Tips for Successful Fishing in Fall

New York fishing in fall proved fruitful for these two brothers showing off a huge pike.
Randy Gardinier, chairman of the Great Sacandaga Lake Fishing Federation, with the help of his brother, utilized New York State fall fishing techniques to catch this 43 inch northern pike.

Tips for New York State Fishing in Fall 

Before I knew better I always imagined hearing a collective sigh of relief from New York State’s fish population when the Labor Day weekend rolled around. For too many anglers that weekend signals the end of their fishing jaunts, and their attention turns to hauling out and winterizing the boat and then prepping for the upcoming hunting seasons. That’s truly unfortunate since some of the most productive and enjoyable fishing time of the year is on its way, there’s plenty of opportunities for fishing in fall to be found – your next Adirondack adventure awaits the use of our fall fishing techniques!

Less (water) is More (habitat)

On some bodies of water, particularly those that experience seasonal drawdowns, hauling the boat out may become more a necessity than a choice for anglers with larger craft. But if your vessel is small enough, various state-operated and private launches may still be operational and are gateways to fantastic fishing in fall. The water level in the lakes will have dropped considerably from full-pool status, but the good news is that all sorts of great structure has emerged. More “islands” and shoals have broken through the surface and old stone walls (a hallmark of Great Sacandaga, for example) that hearken back to their original life as farmland are right there for you to fish over and around. 

Various Freshwater Fish Species

Fish, including bass, walleye, and even northern pike, often concentrate around these areas; and the action can be fast and furious as the fish respond to fewer daylight hours and lower water temperatures that mark the beginning of autumn.   If you’re not averse to using bait, crayfish or small minnows drifted over or through deeper holes will work really well. However, if you prefer tossing artificial bait, small Mepps spinners with dressed hooks will also produce when you go fishing in fall, as will small jigs and minnow-imitation lures in the 2 – 4 inch range.  

Smallmouth Bass

Some truly big smallmouth bass are taken that way every fall. If you’re fall bass fishing from a boat and prefer to stay out in the main part of the lake for your smallmouth excursions, concentrate your efforts on the mouths of feeder streams and any shoals your map shows. If you prefer to stick with deeper water, jigs and deep-running crankbaits are the ticket. Soon shore fishing again becomes productive. Fish will gravitate into shallower areas and will be found over and around structure more than walleye. 

You’ll still find hellgrammites and crayfish to be the top natural baits for bass and 1/4 to 1/2 ounce twister-type lures and spinners are the preferred artificial lures, although small crankbaits will also work well. Just about any time of day is good for smallies, although during September and October night fishing around bridge abutments and similar structure will be really a productive fall fishing technique for both your walleye and fall bass fishing efforts.

Best Fishing Hours

As autumn approaches, northerns will again begin to prowl the shallows, especially at dusk, dawn, and on overcast days. Some sizable fish are taken every fall on cast or trolled Rapalas, Rebels, Jr. Thundersticks and similar minnow imitations. I recommend darker colors or natural finishes.  

Bass and Walleye Fishing

Angler holding large fish caught using New York State fall fishing techniques on the Great Sacandaga Lake
Bass and walleye concentrate around structure in Great Sacandaga Lake in the fall.

A frequent bonus in this type of fishing in fall is a chunky walleye or bass; however, most of your walleye action will still be found at 15-25 foot depths. Try drift fishing with a Lake Clear Wabbler/night crawler rig or downrigging with one of the above lures. Keep the bait or lure as near the bottom as you dare and keep a sharp eye on your depth sounder.

When you see a concentration of fish, keep working that area and you’ll eventually find the right combination of speed, color and direction. They could be walleye or maybe even yellow perch, but either way they’ll provide some tasty fillets for the frying pan. You’re apt to catch just about anything, northerns included, as these predators prowl the structure to bushwhack forage fish. One added advantage of the lower water levels is that you have a lot more shoreline to fish from; and coincidentally, shore fishing again becomes very productive.

Pickerel Fishing

Pickerel are also fun to catch if you’re looking for some good fishing in fall. They’re cooperative and respond nicely to a variety of techniques and lures. Also, and perhaps most important, when other fish species are in a real funk, you can always depend on pickerel to fill the gap and provide excellent sport while fishing in fall. While I’ve caught them on everything from spinnerbaits and poppers to jigs and night crawlers, I still prefer to use the fall fishing technique of small buzzbaits over and around weedbeds.

Pickerel are not at all shy about hitting buzzbaits or even chuggers, and their strikes are even more explosive and aggressive than largemouths or smallmouths. You can fish for them in much the same way as you would for northern pike. All you need to do is downsize your lure or bait proportionally. When bait fishing with minnows on most of the Adirondack waters, frequently I stick with suckers or shiners in the two-to-four inch range, depending upon the average size of the pickerel that I normally catch there.

Big Fish need Big Bait

Man holds large bass in front of the Great Sacandaga Lake
Live bait as well as artificial lures works well in the deeper holes for fall bass fishing.

If a water is known to harbor bigger fish, I’ll stick with larger baits but rarely over five inches when fishing in fall. When using buzz baits or spinner baits, go with the smallest ones you can find; but if you’re using chugger or popper-type lures, the size doesn’t seem to matter that much as long as you don’t use the very largest of that type.

Stick with whatever color works for you, but flashy, reflective colors and patterns will normally work best. In waters without a really dense weed cover, I’ve had great success with small, red and white Daredevles equipped with weedless hooks. Think of pickerel as being sort of a “pike Lite” and fish accordingly. Try it, you’ll like it.

Colder Water Temperatures

Angler posing with a pike and a bass in front of a lake in upstate NY
Fishing the shallows is a fall fishing technique to use in autumn- it can produce some nice pike as well as bass.

Let’s consider trout for a moment. As fall arrives, water temperatures drop and begin to approach the preferred range of most trout species, especially brookies which generally enjoy colder water than the other two species. During the preceding few months, trout have largely confined the bulk of their feeding to early morning and early evening hours, but now they begin to spread this activity over more of the day to fully utilize the remaining insect bounty. 

Different Waters have Different Regulations

On most New York State waters the trout season closes on October 15 but on others it remains open year-round. Trout are cold water species and can provide virtually year-round angling opportunities, but check fishing regulations carefully before venturing out after October 15.  Do your stream fishing at the tail end of the season and you’ll likely have all the elbow room you need to keep using these fall fishing techniques. 

Autumn Fishing in New York State is Great

In short, autumn is a great time for your next adventure on any of your favorite Adirondack waters. The pace is less hectic and you have more elbow room and less competition from other boaters, vacationers and seasonal residents. Also, on the plus side, the launch areas are less frequently visited and there’s virtually no rush or waiting time. 

The bass seasons don’t close on most New York State waters until November 30 but the walleye, pike and pickerel seasons remain open right through ice fishing time. Take advantage of this magic period and, enjoy the area’s spectacular scenery, and spend some quality time on your favorite water using our New York State fall fishing techniques. You can always squirrel hunt in the morning and fish in the afternoon if you can’t make up your mind which to do – Adventure awaits!

Original Article By Ron Kolodziej

About The Author

Ron Kolodziej guided and chartered on Great Sacandaga Lake for many years. He wrote a regular column for several newspapers, including Hamilton County News.  He was an active member and past president of the NYS Outdoor Writers’ Association and was an inductee of the NYS Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame. Rob passed away in 2018. 

  • Related Posts

  • Categories