Evan Gregor: Feed the hungry fish
When fish put on the feed bag this time of the year, there is only one thing for an angler to do -- go big or go home. While fall is a great time to fish regardless of target species, it's important to understand fish are looking for two things with bait: size and efficiency.
Simply put, fall fish want to pack on pounds and do it in a hurry before temperatures drop too low. By presenting a meal option that might be a bit bigger than normal, you are setting yourself up for some fat fish glory. Here are some tips that will help you bulk up your bait:
Like humans, fish have a biological need for protein. While this need is normally fulfilled by eating other fish, there are many other forage species loaded with protein that hungry fish like to inhale.
Bird, duck, frog, mouse and other small creature baits are all the rage right now. The thought of a largemouth eating a rat or a pike eating a duck might seem outlandish, but they are definitely on the menu. Peculiar or not, these baits produce some big fish.
If the small creature baits on the market are not your thing, there are plenty of alternative options. Topwater baits like the Hula Popper, Jitterbug and Pop-R are all very affordable, create similar actions and come in a variety of colors and sizes that can help you to match what the fish are eating.
Super size me:
Simple as it sounds, using lures that are slightly larger than the ones you normally throw can have a big impact. Whether it's swapping a 6-inch worm for a 10-inch worm or throwing a double-bladed spinnerbait in favor of a single-blade, these tweaks can make fish think they are getting more bang for their buck and can help differentiate your offering from the rest of their food base.
If you're looking to add a bulkier appearance to your favorite lures without adding weight, small changes can make big impacts. For crankbait lovers, swapping out stock hooks for feathered trebles can help draw a neutral fish to strike. For those throwing jigs and spinnerbaits, changing out rubber skirts for hair can help give the bait a bigger profile underwater with subdued, yet enticing movement that fish love.
A live one:
The debate between artificial and live bait is an important one ... that will not be hashed out in this column. Instead, I am going to sing the praises of live bait, especially in late fall. As sustained cold weather becomes the norm, getting fish to take lures gets tedious. Not only does using live bait give you a better chance at catching fall fish, bigger live baits can help you rope in a goliath.
Thinking big is your key to live bait success now. If you aim to catch bigger bass, walleye and channel catfish, shiners and golden roaches are your best bet. Suckers of all sizes fished on the bottom or under a float are enticing for musky, northern pike and Flathead catfish. And for those that like to close out the year with slab crappies and jumbo perch, large fathead minnows are hard to beat.