The fishing on Lake Travis has been phenomenal the past few weeks! Like clock work, every year at the beginning of fall, there is a couple week period where the water starts to cool and the fish get active. Fishing gets stupid easy and largemouth feed up gorging on seemingly any bait you throw at them. The past few weeks the water temps have been in the mid to low 70’s. As of this report though, we finally have our first “real” cold front. I’m talking air temps in the upper thirties, the kind of weather where we Texas finally pull out our heavy jackets and coats. This will drop the water temps into the mid to upper 60’s.
So what does this cold weather mean for the bass fishing?
There are a couple things you can expect. First off, while we are experiencing this cold front expect the bite to change and the fish to react to it. In my experience it throws off the bite and makes it a little tougher. This is only for a day or two while the cold front rolls through. These fish rebound very quickly and will continue to feed until winter. Once you see water temperatures down in the high fifties you can expect the bite to slow. Until then, get out there on the water and keep fishing!
So where do the fish go?
If you read fishing blogs, my reports or watch Youtubers, you’ve probably heard that the bass move up into the backs of creeks and coves. Everybody is saying this, but I rarely see anyone explain why the bass do this. Nowadays I feel like so many anglers simply regurgitate the same info over and over. So it begs the questions, why do they do that? Well, it’s to follow their food source!
During the fall there are two main forages the bass prefer; crawfish and threadfin shad. As the water cools you will find these shad moving from deep water, which in the case of Lake Travis will be the river channels and major creek arms. (Remember, arms of the lake such as Sandy Creek or Cypress Creek are as large as some small lakes!) You will find schools of baitfish making a slow migration back into the coves, which in turn attracts bass. Their lives revolve around their diet, so if you find the bait, you’ll find the fish!
These threadfin shad feed on plankton and are moving in search of that. During the summer the warm water and sunlight provide ideal conditions for plankton blooms and an ample food source for these hungry shad. As water temps during the fall drop the main lake cools faster than the backs of the coves, which in turn allows plankton to keep growing. Wind, water being released from the dam, and boat traffic all help to stir up the lake and mix up the shad's food source. Since coves now offer a better buffet of plankton for these shad they will migrate from their summer homes, predator species such as bass and crappie follow as well to feed on the shad. It is also important to note that water temperature is extremely important to baitfish species such as shad. Drastic changes in water temp can cause die offs. Here in Austin, it does not get cold enough, but in lakes where the water can get below 40 degrees, it is not uncommon to see large shad die offs. The warmer water in the backs of coves during the fall is also another factor influencing their behavior.
My approach to bass fishing often involves the science behind it, and not just whatever the latest fad on BassMaster is. Understanding what is going on beneath the surface of the lake, not only with largemouth bass, but also with the other species of fish in the lake, can help you become a better angler.
So what should you throw to catch these shad hungry bass? Well, there are several things I like to throw, but let’s go with my top three.
1. Topwater Spook- I love throwing a shad colored walking style bait such as a Zara Spook, Sammy, or Gunfish. Long casts with this style bait, covering lots of water, are very effective. Focus on the mouths of small coves, points within a these coves, and drains along the shoreline in these coves. Look for structure that provides an ambush point for a bass to attack their prey. Typically the topwater bite is best in the morning or evening. However, on overcasts days you can get them to bite it all day long. I especially like it if there is a little wind blowing into the area I am fishing.
2. Crankbaits- Medium diving crankbaits can also be a terrific bait to throw at these shad hungry fish. I should note, I also throw this bait a lot in red and orange as well, to imitate crawfish. When trying to mimic shad though, go with natural colors such as chrome, white and black, or something with a little purple in it.
3. Flukes and Senkos- A fluke makes sense to try and imitate a shad right? Duh of course! But a senko? Yep, when these fish move up shallow but the bite is a little tough, I like to break out a wacky rigged senko. For this though, I will throw colors like Smoke or Natural Shad. The slow enticing fall of a senko can be deadly even though it is not shaped like a bass. I especially like this bait because it is the perfect bait to fish near docks. Cast it right up against a dock and let it fall. For docks sitting in water deeper than 15-20 feet I will often add a small tungsten nail weight into the senko to make is sink slightly faster. I recommend throwing this on braided line with a fluorocarbon leader. Use braid that is white or yellow as it is easier to see. Watch for a tick in the line or it to stop falling prematurely; if you see anything odd lift your rod tip and feel for pressure… if you feel anything weird don’t forget hook sets are free!
As for the fluke, I like to rig this on an Owner twist lock hook and make long casts with it. If it's windy or I want to get the bait a little deeper I will opt for the hook with the belly weight. Fish this bait like you would a jerkbait with a twitching motion of the rod tip, as well as numerous pauses.
These are all excellent options when trying to match the shad the bass are feeding on. As I mentioned earlier though, crawfish are a large part of their diet too. With Lake Travis being so rocky, there is actually an abundance of crawfish in the lake.
A crankbait such as a Storm Wiggle wart or Spro Rock Crawler in a crawfish color is an excellent bait to cover water with and quickly work a rocky shoreline. The same locations as before apply, however you are trying to get this bait down to the rocks and get it to bump into the bottom. Let the bill of your bait hit and deflect off rocks; this will often trigger bites. I will switch baits depending on the depth of the rock I am fishing, so I recommend having several similar colored baits, but with different diving depths.
A football jig or a Texas rigged craw will also work extremely well. If you have ever fished with me you know I love to throw jigs. I even pour my own jigs! A ½ ounce brown and orange football jig with a speed craw for a trailer is a deadly combination. I find year after year my largest fish come off this bait. Fish it slowly around rock and make certain to maintain bottom contact.
As for the Texas rig, this bait is often times interchangeable with a jig. Mix it up and experiment to see what the bass like. For this set up I typically throw a 3/8th ounce tungsten bullet weight and a Rage Craw or Zoom speed craw.
A little tip for your bass nerds like myself… get yourself a crawfish trap from Academy. Bait it up with some canned cat food and leave it out over night. I like to catch crawfish from time to time and see what color they are, in order to get a better idea of what color baits I should be throwing. With the clear water on Lake Travis, throwing something that looks just like what the bass are feeding on can make a big difference.
Spring and fall are my two favorite times to fish here in Austin, TX. Just because the weather is a little cooler and a little more unpredictable, does not mean you shouldn’t get out there and go fishing!
If you are looking to up your game I would love to be your fishing coach! I love teaching new and veteran anglers alike. My approach to guiding is educational, so if you are looking for more than someone who will hand you a rod and tell you where to cast, give me a call.
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