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Fall fishing has positives to go with its challenges

For just a couple of hours this last Sunday, I had an open window of time. Schedule clear, house somewhat clean, no major deadlines or projects due. I grabbed the boys and said, “Let’s go fishing.”

They hopped to it and excitedly packed the boat with all the possible things we might need. Not need in terms of tackle, but in terms of snacks.

This was the first serious outing we were going to have in the new boat. I was excited, they were excited, and the expectations were high. One problem, though — it was right in the middle of fall fishing. Seeming to sense this, the boys asked if the fishing was going to be any good or not.

The season is feast or famine and I have written about it before. Some folks love to thrash the water in the fall, others hang up their rods and grab their bows. These are truly love-it or hate-it type of conditions.

The major reason for this is the fish by this time have moved from their summer haunts and are preparing for a long winter. They are congregated up, or in the process of grouping up. In a river or a body of water that has current, they will usually gather on a favorable piece of structure that allows them to prey upon what floats by, but at the same time lets them  hang out in slack water and conserve energy.

In a lake or pond with minimal current, large groups of fish will actively pursue and follow baitfish. They will chase them into shallow water, deep water or open water. It doesn't really matter. You can find large schools of gamefish in the most unlikely places during the months of October and November.

The end result of both of these scenarios is that only a very small percentage of the water you are fishing is holding fish. Most of the places you wet your line are empty, hence why so many anglers prefer not to even go out this time of year. So how do we narrow down productive water in the fall?

First, I look at water temperature. If the water is still in that 50- to 60-degree range, which most of the waterways still are, I search out the windiest place I can find. Wind is the key ingredient to putting the odds in your favor. As long as you feel you can control your boat, the more wind, the better your odds.

I know this goes against a lot of what people do. Fishing in the wind, especially extreme wind, is a nightmare. Realize though that under the water, life isn't nearly as tumultuous as it is on the surface. A strong wind pushes prey organisms into predictable areas where they can be easily ambushed. Predators follow in large numbers.

I remember when I first learned about this breezy fall pattern. A friend was taking me fishing on Lake Norfork in Arkansas. The water was right within the temperature range I mentioned and the wind was howling. We motored right to the last place I would have picked. It was deep open water against a steep bank devoid of any cover such as trees, weeds, etc.

I was skeptical. My friend told me to grab the biggest bladed spinnerbait I had and hang on. Before long, we were hammering fish in the most uncomfortable and windy conditions. We didn't care, though, because we were catching, not just casting. There were multiple times when we each were hooked at once. What a blast!

Ever since that moment, I have applied that same strategy to water all over the Midwest. It works.

As the boys and I were driving to the ramp they were asking what we were going to do. I explained this whole wind, fall pattern thing to them and they were game.

Then we launched. The wind Sunday afternoon was cold and cut right through you. As they started to shiver, it crossed their minds that maybe this wasn't such a great idea. But before long we had the first fish in the boat. It was a nice, fat largemouth that aggressively pounded a spinnerbait. That’s all it took for them to believe in the power of the wind.

We trailered back home, proud of what we were able to accomplish. Not only did the new boat land its first fish, in tough fall conditions, it also survived a maelstrom of popcorn and crackers.

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