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Fall Bass Fishing | Shaye’s Fall Favorites – Scrounger Jig

A scrounger jig is an admittedly underutilized bait for me. This is one of the most effective finesse baits that can still be fished relatively quickly. In my recent article about soft-plastic jerkbaits, I mention how a Fluke is a fantastic follow-up bait to a lipless crankbait. Well, a scrounger is basically a marriage of the two. 

True, a scrounger obviously has no rattles. But the semi-hard plastic lip or a scrounger does generate a considerable amount of vibration and offers up a great middle-ground between the aggressive action of a lipless crankbait and the sometimes too finesse action of a Fluke. 

This is why a scrounger is perfect for semi-cold water and semi-stained situations, which are both very prevalent in the fall.

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Scrounger Jig: What Conditions to Look For

As the water starts to cool a little, it initially affects the behavior of the bait and the bass in a very positive way. Exhausted from the hot, stagnant summer conditions, the first cool snap that drops the water temperature is like a breath of fresh air to everything living beneath the surface. In a matter of hours it seems, shad magically appear in the backs of pockets and along the surface, moving at a very accelerated pace. 

And for a brief moment in time, it’s action-packed. You can catch them quick, fast, and in a hurry throwing a wide array of baits. But as that water temps continue to fall, you’ll notice a lot more boiling than busting from the bass. They won’t quite commit to a topwater bait and start feeding subsurface a lot more. 

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That’s when a scrounger can really shine.

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Scrounger Jig: Looking For a Change in the Water Color

Likewise, the water starts to get a little more color in the fall. For some areas, rain has been scarce for months. As we start to experience some of the first rains leading into the winter, the water color begins to change from the backs of creeks all the way to main lake pockets. And to this, the sediment stirred up in the water by the fall turnover and you’ll start to see a cloudy green tint in areas that were gin clear a few weeks prior. This too sets up well for the scrounger. 

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A scrounger like this was largely responsible for our day one lead and the eventual 3rd place finish my partner and I accomplished on Ft. Loudon in the 2010 FLW College Fishing National Championship during my time at Auburn University. 

For fall fishing, I prefer a smaller scrounger than those made popular in recent years by ledge fishing hammers like Jason Lambert. Where he pairs a massive 7” Jerky J with a 1-ounce scrounger head, I go with a 1/4-ounce head and an original 4-inch Fluke. The reasoning, he’s trying to mimic the size and action of a big gizzard shad in the summer, where I’m trying to imitate a much smaller, tighter threadfin shad in the fall and winter. It’s the basic equivalent to comparing a number 5 Shad Rap to a 10XD. 

The beauty of a scrounger is that it doesn’t require a lot of action. A slow, steady retrieve works best. If you do try to reel it fast, the bait has a tendency to roll. So, if you want to fish the bait closer to the surface, simply raise your rod tip a little. 

The bill on most scrounger style baits can rotate 360-degrees around the lead head. This is great for tweaking the bait until you get the desired action and can eliminate the bait’s tendency to roll as much as possible, but also frustrating in that any slight collision with the bill can knock the bait back out of line. So it’s good to add a touch of super glue around where the bill collars around the head once you do get the bait dialed in. 

Shaye’s Scrounger Jig Gear

Rod: Fitzgerald Vursa 7’ 0” Medium-Heavy 

Reel: Lew’s Speed Spool LFS 7.5:1

Line: Sufix Advance Fluoro 12-pound test 

Bait: Zoom Fluke

Scrounger Jig: Fish Head Dude 1/4 ounce

Fall Bass Fishing | Shaye’s Fall Favorites – Soft Plastic Jerkbait

One of the simplest rigs in all of bass fishing is also one of the most realistic and least intimidating; the soft plastic jerkbait. When it comes to fall fishing, realism and stealth are the name of the game. 

Though there are several baits that fall into this category, the bait that it’s most widely associated with is the Zoom Super Fluke. And though Zoom certainly refined the bait to near perfection, some would say the original soft plastic jerkbait title belongs to the Slug-Go, the presumed conceptual father of both the Fluke and the Senko.

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Soft Plastic Jerkbait: The Perfect Shad Imitation

Regardless, this style of bait rigged weightless on a 5/0 hook creates the perfect imitation of a struggling shad, with it’s side-to-side walking action and shimmying, slow fall. As the shad become ever more present along the surface and in the shallows, this is one bait that you don’t want to overlook. 

