There’s no better way to catch South Louisiana bass this month than throwing topwater baits over points.
Options abound in South Louisiana during November. It’s a literal sportsman’s choice as the deer are rutting, the ducks are flying and the deep-water trout are biting.
With so many choices, it might seem unusual for some folks to think about bass fishing.Bass are supposed to be a spring kind of thing, aren’t they? Why, then, do some anglers anxiously anticipate November like a kid awaits Christmas?
According to two accomplished anglers in different corners of the state, it’s all about the marsh topwater bite blowing up right before it quits.
Dennis Tietje, the only angler to ever qualify for the Louisiana Bass Federation State Team 10 times, and Jason Pittman, one of Southeast Louisiana’s most traveled bass tournament anglers, will both tell you that November is a time when marsh bass are just ripe for the picking on top.
“It’s one of those deals where the bite will be the best it’s going to be all year right before it stops,” said Pittman. “You can go out there on a Thursday and have the best topwater bite of the year then go back on Friday and not get a sniff. It’s all about the timing of that one cold front that lets you know winter is here.”
While Pittman and Tietje expect the topwater door to close sometime in November, Tietje said it wouldn’t be strange for it to continue on into December.
“Sometimes we have a late winter,” he said. “If that happens, these fish will continue to aggressively chase shad until it gets cold and they drop off into deeper water. It might be November, but it could be in December. Whichever it is, bass anglers fishing the marsh this fall should keep throwing topwater baits until the bass tell them to stop.”
Fish the points
While Pittman and Tietje have some differences in their approaches to marsh topwater fishing due to their different corners of the state, both agreed that it’s the points that attract and hold the largest concentrations of bass during November.
“They’ve been on the points for about two months by then,” Pittman said. “They move from the big lakes to the points where they gang up until the cold pushes them back into the deeper cuts and canals. Points are basically just staging areas where bass know they can pick up some easy meals in the current.”
Any point is subject to hold a concentration of bass, but Pittman specifically looks for points that lead into deeper dead-end canals. Bass must instinctively know that on any given day during November, a north wind may start blowing and push out 2 or 3 feet of water. Being on the points of the deep canals means they have an easy transition as they adjust for the cold.
“It’s always points,” Tietje agreed. “Whether it’s a subtle point of a river bend where current pulls across it, a canal point or drain points that lead into the marsh, there’s always going to be a point involved for fall topwater fishing in the marsh if you want numbers of fish.”
Pittman and Tietje’s definition of an ideal point vary somewhat because of the different kinds of marsh that each fishes. In Pittman’s corner of the state around the Rigolets, Delacroix and Lake Salvador, the ideal point would be one that is somewhat barren of wood cover but thick with grass.
On the other hand, Tietje’s best points around the southern portion of the Mermentau, the lower Sabine and the Calcasieu rivers are those that have a shallow ledge that is thick with stumps, but he considers a point with some kind of vegetation a close second.
“What happens on these kinds of points is that the shad will blow up on them when we get a little wind,” Tietje said, “and there’ll be a breakline on the down-wind side of the point where there will be a calm area, sometimes behind the stumps. Bass will congregate there and feed as shad blow into that hole.”
Whether it’s wind-driven or tidal, any point in the marsh will get even better when the water starts moving across the top of it. By far, the best days are when water is pulling out of the marsh, and according to Pittman and Tietje, it doesn’t have to be pulling very hard.
Falling water will always be better than rising water, which changes bass position. If the water rises too much, the bass will scatter out in the newly flooded areas, thus making them tougher to pinpoint and catch.
Some anglers may wonder why they should be throwing topwaters on the points if the fish are so congregated. It’s kind of like fishing trout under the birds. Does it really matter what you throw in there as long as you get a bait in the water?
“I use topwaters because they give me the best opportunity to search for groups of fish,” said Pittman. “You can run up there on a point and tell really quick if the fish are there or not. These fish are generally positioned down and looking up to eat, and they’ll come up and crush a topwater when it comes over their heads.”
Tietje’s reasons for using a topwater have more to do with aesthetic appeal rather than fish attractiveness.
“Overall you get a whole lot more action with a topwater, but it’s just so much more appealing when a bass blows up on the surface than when it bites something down below,” he said. “These fish are so aggressive and chasing shad that I find more surface action during the fall than any other time of the year.”
Both anglers readily admit that topwaters aren’t the only lures these fish will bite. It’s just that these lures are so much fun to fish, and there’s no better time to fish them. That’s why they take advantage of the action right up to the time that it turns off.
