In 2010 Camden, South Carolina’s Dearal Rodgers, the 2009 FLW Co-Angler of the Year, will be fishing again on the FLW Tour. His season will begin in February on the Red River in Louisiana, then he will move onto Table Rock Lake in Missouri. In early March he will fish Lake Norman in North Carolina and at the end of the month, in April, he will head to Knoxville to fish Fort Loudon / Tellico Lakes. In late May he will move onto Lake Ouachita in Arkansas and then he will fish Lake Guntersville in Alabama in June. If all goes according to his plan, he will fish the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Lanier outside Atlanta in August.
Although he competes on a national stage today, Lake Wateree remains Dearal’s home lake – and the lake on which he honed his bass fishing skills. He still fishes the lake regularly and usually competes in a Wateree tournament on at least one Saturday per month. Dearal has previously shared with SCFishingReport.com’s readers a guide to catching Lake Wateree bass in spring
(I will insert links to old articles), and he generously agreed to also share his insights into fall bass fishing on Lake Wateree.
The fall is an excellent time to bass fish on Lake Wateree. As the summer passes and lazy 80-90 degree water temperatures become a memory, bass start to feed voraciously again. They know that winter is approaching and look to fatten up in preparation for the cold months. Dearal previously told us that when early summer water temperatures climb past about 80 degrees he doesn’t pay them any attention because the fish will be “deep”, and correspondingly when water temperatures dip below 80 degrees he knows that fish will start to make the move from deep to shallow.
Initially, this is mainly a vertical move up the water column and fish will remain in the main lake areas where they have spent most of the summer. Later in the fall, though, when water temperatures drop to 75 degrees and below, baitfish and then bass will move onto flats and into the creeks following the schools of shad. However, a substantial number of shad and bass will stay in the main lake areas.
Early in the fall most of the bass are still in the main lake and naturally, Dearal prefers to concentrate his efforts there. Main lake docks are an excellent area to target as bass will move toward them when surface temperatures dip below 80 degrees. The largemouth will feed on bluegill and other shallow water species. Dearal and partner Trent McLaughlin won the 2007 Tri-State Bassmasters Open Tournament on Lake Wateree by fishing this way. I will discuss lure choice later, but this is generally “jig time” for Dearal.
Dearal has found that early in the fall when fish first move into a new area they will be very aggressive. When the bass first move up they like to “clean up” and will eat anything in the immediate area; they are extremely territorial as they try to establish their new habitat. Finding a group of fish that has just moved up will generally translate into a healthy sack.
Later in the fall begins the second stage of the season when shad will also move into shallower water. They come shallow because they are attempting to spawn again, as in the spring, but because the water will soon get cold this second “mock spawn” is unsuccessful. Shad can be located on your graph but an even better way to find them can be to throw a spinnerbait. When shad are in the area the shiny blades will attract them and they will attempt to spawn with the lure.
Shad will be found in many areas in the fall and it is well known that a substantial percentage of baitfish will move up the creeks. Dearal, however, often prefers to fish around the baitfish that remain in the main lake in part because so many anglers are chasing the baitfish up the creeks and in part because he is more likely to find a nice breeze on the main lake. He prefers fishing with a little wind for several reasons. Most importantly the wind camouflages him from the fish by making him harder for them to see and hear, and chop on the water also breaks up the outline of a lure and makes it look more natural. An ideal fall fishing area is a wind blown main lake flat – flats are generally better than deeper open water because bass prefer to feed on them since it is easier to ambush the bait.
Another area where shad will be found is around old dock posts, and the baitfish also like to feed around Styrofoam flotation on boat docks because of the algae growth on them. Finally, grass is a good place to look for fall shad, but overall aquatic vegetation is spotty at this time of year.
One important consideration in fishing around baitfish in the fall is the water level where the shad are holding. Over the course of a day fishing Dearal knows that the shad will move up and down in the water column, based on factors such as wind and barometric pressure. At any given time, most of the shad in a lake are utilizing on depth zone of the water column. When Dearal launches his boat, he will carefully observe his graph to see at what level the shad are holding, and he will know that within that section of the lake most of the shad are within a few feet of that same level.
Early in the season before the lake turns over, baitfish may be high in the water column because of cooler water found near the surface, and later in the season they may be high in the water column on sunny days because of warmer water near the surface. Since the baitfish are suspended, and the bass are related to the baitfish, Lake Wateree largemouth bass will not necessarily be found on the bottom in the fall. Sometime the bass will be at the same level as the shad, and sometimes they will be underneath them, and so Dearal says that it is important to try different approaches.