Whether it’s offshore over deep water or in the back of a pocket on a shallow flat, I like to have a soft plastic jerkbait rigged up anytime I’m fishing around schooling fish. The only limiting factors to when I’ll employ it are range and necessity. 

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If I’m able to get schoolers to bite a topwater or lipless crankbait, I prefer to start there as both are much easier to cast. 

However, a Fluke is to these two baits what a shaky head is to a deep-diving crankbait; the perfect cleanup bait. 

If I’m continuously seeing bass boil on bait in close proximity to the boat but they refuse to commit to a topwater or respond to a lipless crank, I’ll then move to the Fluke. 

Soft Plastic Jerkbait: How I Like to Fish It

There are two basic ways to work a bait like this, quick along the surface with a little side-to-side motion and spitting action or slow and low with a wider walking action and a brief pause between twitches of the rod tip to let the bait shimmy a little. 

There’s also a third technique that only seems necessary when the water has cooled significantly (below 40 degrees) and the shad are starting to die off and the bass have gorged themselves and become lethargic. During times like this, I can sometimes still pick up a few fish shallow by dead-sticking a Fluke. Let the bait fall all the way to the bottom and then twitch it periodically and let it lie there again for a few seconds. But if I’m forced to fish a Fluke this way, I usually just change to something else like a finesse crankbait, shaky head, or a jig.

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Soft Plastic Jerkbait: Rigging and Line Selection

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When rigging a Fluke, you want to be sure to leave a little bit of a bend in the back of the bait instead of making it perfectly straight. 

This will give the bait considerably more action. One difficulty that will occur when fishing a Fluke, which can sometimes be magnified by this bend in the back, is the very annoying line twist. 

After fishing a Fluke for about 30 minutes, you’ll start to notice your line developing loops and tangles when it goes slack. For this reason, most anglers throw a Fluke on braided line with a fluorocarbon leader. And most use a spinning rod. 

I do use a braid-to-fluoro setup, but I prefer a baitcaster. For those of you familiar with my strengths and weaknesses, I grew up on a baitcaster and didn’t begin to utilize spinning equipment until later in life. So I’m actually better and more comfortable fishing even light baits like this with a baitcaster. But for someone starting from scratch, the spinning setup would definitely be the best to acquaint yourself with as it will allow you to do more over time, like skip docks and make longer casts. 

Shaye’s Soft Plastic Jerkbait Gear:

Rod: Fitzgerald Vursa 7’ 0” Medium-Heavy

Reel: Lew’s Speed Spool LFS 7.5:1

Line: Sufix 832 Braid 30-pound test & Sufix Advance Fluoro 12-pound test 

Bait: Zoom Super Fluke

Fall Bass Fishing | Shaye’s Fall Favorites – Topwater Walking Baits

We return to the fall favorites series with a look at one of my all-time favorites, topwater walking baits. The fall is all about shad here in the south and across a lot of the country. In discussing my fall favorites I’ve touched on several shad imitators. You can check out some of my other fall bass fishing favorites by clicking these links:

  1. Lipless Crankbaits
  2. 1/4-ounce Buzzbaits
  3. Small Spinnerbaits
  4. Squarebill Crankbaits

All of those baits are great and essential to a full-blown fall arsenal. But I rarely use any of them to take advantage of one of the most exciting parts of the fall, fishing for schooling fish. 

As the water cools and bait moves close to the surface, bass begin to use the top of the water column to their advantage. Corralling the bait against the surface, the bass condense the strike zone and then bust through the bait when it has no more room to swim up.

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Topwater Walking Baits – Why These Bait Works So Well For Schooling Bass

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Fishing a walking style topwater like a Spook, Sammy or Gunfish around schoolers is a great way to generate ferocious strikes but it can also lead to some heartbreaking battles where the bass comes out the victor. 

To level the playing field a bit, I’ll typically upsize my treble hooks any time I’m fishing a topwater around schoolers to give myself the best chance I can at hooking them well. 

Often times you’ll have a fish boil on a bait or slash at it several times before finally hooking up. These larger hooks hang down farther in the water and have wider gaps increasing your chances ever so slightly at connecting with the bass. But it’s certainly enough of an increase to take advantage when you’re talking about 3-to-5-pound bass busting bait. Getting just one more of those fish into the boat in a day’s time can make all the difference. 

Perhaps the most frustrating part of fishing for schoolers is that they always seem to be just out of reach. 

In my younger years, I would chase them all over a vast area. As soon as I saw them break the surface a hundred yards away, I would kick my trolling motor up on high or even jump down and fire up my outboard and race to where they were, only to see them busting right where I had just been as soon as the boat stopped. 

