38 smallmouth for 110-05. That event was a summertime affair, but the bass bite even better when the weather starts to cool in mid-September. Expect standard smallmouth techniques like drop-shots and Ned rigs to be top producers here.
This 150-mile impoundment of Washington’s Columbia River is full of big walleye and trout, but it’s also a spectacular smallmouth fishery in the early fall. If you find yourself competing in a tournament this time of year, expect to see plenty of bags in the high teens and a winning weight over 20 pounds – all smallmouth. Fish will be caught on finesse rigs but will also chase topwaters, swimbaits and jerkbaits.
The Mother Lode region is home to some great under-the-national-radar fisheries, but New Melones shines brightest in the late summer and early fall. It has a healthy mix of bass species, with plenty of plump spotted bass to keep you busy plus the chance for a double-digit largemouth at any time.
After a long literal dry spell caused by a multi-year drought, Lake Oroville is back to full pool. The fishing has improved tremendously since rains renewed the water levels at this Northern California lake. Often overshadowed by Lake Shasta, Lake Oroville is teeming with spotted bass. The early fall can produce some great topwater fishing for spots feeding on a baitfish population that has gotten bigger over the years. Largemouth stocking efforts from a decade ago are also paying dividends, with more big Florida-strain largemouth showing up, often mixed in with the spotted bass.
It’s hard to pick just one of the 11 Finger Lakes in western New York. They all have similarities but can fish differently based on the conditions and current fishing quality. The region is beautiful, and picking any of these lakes right now will likely lead to a great day on the water in excellent weather. Cayuga gets the most attention and tournament pressure, but other well-known producers include Seneca, Keuka, Skaneateles, Owasco and Otisco.
Early fall in Virginia can still be hot and humid, yet Smith Mountain still manages to produce. Fish school up, and topwater fishing will be your best bet to stay on the action. While the fishing can be hit-or-miss across the field in some local events, Smith Mountain kicks out solid fish in late summer/early fall, as evidenced by the 2022 Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Big Bass Tour September event that saw two bass over 8 pounds weighed in and most of the hourly prizes claimed by fish over 6 pounds.
Bass begin to transition from summer to fall patterns everywhere in the country in mid/late September, but the annual change of seasons really kicks things into gear on California’s Lake Shasta. This 30,000-acre impoundment of the Sacramento River is full of baitfish, whose movement helps congregate bass in small areas in September. Anglers can sit in one area and sample the prolific spotted bass population all day long using topwaters, crankbaits and soft plastics.
Big Stone Lake is full of big fish and mostly unknown outside of South Dakota and Minnesota. One look at the results of a September 2021 USA Bassin’ event on Big Stone gives you a hint about what to expect: Only 12 boats fished the event, but eight had over 20 pounds. This lake is full of healthy largemouth, and September and October are great times to catch them.
This impoundment of the Missouri River is far from just about anywhere, but it’s full of giant smallmouth bass. The Montana state record, a 7.84-pounder, came from this reservoir, which sees extraordinarily little fishing pressure compared to most places on this list. It’s a remote lake known for strong winds, but the big brown fish and untouched surroundings keep anglers returning for more. Late September weather brings daily highs in the mid/high-70s with chilly nights for a taste of some great early fall bass fishing.
This is a favorite fishery for Pacific Northwest bassers and is a flipper’s paradise for much of the year, with plenty of brush, grass and countless beaver dams. Located in Washington farmland, Potholes is drawn down for irrigation purposes in the late summer, causing the overall size of the lake to shrink and the bass to condense around offshore humps. Early fall is the perfect time to catch them with deep crankbaits, big worms and finesse tactics. Anglers can expect to catch some quality bass and lots of them.