There are plenty of topwaters that would produce some fish on the points this month, but Tietje and Pittman keep returning to the same ones time and time again because they flat out produce. The three best kinds of topwaters to use in the marsh are those that pop, those that walk and those that sputter.
“I’d say the only lure somebody needs to throw to slam the fish is a Storm Chug Bug,” Pittman said. “A lot of people may think going small is important in the marsh, but the shad are big enough this time of year that you can throw the regular-size Chug Bug and be just as productive while giving you the chance to catch a bigger bass or two.”
While the bigger Chug Bug can be productive, Tietje has started fishing the smaller Baby Chug Bug more than the big one because he wants to appeal to as many different sizes of fish as possible.
“Since Rita, the fish are smaller because they haven’t totally come back,” he said. “We have a lot of fish in the marsh systems in Southwest Louisiana that weren’t here during the storm. They’re small, and they bite the smaller Chug Bug better.
“It’s a basic rule of bass fishing: Smaller baits target more fish with fewer big bites, and bigger baits target bigger bass with fewer overall bites. We don’t have enough big fish over here right now to stay with the bigger one very long. I also catch a lot of fish on small walking baits like a Zara Puppy.”
Pop-Rs are also productive on the points, and Pittman has been having some success on a popper called a Yellow Magic, what he called “just a more expensive Pop-R.” Anglers don’t have to use only the popping and walking baits, though. In fact, both anglers rely on some kind of churning, single-hook lure when they get around grass.
“A buzz bait is underestimated during fall,” Pittman insisted. “I learned a long time ago while fishing a BASS tournament at Lake of the Ozarks that a buzz bait is extremely effective when the temperature starts dropping. We were catching fish on them during a snow storm up there, so I know they’ll work in our relatively mild winter weather down here.”
Tietje also throws in a topwater rat and frog into the mix in Southwest Louisiana any time he’s fishing a point with floating vegetation like lilies, hyacinths or duck weed. He’s also found a way to get the sound of a buzz bait around the thick stuff without having to worry about it getting all fouled up.
“It’s hard to beat a soft plastic frog like the Ribbit,” he said. “Any time I’m fishing vegetation that has open pockets and lanes in it, you can bet I’m going to give the Ribbit a workout. As good as it is around the edges of grass, though, it won’t work in the thick duck weed — that’s when I pull out the rat.”
Since shad are the primary forage for bass during the fall, Pittman and Tietje rely heavily on colors that mimic what the bass are expecting to see. Color isn’t as important if the fish are actively chasing bait, but when the bite slows down, it’s best to stick with the shad colors.
Breaking down points
With as many fish that gang up on the points during November, it might seem like anglers can run up there with little regard for noise and commotion, but that isn’t entirely the case. How you approach the point will go a long way in determining your success.
“I find anywhere from the tip of the point to 100 yards on either side of it,” Pittman explained. “I recommend going to one of the 100-yard points on either side of the point and working from there to the point to the same distance on the other side. If the fish are there, you’ll find them somewhere in that zone.”
Pittman generally gets right up on the bank because he feels like the fish will be anywhere from 3 feet deep, which could be considered deep in the marsh, to right on the bank. He makes parallel casts in front of his boat from the bank out to the deeper water. If he encounters any vegetation, Pittman makes sure to work the edges in the pockets and lanes.
“When I pull up on a point, I can tell within about three casts if the fish are there,” Tietje added. “And if I get bit, I expect to catch anywhere from 10 to 20 fish because they are so aggressive.
“The biggest bass in the group are going to bite first since they dominate everything, so I try to make my first few casts count. As soon as they see something available overhead, they’re the first to rush up and get it. If you sit there and throw and throw, the big fish tend to spook off and the smaller fish get more aggressive.”
The first thing Tietje looks for when he pulls up to a point is shad activity. If he sees fish actively feeding on the surface, he will specifically target those fish and try to catch them while they’re still chasing their prey.
It’s also important to let the fish dictate what speed you fish your topwaters. The basic rule is the more active the fish seem to be, the faster you can fish. Slow down if the fish are inactive, but keep an open mind because once you trigger one fish to bite, it often turns on the entire school, which will allow you to be more aggressive.
Fishing the points during the fall is basically a reverse of what happens during the spring, but, as Pittman put it, you’re going to catch a lot more fish because the fish are going to be in a better mood.
“In the spring, those fish had already been back in the canals and are moving out,” he said. “In the fall they’ve been in the lakes and are moving in. The main difference is that in the spring, the fish stop on the points on their way out because they want to rest. When they stop on the points on their way in during fall, they stop on the points because they want to eat. I’ll take the fish that want to eat any day of the week.”
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