Noise is extremely important, or the lack thereof, when targeting schoolers. I have found over time that I’m far better off waiting patiently in one spot for the fish to make their way back around. It seems like a much longer wait at the moment because the bass are busting, but it usually only takes a few minutes for the fish to chase the bait back in your direction if you remain still and quiet. 

Topwater Walking Baits – Increasing Your Range When Targeting Schools of Bass

There are also a few ways to help increase your range and draw the fish in a little closer a little quicker. For starters, braided line in place of monofilament is imperative. The braid not only increases your range but it also provides a better hook up ratio on long casts with a topwater than the far stretchier monofilament. Just be prepared to back off your drag as the fish nears the boat to help prevent it from tearing off. 

You also want to use a fairly light action rod like a 7’ 0” medium-heavy or even a medium action to help with this. A monster hookset isn’t necessary either with a topwater like this given its treble hooks. And since the fish will often miss the bait on the first few swipes, I typically try to just continue working the bait until I feel tension and the fish essentially hooks itself. Then I’ll pull back and start applying pressure throughout the fight. 

Now, I don’t buy into the Hydrowave in most settings. For instance, I don’t see any advantage to having a fish be drawn towards my trolling motor when I’m fishing a stump field in 2-feet of water. That’s counterproductive. But I have heard too many stories and seen a few instances myself that credit a Hydrowave’s effectiveness in offshore situations where bait is present. In these instances, I believe the artificial sounds of bait and fish busting on them can activate the actual bait and bass in an area.

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Topwater Walking Baits – Bait Selection

Now, let’s get back to talking about the topwater bait itself. As far as bait selection, I don’t really have a gold standard. I’ve fished with several different brands and sizes over the years. The Bowstick from Jackall is a very effective bait when looking for a big profile. A Sammy 85 by Lucky Craft is great when targeting finicky fish around small baitfish. 

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The Heddon Spook is perhaps the industry-standard given it’s been around a long time and is extremely effective at catching fish. 

I’ve found that schoolers, in particular, can be very picky so I try to let them decide which walking-style topwater bait I throw. I keep several options on hand and if I have a couple fish blow up on a bait and not get it, I’ll change to one with a different size, color, or sound. 

But topwater walking baits aren’t limited to schoolers alone in the fall. I’ll often throw a topwater around riprap, seawalls, treetops, and docks in the fall. This time of year, bait is plentiful and everywhere. So you can often catch fish anywhere. And the appearance of a wounded baitfish that is given off by walking topwater baits is a great way to draw strikes from these fish. That’s what makes a walking style topwater one of my fall favorites. 

Shaye’s Fall Topwater Walking Baits Gear

Rod: Vursa 7’ 0” Medium-Heavy 

Reel: Lew’s LFS Speed Spool 7.5:1

Line: 30-pound Sufix 832 Braid

Baits: Spook, Sammy, Gunfish, Sexy Dawg

Fall Bass Fishing | Shaye’s Fall Favorites – Squarebill Crankbait

We return to the fall favorites series with a look at one of the all-time greats, a squarebill crankbait. You can check out some of my other fall bass fishing favorites by clicking these links:

  1. Lipless Crankbaits
  2. 1/4-ounce Buzzbaits
  3. Small Spinnerbaits

A squarebill in the fall is critical to my arsenal because it provides me with an all-terrain shad-imitator to accompany my open water lipless crankbait. As good as a Rat-L-Trap is, you don’t want to try to bring it through a treetop.

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However, a good squarebill crankbait can bump and crawl its way through darn near anything.

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Squarebill Crankbait – Why I Love the Bandit 100

The Bandit 100 is a staple in mine and my father’s boats. I’ve thrown a lot of different squarebills over the years and had good luck with several of them. During that time, my dad has stayed true to the Bandit and I have often found myself coming back to it time and time again, especially in the fall and winter. 

There are two reasons I believe that is the case. Firstly, the bait just flat out gets bit. Some baits are like that. Whether its the color scheme or the action or the sound, I’m not sure. But there’s something about a Bandit 100 that just seems to draw a few more bites than other squarebills. 

The second reason, in the right hands, the bait is virtually weedless. Now weedless may not be the best word here because I’m not saying you can reel it through hydrilla and not snag any grass. I’m referring to the baits’ ability to worm its way through heavy cover: laydowns, brush piles, rocks, stump fields, etc. 

