Fall offers a last chance for many anglers across the United States to get out and do some fishing before the weather changes for the worst.
While many anglers bear the elements as they pursue stream run salmon, steelhead or fish of various species through the ice, many others switch focus to hunting or simply wait for ice-out in the Spring to start fishing again.
Still others in the southern most parts of the country are able to continue fishing in relatively mild weather throughout the winter months.
In any case, autumn offers a perfect chance to get out on the water and reel in a mess of fish for the diner table.
Bass are fun to catch and can provide for tasty table fare. While the recent trend in bass fishing has been one of catch-and-release, that doesn’t mean we have to forget how delicious a fresh bass can taste.
Carefully walking the bank of a pond or lake while looking out for eating-size bass can be the most productive method in the fall. Pay special attention to submerged cover, large rocks and aquatic vegetation – all places where bass are likely to frequent. A live nightcrawler or minnow impaled on a number 4 or 6 hook offers a natural presentation and works great in these circumstances.
When bass are harder to find, crankbaits of various sorts, like the Rapala Flat Rap and Rebel Crickhopper, often offer a solution. Besides allowing you to cover plenty of water, crankbaits have actions that can sometimes entice even the most finicky fish. Don’t give up if crankbaits don’t produce right away. Try varying your speed and presentation, as well as the size, action and color of your crankbait.
Light lines are key this time of year, as water clarity reaches a highpoint for the year. Most anglers will catch fish that average in the one to three pound range, necessitating no more than 6 pound monofilament.
Pound for pound some of the hardiest fighters in fresh water, panfish are also some of the tastiest of all fish.
For bluegills, pumpkinseed and red ears a single maggot or wax worm on a number 10 or 12 hook is hard to beat. You may also want to use a slightly larger size if too many fish are swallowing the hook. Unlike some other fish, bluegills and the like usually don’t shy away from a bait because of larger hook size.
Without extra weight on the line, don’t expect to cast very far; but this time of year, when bluegills and their cousins suspend a few feet off of the bank waiting for insects to fall into the water, you usually don’t have to. If you need to gain some casting distance, you can add a small split shot or two, or a tiny float. Using too much weight may cause you to miss a lot of strikes.
Some of the small scented/flavored soft plastic baits, like Berkley’s Gulp maggots, can be as effective as live bait, and will last a lot longer than the typical grub. Flies, of the dry and wet varieties, are also known producers.
Crappies also present a great option to anglers where they can be found. Besides offering a hardy battle once hooked they also taste fantastic.
Crappies tend to school around cover of some sort and in fall are often close to shore. Live minnows suspended below a float or tiny jigs tipped with maggots or minnows presented in the same way are the best options to catch crappies in the fall.
Keeping the catch
The weather in autumn often feels like the weather of summer. Excessive heat can lessen the quality of freshly caught fish if they are not properly cared for.
When water temperatures are at their highest, you should avoid keeping fish on a stringer or fish basket in the water. In these situations, a well-insulated cooler full of ice or ice-cold water is the best bet.
Cleaning and preparing the fish
When taking bass and panfish to eat, you can wait until you arrive at home to clean your catch, as long as you have kept it on ice. Besides increased comfort, your home also offers you a cleaner environment to process your catch.
Although some remove fins, heads and scales for aesthetic value, there is no need to do more than cut open each fish along the bottom from its gills to its anal fin and remove the entrails and any excess material around the spine.
There are of course many ways to clean a fish. Bluegills, pumpkinseed and red ears, and especially crappies, make great, albeit very small, fillets.
It would be impossible to list even a significant number of the myriad of recipes available for fish here. Instead, we simply recommend that you try out different recipes until you find some that fit your tastes. Autumn is a great time to enjoy some time fishing and bring home some quality eats. Don’t miss out!