Signs of autumn’s bounty

The bad news is summer is waning and fishing days are dwindling in number, but there’s also good news: The best days are still ahead.

The approach of autumn is a sure sign that winter is barreling down on us, but it signifies more than flying footballs and the arrival of arctic air masses. Fall also is the season when anglers have their best opportunities to catch a lot of big fish.

Whether you fish for crappies or perch, bass or walleyes, trout or muskies, the days between now and Thanksgiving can be the highlights of your angling year.

I began to get signs of autumn’s bounty last weekend. My visit to Shenango Reservoir produced three bass topping 4 pounds and a quartet that hovered around the 3-pound mark.

Warm-water species such as bass, crappies, muskies and walleyes shift gears in September and transition from lazy summer behaviors to more aggressive feeding schedules. They get active as the water temperatures drop into the 70s.

Biologists say the change is a function of the fishes’ instincts to store calories in their bodies for the scarcity they’ll encounter during the winter.

Cold-water species such as the steelhead that move in from Lake Erie into the rivers and streams draining out of Ohio and Pennsylvania are active in response to reproductive instincts.

My trip last weekend provided ample evidence the fish were eating.

I punched up 12 bass in all, nine of which topped the 15-inch size limit in effect at the Pennsylvania reservoir that is deemed “trophy” water.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake, Shenango’s water level is dropping and the fish were holding tight against wood on the shorelines.

All of the bass had fat bellies, obviously stuffed with shad and crawfish.

Also eating heartily are the region’s crappies. Anglers are working main lake areas on all of the reservoirs near Youngstown, with jigs and minnows working well for those who are using sonar to stay overtop the growing schools.

Walleye fishing also is picking up now that the summer heat is dissipating.

Berlin’s water is very low, but that’s not creating too much difficulty for walleye anglers who know where to find the autumn drawdown fish. Points and channels are getting plenty of attention from the walleye crowd.

Lake Erie walleye also are on the move, with fish moving in closer to the near-shore waters. Anglers in boats are looking for big packs of good-sized fish associated with Erie’s massive baitfish schools.

With Labor Day more than a week in our rearview mirrors, the migration of Erie steelhead trout is getting started. Anglers first encounter the acrobatic silver bullets in the harbors and breakwater areas all along the Ohio and Pennsylvania shoreline.

Good runs can be expected throughout fall and early winter when the rivers are running full and fast. Fresh from their season of feasting on Erie’s bounty, the fish are fat and strong and provide great sport for anglers with flyrods, centerpin outfits and spinning rigs.

The main thing about autumn fishing is simply to get out there. Whether you like to work the perimeter of a familiar pond, prowl the waters of our local reservoirs or don waders and stalk the pools of Lake Erie tributaries, the next few weeks will put you in touch with some of the strongest fish of the year.

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