Unlike the intangible trait that makes the Bandit so effective at getting bit, I believe there are certain characteristics of the bill design that make the bait more effective at traversing heavy cover. The bill has rounded corners and a slightly flatter angle than a lot of other popular square bills. I believe these two characteristics allow the bait to deflect off cover without rolling as much as other squarebills.

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Squarebill Crankbait – Understanding How the Bait Works

When making contact with an obstruction head-on, the lip of a squarebill will usually be the first thing to hit the object and as it dips down, the rear of the bait and the hooks pivot up. This is why if you keep steady pressure on the bait it will usually climb over the obstruction. Or if you pause the bait it will float over the cover. What you never want to do is snatch as soon as you feel something. That’s when you will get hung more often than not. 

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When you bump cover with any squarebill, a slow steady pull will typically bring the bait over it. 

And if it’s a bass, that same slow steady pull will easily hook the fish given the bait has treble hooks which require little force in setting. Another important thing to be effective at this is not overpowering your rod selection. You need a rod with a soft tip so that you don’t hook the cover as soon as you feel it like you would with a heavy action rod. I recommend a 7’ 0” medium-heavy for this with 14-pound to 17-pound fluorocarbon depending on the cover and a reel with a good drag system

All of that is to say this however, the area where a Bandit 100 stands out is when it hits a second piece of cover immediately after making contact with the first. A lot of squarebills will veer erratically after making contact or begin to roll. Say your bait bumps a limb on a laydown followed immediately by a consecutive limb, that’s when a lot of squarebills will hang up. But a Bandit has more of a crawling action after making that initial contact and stays nose down, hooks up which is much better when it meets that second, third, and fourth piece of cover. 

This is extremely important in the fall and winter. Fish hang tight to cover in the winter, so the need for a bait to crawl slowly through that strike zone is evident. But in the fall, I’ll often find a vast area like a flat in the back of a creek that is loaded with shad and sparsely sprinkled with cover. 

While I’ll catch several fish that are chasing bait on the flat, a lot of the bigger ones will come from the few pieces of cover. These bass are the dominant ones and they stake their claim around the few pick-off points available. If you lob a squarebill crankbait in and hang up on 4 out of the 5 pieces of cover present, you’re greatly reducing your chances of getting bit. Therefore, having a squarebill that can effectively cover the roughest terrain in the fall is critical. That’s why the Bandit 100 is one of my fall favorites. 

Shaye’s Squarebill Crankbait Gear for the Fall

Bait: Bandit 100

Rod: Vursa 7’ 0” Medium-Heavy

Reel: Lew’s LFS Speed Spool 7.5:1

Line: Sufix Advance Fluoro 14-pound to 17-pound test

Fall Bass Fishing | Shaye’s Fall Favorites – Small Spinnerbait

For the third installment of this series discussing my favorite fall bass fishing baits, we’re going to be talking about the small spinnerbait. You can check out the first two baits by clicking these links: 

  1. Lipless Crankbaits
  2. 1/4-ounce Buzzbaits

When I say small spinnerbaits, I’m referring to the overall profile, not necessarily the weight. These are finesse spinnerbaits, spinnerbaits with a short arm and smaller blades than your typical spinnerbait. Like most of my fall favorites, I like these baits because they do a good job of matching the hatch.

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Small Spinnerbait | Size Does Matter

The reason I bring up the size of the bait’s profile and not the weight of the bait is that there are actually some finesse spinnerbaits now, like those made by Davis’s Baits, that have more of the weight along the shaft of the hook instead of just in the head. So you can still have a smaller profile spinnerbait but keep the added weight for casting. These spinnerbaits work well when fall bass fishing, especially in windy situations because they’re easier to throw than traditional finesse spinnerbaits that are lighter. 

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But weight is important. 

Part of the appeal of a small spinnerbait is that it can be reeled slowly through the water column. Obviously the heavier the bait, the faster you’ll have to reel it. So a true finesse spinnerbait for me is around a 1/4-ounce. 

Small Spinnerbait | Colors and Water Clarity

Nichols Lures makes a great finesse spinnerbait in their Nichols 33 Mini Double Willow Spinnerbait. As far as color schemes and blade combinations go, there’s a lot to choose from and as usual, the water clarity determines a lot of that for me. But in the fall, the water is usually clear to slightly stained, often with a green tint to it. 

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For most conditions, the Bombshell Bass color scheme with one gold and one silver willow leaf is very good. 

