Don't worry about the cold -- there's still plenty of action
Plummeting temperatures sent a shiver across northeast Ohio this week and likely promoted changes in plans for many fishermen.
But good fishing still is in the cards. Knowledgeable anglers will still find plenty of action on their favorite lakes, as long as they factor in the changing conditions and adapt accordingly.
The most important consideration will be location this weekend. Most species of fish will be on the move, some toward places near where they'll winter and others to the areas where they can continue to find plenty to eat.
Feeding is a major factor for many game species this time of year. Falling water temperatures trigger increased appetites for those fish that will be relatively inactive during the cold, dark months of winter. They must maximize eating opportunities to build fat reserves that will sustain them until the lakes thaw next spring.
The baitfish on which most of our local game species thrive are shad. They are notorious roamers, moving in large schools across the wide open expanses of Berlin, Mosquito, West Branch, Shenango and other local reservoirs.
During the summer and early autumn, shad expand their territories and can be found suspended over main-lake areas. Walleyes, bass, muskies and even crappies often lurk around the cover and structure near the primary reservoir channels and points to take advantage of the millions of shad that are available.
When fall's first freezes hit, cooling the water into the mid- to upper 50s, shad form smaller, but more compact schools and migrate into the creeks that spread like big fingers from the main-lake areas.
As the shad move up, the Corps of Engineers decision-makers typically are drawing down the water levels in the flood-control reservoirs that are this region's more popular fishing lakes. The water is dropping at all of them, some more than others.
So while falling water usually pulls game species out of the shallows, the autumn migration of baitfish into the skinny water provides enough temptation to lure the predators up from the depths.
It can be surprising, in fact, how shallow the bass, walleyes and other game fish will move as October creeps toward Halloween. Anglers who stay in touch with the shad over the next few weeks will continue to enjoy pretty good fishing.
Crappies will gang up in cover such as brush piles, stump rows and the tips of fallen trees. Bass will use similar spots. The muskies at Milton and West Branch may be found in the same vicinities.
Shad-imitating baits are obviously good choices. They don't have to be finesse-size. Fall, in fact, is a great time to catch trophy-class fish that are actively chasing down the mature -- and thus more protein-laden -- shad that have survived the summer.
Willow-leaf spinnerbaits worked across breezy cover-strewn flats are a good bet. Shallow-running crankbaits also work great this time of year, especially if they can be bounced off the shallow cover.
Chrome, white, gray and natural-colored lures are good starting points. If the water has a stain, try baits with a bit of chartreuse. Most game species will be feeding by site, so visual appeal is important.
It's also better to avoid the lee sides of the creek arms if you have a choice. Select areas where the wind is blowing across the cover or structure. The breeze helps anglers in two ways: it pushes the bait against the bank or cover and it creates enough disturbance to hide an angler's presence and obscure the artificiality of the lure.
A box of shadlike lures and knowledge about the bait's migration will get you heading in the right direction. The only other thing you'll need is enough clothing to ward off the chill.
And don't be surprised if that big one you've been looking for all year hits your lure.