Structure is key to late fall fishing

  • The key to successful fishing in late fall has much to do with finding the best structure.

    The key to successful fishing in late fall has much to do with finding the best structure. Courtesy of Forest Preserve District OF COOK COUNTY

By Evan Gregor
Daily Herald fishing writer
Updated 11/9/2021 2:36 PM

There is a common refrain you will hear among anglers throughout the year that takes on a little more importance as we get into the late fall: To find fish, you need to find structure.

As water temperatures plummet, it is a common tendency of fish to school together. This is not any sort of group heating ritual, however, but rather a concerted effort to not let good food sources go to waste. When you find a school of game fish, it is generally because there is good access to bait in the general vicinity.


Locating bait-holding structure is not nearly as easy during the late fall turnover as it is during the spring and summer. Whereas shady and vegetated structure is desirable during those seasons, the odds of even finding them in cold and blustery conditions are highly unlikely. What you are going to need to find instead is rock.

From a fishing standpoint, "rock" is an all-encompassing term that includes things like gravel, silt, boulders, shale and any other type of submerged rubble. Rock is important at this time of year because unlike sunlight and vegetation, it isn't going anywhere. Game fish and baitfish species will relate to it merely because in a lot of situations, it's the best of what is around.

There are many ways to locate rocky structure, but the eye test is the easiest. In clear ponds and lakes, it is easy to spot boulders, rock ledges and such in the shallows. In rivers, look for current breaks and riffles, which are created by rocks impeding the river's flow. If visibility is poor, you may need to resort to topographic maps or sonar in order to find what you are looking for.

Once the appropriate structure is located, it must be fished methodically. The whole point of finding structure is to fish where bait is plentiful and holding game fish close. Optimizing your bait and presentation to match what is most natural to the structure your fishing is important. If fish are feeding on a particular forage species, try to imitate that forage to the best of your ability.

Beyond the bait selection, don't be afraid to vary your presentation. While working a bait slowly and subtly can be the key one second, it can just as easily switch to a pattern that requires you to be more aggressive and assertive in order to draw strikes.

As long as you are being mindful of all the variables, this type of fishing can help you close out your season with success.

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