It’s that time of year again, the leaves, air and water temperatures are all falling and the shad are migrating to the backs of the creeks and pockets. Where the shad go, so do the bass, the bass follow the bait as they put on their feed in preparation for the winter.

This can be a time of feast or famine for fishermen. Often the bass will have the bait pushed into tight balls and feeding on them aggressively, sometimes on the surface and there for the viewing. It’s entertaining at times to watch the shad scatter as bass streak through the school. It can be equally frustrating when they’re feeding all around you and you can’t catch them.

Here’s how I approach this time of year; generally I don’t go searching for schooling (fish aggressively feeding on the surface) fish. I fish in the areas where I know the bait and fish are. I am typically fishing targets, looking for fish that are relating to cover/structure with my confidence/search baits. I find this to be more effective as bass are ambush predators and presenting bait in their strike zone usually gets me bit.

If they come up schooling, I’ll throw bait their way and see what happens. I’m watching to see the quality of fish in the school, if there is a defined “kill zone” and the size of the bait they are feeding on. If they’re small fish, why bother? An identified “kill zone” can make the catching a lot more efficient. By “kill zone” I am referring to a particular spot where the fish are consistently coming up feeding. Many times the kill zone will be related to some cover or structure, the bass will come up to feed on schools of bait as they pass by. The size of the bait will be a key to the bait selection, in most cases I try to match the size of the lure to the size of the bait the fish are feeding on.

When I go into a cove or creek and there is bait everywhere I know it’s usually not going to be easy to catch the bass. They have so much of the real thing right there in front of them that getting them to eat a lure can be tough. This is where experimentation comes in, sometimes slow subtle bait gets the bite, other times it’s the reaction bite that gets the fish into the boat.

A couple of my first choices for lures and retrieves are:

1. a ¼ oz. RatLTrap, using a sweeping retrieve

2. a fluke, allowed to free fall to the bottom and occasionally twitched

3. a small topwater walking bait, walked quickly across the surface

If these baits don’t get a return on the time investment then I keep right on moving. Its not unless I just can’t find anything else or they are really good quality fish will I spend more time trying to figure out how to catch the schooling fish.

There is no substitute for time on the water!

Rusty White of Rock Hill is a professional fisherman and full-time guide on the Catawba chain of lakes, offering full- and half-day services. For more information, visit