Ott DeFoe's Fishing Guide for Football Season
Fall means football for millions of fans coast to coast. From informal grade-school games to high school or college rivalries and the hottest NFL matchups, there is no shortage of gridiron action.
Of course, autumn also ushers in some of the year’s finest fishing for bass across the country. Berkley Pro Ott DeFoe offers this foolproof soft bait game plan for scoring more catches this football season, all the way from the opening kickoff until time runs off the clock.
“This can actually be a tough nut to crack,” says DeFoe. “Water temperatures are still in the high 60s to mid 70s, the bass are scattered, and most fish haven’t fully strapped on the fall feedbag.”
His solution? Focus his efforts on the tip of the autumnal spear. “Baitfish begin moving onto shallow flats close to channels, either on the main lake or in creek arms,” he begins. “This triggers the first fall-minded bass to set up shop in isolated wood on these flats, and that’s right where I want to be, too.”
To catch them, DeFoe throws a 6¼-inch Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper or 4¾-inch Bottom Hopper Jr. on either a dropshot rig or 1/8- to 3/16-ounce shaky-head jig. He fishes both presentations on a 7-foot, 2-inch medium-action spinning outfit spooled with 10-pound-test Berkley Nanofil mainline, capped by an 8-foot leader of 8-pound Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon XL.
“It’s a very targeted, slow approach,” he says. “Spend five to 10 minutes making multiple casts to each piece of wood, keeping your presentation tight to the cover, maybe 5 feet out at the most.”
As the first half of fall bass season continues, DeFoe also keys on cover brushed by current, either wind-driven or fueled by fall drawdowns, tributaries, river systems and other flows.
“Look for whatever the lake has to offer in the way of cover, including large boulders, laydowns, docks and grassbeds,” he suggests.
When he finds a potential strike zone, DeFoe deploys a 4½-inch Havoc Change Up, rigged Texas-style pegged to a 5/16-ounce tungsten sinker on a 5/0 wide-gap hook. He switches from spinning gear to a 7-foot, 6-inch medium-heavy casting setup, loaded with 17-pound Trilene fluorocarbon.
“Pitch it out, let it fall to bottom next to the cover, hop it a time or two, reel in and repeat,” he says. “If bass chase or hit the bait while you’re reeling in, switch to more of a swimming presentation.”
Second Half Heroics
When a lake's thermocline evaporates and dissolved oxygen spreads throughout the water column, bass scatter deep to shallow.
DeFoe uses sonar to spot bass hunkered on long points, ridges and humps. “Depth varies by lake, anywhere from five to 45 feet of water,” he says.
The pro’s weapon of choice for this scenario is a football head jig tipped with either a twin-tailed PowerBait Deuce or a PowerBait Chigger Craw. “I fish Chigger Craws for largemouths and The Deuce for smallmouths and spotted bass,” he explains, noting that jig weight runs from half an ounce in the shallows to 3/4 ounce in 15 to 30 feet and 1 ounce in the abyss.
Equipment considerations include a 7-foot, 3-inch medium-heavy casting setup, loaded with 30-pound Trilene Braid and a 15-pound fluoro leader.
DeFoe favors a drag-pause retrieve for lethargic bass and steadier cadence for active fish. “The latter approach is almost like slow-rolling a spinnerbait,” he says.
Fourth Quarter Breaks
Once the water temperature drops below 55 degrees, DeFoe turns his attention toward moderate to sharp drop-offs, either along steep shorelines or the edges of flats. “Look for areas where bass can easily transition from deep water sanctuaries to shallow feeding areas,” he says.
Here, he downsizes the presentation to a PowerBait Ripple Shad or Gulp! Ripple Shad, threaded on a 1/8- to ¼-ounce jig. DeFoe notes that the 3½-inch version of the segmented, paddle-tail bait excels for active bass, while the 3-incher shines for tighter lipped fish. He also switches back to the same medium-action spinning setup he fished in early fall.
“When casting into the shallows, start reeling immediately,” he says. “If bass are holding in six feet of water or deeper, count the jig down close to bottom, then begin a slow and steady retrieve. If the jig rises too high, hold the rodtip at 10 o’clock and let the Ripple Shad pendulum back down to bottom, then continue your retrieve.”
As time runs out on both bass and football season, DeFoe zeroes in on the steepest breaks he can find, either on the main lake or in the outer half of reservoir creek arms.
He keeps the spinning outfit but tones down the presentation even more, switching to a small swimbait capable of producing a subtle gliding action. “A 3-inch Gulp! Minnow rigged on a light jig is hard to beat here,” he says.
“When searching for fish, cast at a 45-degree angle to the break, into slightly shallower water than your boat is positioned over, and s-l-o-w-l-y swim it back down the drop-off,” he explains. “Give Gulp!’s fish-attracting scents and flavors time to work their magic and create a trail for cold-water bass to follow as they home in on your bait.”
Once DeFoe dials in the exact depth at which bass are holding along the drop-off, he forgoes search efforts and focuses casts on the sweet spot.
Such finesse tactics are a far cry from the more aggressive moves DeFoe puts on bass earlier in the year, but he guarantees they’re the perfect way to finish your season strong.