If the water does get muddy, I’ll typically just move away from a small spinnerbait and go to a bigger one. If the water is particularly clear I’ll use something more like the Blue Shad Pepper color scheme with double silver willow leaf blades.

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Small Spinnerbait | Gear and Location

This is another bait that works well on a 7’0” medium-heavy rod with around a 7:1 gear ratio reel. I’ll either use 15-pound fluorocarbon or even step up to 30-pound braid if I’m fishing around a lot of heavy cover and the water clarity will allow it. The braid is necessary at times. Even though you’re fishing with a smaller bait, it has a fairly strong hook and you still need to fish through some pretty gnarly cover. 

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As far as what to target, the same old same old holds true. 

Grass, wood, rock, open water, you can catch bass anywhere with a small spinnerbait in the fall as long as there is bait present. Creeks and pockets are the best places to start looking for the shad but they’ll often be on the bluff walls and points right outside if they haven’t quite pushed back into these places.

How To Land More Bass | Grae Buck’s Bass Fishing Tips

I recently had a co-angler lose a 5-plus-pound smallmouth in an Oneida Lake tournament. Afterward, he asked me, “Why did that happen, and what could I have done differently?”

They’re both good questions. The answers can help you put more fish in the boat when money is on the line … literally.

My technique for fighting a bass depends significantly on the equipment – my Dobyns rod, Ardent reel, Seaguar line and Cornerstone Baits – that I’m using at the time.

When using a lure with treble hooks, it’s important to play the fish and determine how it’s hooked to decide if you can swing it safely or if you need to get down and grab it with your hands or a net. If it’s hooked outside the mouth or with just one treble, it’s safest to not swing it. Play it with caution, then carefully grab it or net it.

The size and weight of the lure, as well as the number of hooks, factor in as well. It’s generally tougher to land a fish on a lure with treble hooks than a single-hooked lure. A prime example would be a lipless crankbait. Landing a fish on this bait can be very tough because of the size and weight of the lure paired with treble hooks. Bass can get enough leverage to pull loose. But it’s a great bait nonetheless. Landing a fish on a lipless crankbait just takes more finesse and caution to maximize success. You can play them differently on a small swimbait with a single hook.

Read the rest of Grae’s article here!

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Fishing Arkansas | Cody Milton’s Top 5 Arkansas Fishing Destinations

When most people think of fishing Arkansas, they think deep, clear, tough lakes. Yes, we do have plenty of deep, clear lakes that are difficult to fish, but we always have a plethora of lakes that are full of aquatic grass and lily pads. What is commonly overlooked is the diversity of the fisheries across Arkansas. In almost all of the lakes in Arkansas, you can expect to catch largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. This always makes for a fun trip. 

Without a doubt, the most famous waterways in Arkansas are those which hold our brown trout. Three of the best trout fishing rivers in the state have all held the world record brown trout at some point in time. The Arkansas record and previous world record of 40.1-pounds was broken in New Zealand in 2013, by a 42.1-pound brown trout. 

The trout fishing here in Arkansas is a very special treat and is not taken advantage of enough, in my opinion. Even if you have never caught a trout, you would love the beauty that these rivers hold. 

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Fishing Arkansas: Trout Fishing

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Fishing Arkansas: The Little Red River

My personal favorite and without a doubt, the most famous body of water for trout fishing is the Little Red River in Heber Springs, Arkansas. It held the world record German brown trout for almost 16-years! I was fortunate to grow up 15-minutes away from here! 

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As a kid, almost all of my summer afternoons were spent wading along some stretch of the 32-miles of trout waters that this river provides. Photo Credit: Onlyinark.com

The Little Red River is the tributary of Greer’s Ferry Lake. Most of the river is wadeable from several different public access points. Some of the most notable areas to fish are Swinging Bridge/Barnett Access, JFK Access, and Cow Shoals Access. 

The best months to fish here are November-January. This is during the brown trout spawn. It is truly an unbelievable sight to see so many fish swarm the shallow shoals. An added bonus is that this is in the middle of the winter when bass fishing is on the back burner of most people’s minds! Come give it a try and come check out this beautiful area of Arkansas. I promise it won’t disappoint! 

Fishing Arkansas: The White River

The White River in Mountain Home, Arkansas, also held the world record brown trout for many years and regularly kicks out a 30-pound brown every few years. 