Fishing where the shad are found is a good general rule, but more specifically there are some important locations and types of cover to target in the fall. It is always a good idea to cast into a ball of shad if you see one, but bass will also frequently hide and ambush their prey. Around visible cover such as a log or tree branch is a good place to target, and poles are particularly good cover to fish in the fall. While bass will likely be oriented to cover not all hot spots are visible. Depressions on the bottom, humps, underwater logs, etc. may not be readily apparent. For this reason just casting to seemingly open water near baitfish is still effective – you will often be fishing cover without knowing it.
Anyone who knows Dearal or follows his success would expect a jig to feature prominently in his arsenal of lures. As mentioned above, early in the fall he mainly fishes for bass just moving shallow with a jig. Once the shad move up, too, Lake Wateree bass see a ton of baitfish, and so Dearal believes a fisherman has to show the fish something different from the schools of small shad to get bit. Ideally, a lure will make the bass “mad as a cat” and generate an aggressive reaction strike. To that end later in the fall he likes swimming jigs, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits and crankbaits.
Dearal finds that swimming a Buckeye Mop Jig through the water will often generate reaction strikes. He mainly uses a green pumpkin mop jig and will change the trailer if he wants to change the color – in darker water Dearal will adjust with a black trailer. The natural rubber of a Buckeye Mop Jig displaces water well and is very effective even in muddy water.
Some people like to fish topwater baits in the fall on Wateree, but Dearal says that he has rarely caught a big fall bag on topwater lures. The exception to that is that he will usually start off the day throwing a buzzbait. He likes the original Lunker Lure Buzzbait with a black skirt and a white blade early in the morning. Later in the day he will throw a chartreuse or white buzzbait.
Another key fall lure for Dearal is a Buckeye Lures Spinnerbait which he has found is particularly good for generating reaction strikes. He wants the bait to stand out and so he frequently fishes a chartreuse spinnerbait which the bass’ eye sees as a very bright white. Dearal almost always fishes a spinnerbait with tandem blades and usually likes willow leaf blades. Conventional wisdom holds that vibration is important in muddy water and so many anglers will use rounded Colorado blades, or Indiana blades (a hybrid between Colorado and willow leaf blades), but Dearal likes the extra flash of willow leaf blades even in muddy conditions.
Bearing in mind that bass are seeing lots of baitfish in the fall, presentation is very important. For Dearal the key to getting bit on a spinnerbait is the patches of shade where bass will be hiding in ambush. He likes to roll the lure over a log, banging the tandem blades together, and then let it fall into a shady nook. This is when the strike should come – ideally the largemouth will be mad that a baitfish has dared to enter his space and attack. Note: an additional advantage of willow leaf blades on Lake Wateree is that they come through the prevalent shoreline vegetation easily.
Another important category of fall lures on Lake Wateree are crankbaits, particularly square billed ones. These come over cover well and offer bass flash and a different look important for generating reaction strikes. Dearal likes a bait with chartreuse sides and a dark back. Among his favorites are the Lucky Craft RCK 1.5 and 2.5, and the Strike King 4S which has the body size of a standard Strike King “4” and a shallower running lip.
Soft plastics, including shakey head jigs, will also work in the fall on Lake Wateree. However, fishing tournaments Dearal is usually looking for quality fish and he has less confidence in getting a big bite on these lures.
Late in the fall bass will start to move deeper again, and when water temperatures fall to 63 degrees and then 60 and below largemouth will move to different areas. Just as bass are seeking out cooler water in the early fall, when winter approaches they will be seeking out warmer water. Narrow spots in creeks are good places to look and rocks that have been heated by the sun are also good to fish around.
The fall can be a strong bite for Lake Wateree bass. And with football on television on Saturdays and Sundays, and hunters in deer stands or in the fields, there is usually significantly less pressure than in the spring. Now is a great time to get out on the lake, enjoy the fall scenery and catch some fish. My thanks to Dearal Rodgers for once again sharing his expertise on Lake Wateree with SCFishingReport.com’s readers and showing us how! Best of luck to Dearal and his sponsors - AnglersChannel.com, Ranger Boats, Evinrude E-TEC, Marshall’s Marine, and CutmakerLures.com - on the FLW Tour in 2010.
Dearal accepts the winner's check for 2009 FLW Co-Angler of the Year
Dearal with a fat largemouth