There are lots of distractions from fishing in the fall – between college football, hunting and holidays, it can be a little harder to get on the water than it is in the spring. Still, Justin Atkins really enjoys fishing in the fall and historically he’s had a lot of success in the last few months of the year.
“It’s tougher in the fall, it doesn’t take as much weight, and if you get dialed into a little pattern you can really excel,” says Atkins. “In the spring you have to out-slug everybody, but in the fall fish get real patternable and if you can ever get dialed in on a little deal you can ride it a long way in the fall.”
Atkins’ arsenal varies from lake to lake, but no matter where he’s fishing, there’s a good chance he’s got a big topwater, a frog, a spinnerbait and jig on deck.
“In the fall you have a lot of fish that start to school in almost every lake in America, so I like to keep a big topwater on that I can throw a long ways to chase those fish,” says Atkins. “When it starts cooling off there are certain lakes that you can keep it in your hands the whole time. On a place like Ross Barnett you’re not going to go throw a topwater all day, but you’ll have fish that will come up schooling and you want to be ready.”
Atkins’ preferred topwater is an ima Little Stik 135 (for good reason), and there are some times when it will be his primary bait. Particularly on Pickwick when he targets smallmouths or on more highland reservoirs, Atkins says it’s totally possible to figure out a pattern where the topwater is all he’ll throw.
For grass lakes like Guntersville, there’s nothing Atkins likes more in the fall than the good ol’ hollow bodied frog. It’s not necessarily applicable to every lake, but come October and November it’s hard to beat it for excitement. Atkins likes to look for cheesed up grass that is beginning to die off and hollow out – and it’s even better if bream are popping the surface.
“In the fall the fish are definitely bait oriented, they’re strictly eating shad and feeding up for the winter, and the spinnerbait is a great shad imitator,” says Atkins. “You can catch fish just going down the bank and targeting laydowns and the spinnerbait is a great bait for that. This time of year, you can run into cold fronts and high-pressure days, and on days like that when the fish aren’t eating the spinnerbait I like to be able to pitch a big jig and pick some cover apart.”
On the spinnerbait, Atkins usually sticks with a ½-ounce model in a shad color in clear water or chartreuse/white in dirtier water. He particularly likes to target shallow wood with it, and he often swaps out one of the blades to go with a bigger blade so he better imitates a big gizzard shad and can fish it shallower without driving it into the wood. For ease of pitching, Atkins prefers a 1/2- or 9/16-ounce jig, and he’ll adjust his fall rate with a trailer – using something more compact if the fish are more aggressive and something with more bulk or appendages if it’s colder or the fish are more sluggish.
Fall can be a busy time of the year, no doubt. The weather can also make things interesting, seemingly changing hour by hour or day to day. Don’t let the weather or other activities deter you, this is prime time to have the lake all to yourself. So, don’t put the rods away just yet, if you follow Atkins’ basic approach to target late-season bass and you might be glad you stayed on the water.