The White River is much bigger than the Little Red River. Its trout waters below Bull Shoals Lake run over 100-miles long! It is much wider than the Little Red River as well and can be a little more difficult to fish on your own due to the sheer size of the river. I would recommend finding a guide out of Cotter Access or Gaston’s Resort for your first day on the river.

The winter months are by far the best for fishing but check regulations, as much of the river near the dam is closed during the spawning season. It’s been this way for a few seasons now and it has tremendously helped the fishery. Opening day up there is insanely crowded but totally worth going. One thing that is very special about the White River is the number of hay fields around the lower part of the river. These fields hold an enormous amount of grasshoppers and this makes the river notorious for an unbelievable “hopper” bite in October. It is not out of the ordinary to catch 100 brown trout this time of the year. 

Even though I have spent way more time fishing the Little Red River, my largest catches have actually come from the White River.

Fishing Arkansas: The Norfork River

If I could trout fish one river in Arkansas for the rest of my life it would be the Norfork. The crazy part about it is that it’s only 5-miles long from the Norfork dam until it dumps into the White River. 

The Norfork River, just like the White River and Little Red River, has also held the world record brown trout! It still baffles me that people travel all across the world to chase record size browns and we have 3 rivers in Arkansas within 2 hours of each other that ALL have produced world record size trout.

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What I love most about the Norfork is how easily you can catch the “grand slam” in a single day. Photo Credit: tworiversfly.com

The “grand slam” is landing a brown, rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout all in a single day. 

The Norfork is also very wadeable and that makes for epic fly fishing throughout the 5-miles of trout waters. You can learn this river very quickly without hiring a guide!

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Fishing Arkansas: Bass Fishing

Fishing Arkansas: Lake Columbia

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Lake Columbia in Magnolia, Arkansas, is said to hold the next state record largemouth bass and I absolutely believe that to be true. I’ve personally only been on the lake about a dozen times but have seen bass pushing 13-pounds on two different occasions. 

The lake does get a lot of pressure but it is as healthy as any lake I’ve been to across the country. Columbia is loaded with cover for monster bass, something much of the state lakes lack. There is aquatic vegetation that runs close to 15-feet deep most years and the water is gin clear.

If you can find yourself on this lake around the spawn in April, you are in for a treat! You may not catch a double-digit bass but I can almost guarantee that you’ll see one if you look long enough.

Fishing Arkansas: The Buffalo River

The Buffalo River in St. Joe, Arkansas, was the first-ever “National River”. This occurred in 1972 to protect the river from plans to dam up sections for power. 

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Today, it is a Blue Ribbon smallmouth stream because of this act of Congress made back in 1972. Photo Credit: buffaloriver.org

The river stretches 152-miles. Over 100-miles of the Buffalo River is floatable and loaded with smallmouth bass. What I appreciate so much about this area of Arkansas is the sheer beauty that surrounds you. Caves, bluff walls, bike and hiking trails, all surround this famous river. 

There are tons of public access points along the river but I will share my favorite stretch of the river. Ponca-Pruitt is a fantastic stretch, even in low water months, Ponca-Pruitt still makes for a good float without dragging your canoe or kayak. The Buffalo River is a destination that you can take your whole family on and spend several days. It is the heart of why Arkansas is called “The Natural State”.

Fall Bass Fishing | Shaye’s Fall Favorites – ¼ Ounce Buzzbait

In a previous article, I talked about one of favorite fall bass fishing baits, a lipless crankbait. Well, another favorite of mine this time of year is a ¼ ounce buzzbait. It’s a bait that I rarely throw any other time of the year but has a way of bringing a big one to the boat once the fall rolls around. 

As I mentioned before, my dad and I have traveled to Lake Wheeler in north Alabama with our club in October each year for decades. It’s always our first taste of cold weather, the first time we see the leaves begin to change colors and the first shot we get at fall fishing. 

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The shad flood the shores and spill over into the backs of creeks and pockets, bass are aggressively right on their tails ready to feast. And we eagerly set out to interrupt the smorgasbord. 

As previously discussed, one of the best baits for catching lots of these bass is a lipless crankbait. But one of the best baits for catching the biggest fish in the bunch is a ¼ ounce buzzbait. 

In the fall, I can catch 5 fish on a ¼ ounce buzzbait to everyone I can catch with 1/2-ounce buzzbait. I believe this all comes back again to the overabundance of bait, matching the hatch and the fact that a big loud bait just isn’t necessary.

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¼ Ounce Buzzbait: Why Not a Big Loud Bait?

