Here we are in last half of November and the water temperature on our local reservoirs is nearly as warm now as it was at the end of October.
As I left Belton Lake on Friday afternoon, the surface temperature was 65.1 degrees. The surface temperature on the last day of October was 66.1.
If there is anything that keeps a strong bite going, it is environmental stability, and stability is, by and large, what we have experienced ever since the last significant cold front pushed through on Oct 26.
Although we have had multiple mild cold fronts push through since then, they have been short in duration (gauged by the length of time the winds blew from the north), and they have been dry (meaning they were not accompanied by significant rains as they moved through).
This great stability in a season known for great weather fluctuation, has led to one of the most productive autumns I have recorded in the 29 years I have fished Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes.
Since we experienced turnover on or about Sept. 29 (the date on which I first detected an unchanging temperature profile from the surface to the bottom in 60-plus feet of water), I have conducted 31 guided trips. During those trips, my clients landed a grand total of 4,423 fish. That averages out to over 142 fish per trip. This is more than 60 fish per trip greater than the 2019 season’s per-trip average catch of 80.6 fish per trip.
As I look at the extended forecast, I see little that would impact this currently excellent fishing. We are to experience a mild cold front today, but the remainder of Thanksgiving week’s weather is to be as mild as this past week’s weather was, thus, no drastic water temperature drop will result.
If you desire to get in on some of this fantastic fishing, I offer a few suggestions.
Focus on what is abundant. When it comes to gamefish on Belton Lake, which is the reservoir I normally fish from turnover through at least Christmas, the two most plentiful species of gamefish are white bass and blue catfish. If you target these species versus less abundant species, like largemouth, smallmouth and crappie, you already start ahead of the game.
Currently, my entire focus is on white bass, although a predictable bycatch of largemouth bass, hybrid striped bass and freshwater drum will be caught as well.
Sit still. If you are fortunate enough to own a trolling motor which has a Spot-Lock or similar function, then be sure to use that feature. One of the biggest mistakes I see anglers make when pursuing cool-water white bass is moving around too much.
When you sit still, all of the commotion you and the fish you catch produce is concentrated into one area directly beneath your boat. Further, as fish are fought to the boat, they defecate and regurgitate what they have eaten. This falls to the bottom and acts as chum, attracting other fish. If you must move, move after fishing one defined area, but do not move constantly. My rule of thumb is this: If your fishing line is not hanging vertically, you are moving too quickly.
Keep your distance. Be mindful of how closely you approach other anglers. Many inexperienced anglers wrongly think moving in close to another boat catching fish is a sure-fire way to catch fish themselves. This more often than not will backfire as the boat already in location will have fish pulled up under it and excited. The newly arriving boat’s occupants will often become mere spectators to a fish-catching show put on courtesy of the boat which was already in place. This is particularly true in cool- and cold-water scenarios when fish do not move far nor very fast due to slowing metabolisms.
Aside from this, it demonstrates a lack of confidence and courtesy on the part of any angler who, instead of finding their own fish, relies on the success of others to locate fish for them. If you need a metric, leave at least 50 yards from others.
“Smoke” your bait. While the water temperature is still in the 60s, a bait retrieved from bottom, upward at a steady, moderate cadence will outperform that same lure “jigged” or “hopped” near the bottom.
Such a retrieve is referred to as a “smoking” retrieve.
This retrieve works well because shad are still frisky and moving about feeding, not dying of thermal shock as will begin to happen later in the year when the water gets colder.
My go-to bait for smoking is the MAL (Maindelle’s All-Purpose Lure). This is an inline spinner of my own design specifically designed to be used in a smoking retrieve. It sinks quickly, rarely tangles and puts off a lot of vibration for such a compact lure.
Do not settle for too little, too early. In conducting on-the-water sonar training for anglers of all skill levels, I often find that anglers who hope to use sonar to locate fish often settle for too little too early.
By this, I mean anglers will stop their boat and fish anytime anything remotely similar to a fish appears on their sonar screen.
My own approach is to look for large concentrations of fish before committing to fish an area. If I cannot find 50 or 80 fish in an area roughly 3-4 boat lengths in size, I will pass on that area, knowing that the few fish present will be hard to tempt and will typically not stay biting very long.
As the water cools, schools of white bass grow larger and larger as multiple smaller schools begin to merge into common areas. Schools of several hundred fish located in a 50-yard diameter area are not at all uncommon.
Take notes. It seems foolish to me to have to learn the same lesson twice over. By taking notes this fall, you will find yourself ahead of the game next fall. If nothing else, jot down the date you went fishing and list the waypoints at which you successfully caught several fish on each date. This will give you a starting point when conditions are similar in the fall of 2021.