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Lynn Burkhead — Cashing in on autumn’s great crankbait bite

Staff Writer
Herald Democrat

Over the course of my outdoor writing career, I’ve often said that if I’m forced to rely on my own knowledge and expertise to get the job done, I’d better get the resume updated and start looking at the “Help Wanted” ads.

Because while I enjoy hunting and fishing as much as anyone, I’m actually not very good at a lot of the skills necessary to pull off successful outdoor adventures. My shooting skills are suspect, my ability to decipher a bass lake leaves something to be desired, and my wall isn’t full of huge antlers.

Put simply, if you’re looking for a good read, I hope I might be the person you turn too. But if you’re looking for a little help on your own adventures, well, maybe you should turn somewhere else.

With that idea in mind, I’ve always known that any success and longevity that I might find in this industry is to not rely on what I know, which will be a very short conversation indeed. Instead, I’ve learned how to search out the experts, the hunters and anglers who know far more about what they’re talking about than some wannabe-writer from North Texas ever will.

One such area is the subject of fall fishing, a time of the year that starts slow for bass anglers as waters gradually cool down and the dog days of summer slowly fade away. Add in early autumn turnover on local lakes, and the start to the fall fishing season can be a bit of a challenge.

But as the autumn season deepens, cold fronts start arriving regularly, and the leaves begin to change colors, and it will not be too long before the fall fishing action starts to heat up. As long as you know where to look and what to throw, that is.

While I’ll readily admit that I don’t, thankfully, my friend Tim Horton does. A former standout on the Bassmaster Elite Series, Horton has made a career of finding bass angling success at any time of the year. Now, years deep into the Major League Fishing and Bass Pro Tour portion of his career, that education is even more complete as his bank account and trophy case can attest to.

Put simply, if you want to know more about catching bass in the spring, summer, fall and even winter months, Horton is one of the guys I’d recommend following. From his popular television show on World Fishing Network to his various social media platforms, Horton is a well educated angler who knows how to get a well-intentioned fishing point across.

Take, for instance, the Facebook post that Horton — the 2000 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year — made a few years ago about the concept of fall fishing. While Timmy knows the difficulty of fishing southern lakes in the early fall as well as anyone else, he also knows that it’s only a matter of days or a few weeks before the angling action turns red-hot.

Where will that transformation take place on the lakes you like to fish? In the main creeks of water bodies, the lake or reservoir pathways that guide hungry fall bass to the clouds of baitfish they are hoping to fatten up on with the approach of winter.

"Look for bass in the main creeks that feed into the lake," said Horton, a multi-time qualifier for the Bassmaster Classic and winner of several major fishing events over the course of his angling career.

"Focus on turns in the creek channel where the bank is steep with blowdowns, stumps or big rocks for structure."

While it is admittedly tough to do so with a $5, $10 or $15 crankbait, Horton says that once your boat is in the right area, it's then extremely important for your lure to make contact with objects in the water as the fall months roll on.

"It's important to bounce the baits off the structure," said Horton.

Why is that? Because when the shad-imitating crankbait deflects, it will often produce a reaction strike from a hungry largemouth, smallmouth or spotted bass that is intent on feeding up for the coming of winter.

While the fall crankbait bite can pay dividends over the next several weeks, the idea will really come into its own as the cool down of water temperatures really begins to accelerate and November approaches on the calendar. In short, the weeks from mid-October and on up towards Thanksgiving can provide some of the best bass catching action of the year.

"When the leaves begin to fall and the cold winds start to blow in November, crankbaiting can get hot, especially on southern lakes," said Horton, a pro staffer for a number of different fishing companies.

"I like to throw cranks that dive (down) to six to eight feet in November."

Sometimes, even if the weather conditions aren’t terribly enjoyable — think good deer hunting and duck hunting weather — the lure of fall fishing is that the chillier it is, oftentimes, the hotter the fishing action can be.

Put another way, when Horton’s beloved Auburn Tigers are trying to beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl, you need to go fishing because the angling action is usually as entertaining as that annual SEC grudge match is on the gridiron.

"Cranking can produce plenty of action that will make you forget about the cold weather," said Horton, who always seems to have a smile on his face and a big bass fighting at the end of his line, especially in the fall.

All of that is understandable since Horton is a guy who loves college football, likes to go deer hunting, and loves to catch bass on every few casts.

And it’s that sizzling bass catching action of autumn that provides the primary reason to load up the boat, grab a jacket and a thermos of hot coffee, and leave the college football game behind on Saturday afternoons this fall.

Why? Because as Horton says, the fall fishing that you can find out on the water over the next few weeks can justify a trip to an otherwise empty lake, especially since the fishing is often about as good as it gets.

But don’t take my word for it. Instead, pay attention to the advice of that professional bass angler from Muscle Shoals, Ala., a guy who has won far more money and trophies at the angling game than I ever will.

Listen to what he says to do out on the water, and you’ll have a successful autumn season, no matter what college football team you like to root for. Because when there’s a big bass on the end of your line, who cares what the score is, right?