Too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing. Because there is so much bait present in the fall, sometimes you have to work even harder to get a bite, especially from an older, battle-weary bass. But you want to still present something to it that’s fairly close in size to what he’s already grown so familiar to and you don’t want to throw something that so obviously different that he just turns his nose up at it. 

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All this is why I believe a ¼ ounce buzzbait is so effective. 

You’re presenting something very similar in size to what the bass are eating but you’re doing so on the surface, giving off the appearance that the bait is struggling or fleeing from another predator.

Now, all of this is taking into consideration that I’m trying to break down the physiology of a bass. But who’s to say its right or wrong? No one really knows what goes on in a bass’s head. All I know is what I’ve seen. And I’ve seen my dad or myself win several of those club tournaments on Wheeler in the fall thanks to one 5-pound bite on a ¼ ounce buzzbait.

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¼ Ounce Buzzbait: What to Target?

¼ Ounce Buzzbait(3)

Wood, rock, and grass are all great structures when throwing a buzzbait in the fall, but the main thing you have to have is bait. 

I’ve fished miles of some of the best-looking water on the lake in the fall without bait and without a bite. And I’ve caught fish with a buzzbait in the middle of a barren shallow flat that was loaded with bait. Bait is key. But bait around any kind of structure is the best to target.

Fall Bass Fishing | Shaye’s Fall Favorites – Lipless Crankbait

The fall is almost here. Cool days and cold nights are right around the corner and with that a reawakening of the shallow waters that have been boiling here in the south these last few months. As the water temperatures drop, the shad will rise to the surface and make their way back into the creeks and pockets all along our southern waterways. One of the best fall bass fishing baits for targeting fish around all this bait… the lipless crankbait. 

For me personally, a ¼-ounce lipless crankbait is pretty hard to beat when the shad flood the shallows. Both the gold standard Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap and the new age workhorse, the Stike King Red Eye Shad, have put hundreds of pounds of bass in mine and my dad’s boat this time of year. One of the fisheries we use these baits the most is Wheeler Lake on the Tennessee River. 

Each year since 1974, our bass club, the Kowaliga Bassmasters, has made the pilgrimage to Wheeler in October for our first taste of fall. That’s probably the lake where I first threw a Rat-L-Trap and certainly the one where I’ve thrown one the most in the fall. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of shad flood the shallows there each year followed by swarms of aggressive bass feeling good from the cooling waters and looking to bulk up for the winter ahead. 

There are variations of the lipless crankbait and techniques with it that I have learned work the best in the fall through fishing Wheeler over the years, a lot of which will translate to other fisheries across the southern states and beyond. Let’s dive into some of those now.

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Lipless Crankbait: Yo-Yoing

When the shad first start to move back into the creeks and pockets, I’ll often encounter them on bluff walls or in the middle of pockets where the water is still 10 to 15-feet deep. Yo-Yoing a lipless crankbait works really well in these situations. 

Basically you just want to cast your bait out past the ball of shad and let it sink down below them. Then rip the bait up into the ball of shad and let it sink again. This mimics a struggling shad and is exactly what the bass sitting beneath the ball of bait are looking for. 

Lipless Crankbait(1)

I’ll typically use a 1/2-ounce lipless crankbait here. You can use a 1/4-ounce but it’s rarely necessary. 

Lipless Crankbait: Busting Shallow Bait

As the bass push the bait shallower and shallower, they start to bust them or school on them. That’s when you just want to throw your lipless crankbait past where they’re busting and bring the bait through with a nice steady retrieve. Typically this is happening on a hump, flat or in the back of a pocket so the water is only 1 to 3 feet deep. Because of this, you’ll often need to hold your rod tip up while you reel your bait in and you want to be able to pause the bait or jerk it to give it more action. 

However, if you’re doing this across a flat with a pretty good drop on the side, definitely pause your retrieve or ‘kill the bait’ as you reach the deeper water and you’ll often draw a strike there.

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Lipless Crankbait: 1/4-Ounce vs 1/2-Ounce

Depending on how shallow you are fishing, a 1/4-ounce lipless crankbait can be much easier to work and more effective than a 1/2-ounce. In addition, there are times when fish will just react better to one or the other so it’s a good idea to have both rigged up. 

Sometimes in the fall, matching the hatch is important, so you want to use a 1/4-ounce of 1/2-ounce based on the size of the bait present. 

However I’ve also experienced the opposite where there is so much bait present that using a bait that differs slightly in size from the surrounding forage is more effective. Don’t be afraid to try different things if you’re not getting bit. Likewise with color, though typically you want to match the hatch there. 

