Change – it's in the air. All across the country, the past few months of stable, predictable conditions are giving way to fall. Cold nights and wild temperature swings, along with shortened daylight and north winds, mean the past is gone.
Bites change much more quickly this month and next than they did since spring, which can put the screws to anglers who haven't been on the water much. It can become especially problematic for BassFans who travel to new waters for their end-of-year championships, or hit the water after an off-limits period.
While the September solution isn't all that difficult, things do get downright puzzling when a lake turns over. It can happen anytime this month or next (or even in November), depending on weather patterns and geographic location.
When a lake turns over – meaning, when cold, deep water in a stratified lake mixes with the warm surface layer, and the thermocline disappears – it literally turns the lake upside-down. The shallow fish are usually fine, but the deep fish get stressed. And the fishermen suffer, because everything's topsy-turvy.
Pro Kelly Jordon knows all about the phenomenon, and through the years, has determined the best way to combat a turnover.
His pattern most likely won't produce the stringer of a lifetime, but it's something that can get you five better-than-average bites, which can make all the difference at a championship.
When it Happens
It might not be immediately obvious that a lake has turned over, according to Jordon. And one portion of a lake might be turned, while the other's still stratified. But savvy anglers who pick up on clues can determine the state of the lake.
"The turnover can happen over a wide range of times across the country, and it's not even really dictated by north and south like you might think," he said. "I know on Lake Fork, my home lake, it usually turns over in the middle of September – the 15th to 20th or somewhere in there.
"The turnover sometimes starts on the lower end and moves up, but when it turns over, everything goes out the window."
Clues that a lake has turned over, he noted, could include small brown bubbles at the surface which is biologic matter and gasses from the lake bottom. You might also see a significant scumline on your boat after you pull out. There might be leaves floating on the surface, or some turbid water where it once was clear. A strong stench on the water might also clue you in.
Jordon's advice for a turnover attack: Run as far back in a creek as you can, then fish your way back out.
Jordon added that as the decaying matter and already oxygen-starved bottom water mix with the surface, oxygen levels near the surface plummet.
"A lot of that stuff hasn't been oxidized – it hasn't decomposed because there's no oxygen down there. That makes a huge drain on the amount of oxygen in the rest of the water as that stuff decomposes, and the fish become stressed. Sometimes you'll see them with sores – almost like the post-spawn in reverse. And the fish sometimes get skinny."
Pound the Backs
With the main lake in utter turmoil for a few weeks immediately after the turnover, that water's usually a poor choice. Yes, that's where the big fish are, but again, they're likely stresses and in a negative mood.
And even if the big fish are eating, they can be almost impossible to pin down with any repeatable pattern. Remember that water temperature is now largely uniform, so they could be anywhere both horizontally and vertically in the water column.
Not coincidentally, this is also about the time that shad head into the very backs of the creeks.
"One reason the shad go to the backs of creeks is there's good water up there," Jordon said. "A lot of times the upper ends of creeks aren't stratified, so they don't get the turnover effect. The water's well oxygenated, and the shad migrate in there big-time.
"A lot of bass go back there as well, and those fish are still biting, whereas the main-lake fish go almost dormant."
What can be deceiving, he added, is that a lot of the young-of-the year bass will still be in the main lake – schooling and biting like crazy. So there's a temptation to think you can sort through numbers for size. Truth is, you'll probably only catch those dinks.
"It's really amazing. It seems like you can go catch 100 10- to 15-inchers while the big fish take a few weeks off. Don't do it. Do a Tommy Biffle instead – run as far back into a creek with your big motor until it's almost out of the water, then fish your way back out.
"Shallow cranks like a Lucky Craft RC 1.5 are great for this," he added. "Fish your way back out and throw at everything – stumps, laydowns, shallow grass."
He noted too that you can catch them on just about any reaction bait, like frogs, jigs, soft-jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits.
"It's a reaction bite, and what fishing the backs of creeks does is puts you in the area of the lake where there's more active fish during a turnover, and fish that are easier to pinpoint."
> Jordon said that once the turnover settles out and the fish shift into their true fall patterns, "that's when you get some of the finest fishing of the year. The fish start to set up deep again."