Back To School

A common phrase this time of year, “It’s back to school”. The same thing happens underwater. Many species, bass, crappie, bluegill, walleye and certainly baitfish fall into the category of “schoolers”. Some fish as they get bigger turn into loners, namely giant catfish, musky and a few more. What sends anything back to school? Migration, water conditions, food supply, seasonality and different kinds of natural phenomenon.


When they’re moving all around fish location can seems to be predictable, the truth is more likely they are scattered and virtually everywhere. Shallow, mid-level and around deeper cover and bottom contours. Essentially they still don’t all do the same thing at the same time. The exceptions are under a few scenarios when they school up tight and in large numbers. Disadvantage, it takes a while to find them, the advantage comes when you do find them they’re stacked up and multiple catches are possible. The spring spawn brings many types of fish to the shallows. Bass, bluegill, crappie catfish and more all look for very specific areas to make babies. Hard bottom, shallow gravel beds, full exposure to the sun, large expanses of wood (crappie do lay eggs on wood as will other spring spawners) all pull great numbers of fish. Not exactly a schooling scenario but wait…..post spawn and school is in session. Bass and others now abandon the bank and head to deeper haunts to rest from the spawning exhaustion, they then are ready to refuel and feed heavily. This sets up what can be extraordinary fishing. Once located, casting crankbaits, swimming soft plastics and running spinnerbaits through the schools can fire them up. As a side note, when this occurs the competition for food is huge just making the possibilities for a memorable trip of huge numbers of fish. Soon bass, crappie and bluegill come back to the shallows and the food supply that resides around weed beds, log jams, shoreline cover, boat docks and other likely locations. When summer temperatures (air and water) soar fish move to deeper cooler waters of they are in fact available. Similar to post spawn schools of fish will take up residence off shore frustrating the “bank beaters”.

Early in the day and during the twilight of the day fish will move in and back out. During the transition from summer to fall, days get shorter, weather begins to cool off and fish sense the approach of winter. Now they again are in full feeding mode, they follow creek channels, bottom edges in a migration route to the shallow and eventually back out to wintering areas. First they will move shallow to three to eight feet of water and take up ambush spots, chasing down anything that will fit in their mouth. Now it’s a matter of survival. Fish eat a lot and anything they can find, swallow and then start the whole process again. Traditionally most people view spring as trophy bass time but fall and early winter affords the best chance not just to catch one but several giant fish. As winter arrives the shoreline edges freeze up first and fish take off. Be alert for winter warm ups. This is what can position you to land a giant largemouth. Two or three days of sunny days, a south wind, coupled with a major moon phase plus a degree or two spike in surface water temperature will stir bigger fish to move in to look for a mid-winter meal. I’ve caught some monsters following this predictable pattern.


Because shad become the primary target for bass to feed on, matching the look, speed of motion but NOT the size is effective. Easily my favorite way to catch bass year round is on a jig but I have to give the crankbait the nod when fish are schooled heavily off shore in water deeper that eight feet. Shad pattern crankbaits in larger sizes would be my first choice for a true trophy. Normally a Strike King (www.strikeking.com) 2.5 squarebill crank in color #699 natural shad is toes to the end of my line. Whatever the size of the shad in your fishin’ hole, go bigger. The whole point is among a mammoth school of shad something has to draw the attention and induce the bass to bite. When having to pursue baitfish bass will look for the easiest to catch and the largest one to fill them up if only temporarily. Big lures retrieved slowly are more likely to trick a trophy. In clear water and looking for smallmouth, smaller lures are a better bet because of the increased visibility making it more likely to get busted as a bogus bait, try swimming a curlytail grub or swimbait. Subtle can be good at times. During the spring and fall pile up, topwater baits and spinners can be the bass bonanza baits for the kayak angler. During weather extremes the hard baits, crankbaits and jerkbaits are at the top of the largemouth list. For other species like crappie, small tube type soft plastics worked horizontally when they are feeding aggressively and worked vertically when they are in a negative mode are best. Tiny swimbaits and again the soft plastic curlytails on light line and leadheads will generally get you bit. Some old timers employed the trolling method not just to find fish bit to catch fish. The most critical trolling factor is speed dictated by the speed of the craft. When trolling, utilizing the paddle, mine is the Bending Branches Angler Pro Carbon, ( www.bendingbranches.com ) gives kayakers the smooth, stealthy approach , trolling motor, peddling, current or wind all determines how fast your bait scoots through the water. Sped kills (the bite), my experience shows a GPS monitored trolling speed of 1.7 to 2.1 MPH seems to be magical.


Again they, the fish, are never all doing the same thing at the same time. At any time a multitude of lures and various patterns can be active on the same body of water. It definitely increases your chances when they’re back to school.

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