Lipless Crankbait: Lipless with a Blade

Bill Lewis made a 1/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap with a willow leaf blade where the back hook would typically be and I’ve had a lot of luck with this bait in the fall. It’s not really a bait I fish at all the rest of the year, but when there’s an overabundance of shad I have found that the added flash of the little willow leaf seems to stand out in the crowd well enough to draw a few more strikes. 

Lipless Crankbait(2)

I believe this bait may have been discontinued but is easy to duplicate by simply replacing the back treble with a swivel and small willow leaf blade. 

Lipless Crankbait Gear

For fishing a lipless crankbait, I prefer a Vursa 7’0” medium heavy paired Lew’s LFS Speed Spool in 7.5:1 and 15-pound fluorocarbon. I might step down to 12-pound test when Yo-Yoing the bait if the fish are a little deeper, but 15-pound is definitely what I go with 95% of the time.

Chatterbait vs Spinnerbait | How to Know When to Use Each

A chatterbait and spinnerbait are often thought of as interchangeable. At first glance, that’s understandable and certainly true to an extent. While both do mimic baitfish and attract bass primarily with vibration and flash, there are still some situations where one works better than the other. So, let’s dive into the chatterbait vs spinnerbait conversation…

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Chatterbait vs Spinnerbait: Water Temperature and Clarity

For starters, I’ll often throw a chatterbait when the water is colder and/or muddy. Now I will throw a spinnerbait in colder water also, one with a lot of thump like a number 6 willow leaf blade or a double Colorado blade setup

But after the pre-spawn period, I’ll typically transition away from a chatterbait and the more aggressive spinnerbait combos and go to either a small colorado/willow leaf combo or a double willow leaf spinnerbait. 

The reason for this being the speed of retrieve and vibration. Those more aggressive spinnerbaits and chatterbaits give off a lot more vibration and can be reeled much slower. This gives bass in cold or muddy water more time to track down the bait. 

Around the spawn and post-spawn, I prefer a spinnerbait over a chatterbait because I’ve found a chatterbait to be a little too aggressive for fish that are weary from the spawn. I like the flash of a willow leaf spinnerbait here more than the aggressive thump of a chatterbait. 

In the summer and fall, I have also found a spinnerbait to work better down here in the south. The only time I will lean towards a chatterbait during this time of the year is in a particularly muddy situation or at times around a lot of hydrilla. 

Chatterbait vs Spinnerbait: Shad Spawn

For some reason I have also had better luck with a spinnerbait in the few shad spawns I’ve fished over the years. It makes sense that a willow leaf spinnerbait likely looks more like shad to bass actively gorging themselves on hundreds of them, so perhaps it’s just a ‘match the hatch’ situation. 

Chatterbait vs Spinnerbait(1)

The aggressive vibration of the chatterbait isn’t necessary as the water has warmed by that time and all the shad spawns I’ve ever found have been in clear water.

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Chatterbait vs Spinnerbait: Bream, Bluegill, Golden Shiners

When fishing around a lot of bream, bluegill, or golden shiners I have had better luck with a chatterbait. Again, not exactly sure why that is, but I think all too often in fishing we can get so caught up in justifying why one thing works better than the other that we miss the point. 

Chatterbait vs Spinnerbait(2)

It works better. So just go with what works. 

Chatterbait vs Spinnerbait: Around Vegetation

I definitely prefer a chatterbait when fishing around thick submerged vegetation like hydrilla, coontail, or milfoil. The bait seems to rip free a lot cleaner and that initial burst when you rip the bait out draws a lot of strikes. However, in some stalking vegetations like water willow, I prefer to reel a spinnerbait through it. 

Chatterbait vs Spinnerbait: Skipping Docks or Bushes

When skipping docks or bushes, I definitely prefer a chatterbait. The reason a chatterbait works better in this scenario is pretty simple. A chatterbait is less rigid than a spinnerbait and folds up nicely when you try to skip it. 

Chatterbait vs Spinnerbait: Burning a Spinnerbait

Well, the name alone gave this one away, but yeah, I’ve never tried to ‘burn a chatterbait’ and I don’t think that would have the same desired outcome. Burning or waking a spinnerbait is a great way to catch smallmouth and spotted bass when they are actively chasing bait.

So those are some of the differences I’ve seen over the years. I’m sure there are others out there with differing opinions, but those are my life experiences and hopefully, they’ll help some of you who are trying to figure out which to throw when.