Ross Barnett is a relatively shallow lake, and the most-popular pattern this month is fishing the lily pads and the lily-pad stems. However, one of my favorite ways to fish this month is for schooling bass.

The schooling bass on Ross Barnett are different from other schooling bass because these fish consistently school on the same spots at almost the same time of day every year.

I don't like to take anyone fishing with me for these bass. If I show anyone where to catch them, they can fish those same places for the next 20 years and take schooling bass. The bass congregate or school up near shallow ledges and stumps, and wait on schools of shad to swim over the top of them. Then, the bass come straight up from the bottom and explode on those shad, blowing the baitfish out of the water and putting on a spectacle that's easy to see and reliable to fish.

"The bass will attack the shad on these same spots for 45-second to 5-minute intervals. If you locate a good school of these bass, you often can catch as many as 30 to 40 before the schooling activity ends.

I've learned that when the schooling activity stops at one place, you can move to another spot, and the bass will be schooling there. You easily can catch and release 100 bass a day on Ross Barnett if you know where these fish school during October.

These bass won't be big - usually 12 to 15 inches long - but you'll occasionally get a good-sized fish. This exciting way to catch bass by fishing schools also will help teach your family how to fish for bass. The action's non-stop, and you'll catch a number of bass. All youngsters like catching a lot of fish.

October's weather still will be warm, and as long as the weather's warm, bass will be schooling. Now, oftentimes by the middle of the month this activity will slow down of stop. But at the first of the month, fishing the schools should be red hot. The best way to catch these bass is to wait for them to start surfacing and then cast within a foot of where you see the bass breaking the water.


Baits to use

I prefer to use the Bandit Flat Maxx in a shad pattern or the Series 200 crankbaits in the Parrot Orange color. I usually crank the bait, make two quick turns on the handle and give a short jerk at which time the bass usually attack.

One of the advantages of finding these schools is you generally can have them all to yourself because the bite usually lasts from about 10 a.m. to about 3 p.m. during the hottest part of the day when you're not supposed to be able to catch bass. While most fishermen are eating lunch and sitting in the shade, I'm wearing those Ross Barnett bass out.


Tried-and-true tactics

Early in the morning, I'm doing what everyone else is doing - fishing the lily-pad points with a Stanley Ribbit Frog or a Southern Lure Scum Frog. I'll also fish the river cuts, entrances to old oxbow lakes where you'll find deep canals going into the backwaters. I generally fish either crankbaits or topwaters on the sides of those deep cuts.

Most tournament fishermen will start in the morning trying to take a big bass by fishing the lily-pad points or by flipping a tube, a jig or a worm in the holes in the lily pads. At this time of year, the bass often will be schooled up on the lily pad points and chasing the shad that come by those points.

I call these groups of bass gypsy schools. These bass will come up and feed on the surface, but they won't stay on one spot like the midday bass will. They can be on one pad point one day and gone the next day. When fishing these points, the buzz bait often can be an incredibly productive lure.

The key to fishing the buzz bait is your temperature gauge. As long as the water temperature is above 60 degrees, the buzz bait can be a fantastic lure around the lily-pad points at first light until later in the morning. The buzz bait will produce much bigger bass than many of the other baits you can fish on these same points.

This month, I'll set up a milk run. I'll fish the lily-pad points and the cuts up until about 10 a.m. Then I'll start running and gunning to those traditional spots where the bass always school during the middle of the day. At about 3 p.m., or whenever the bass stop schooling on those traditional points, I'll return to the lily-pad points and start looking for the gypsy schools of bass.

As the weather cools this month, I'll begin moving back into the pockets and away from the points like I'll fish any other lake at this time of year.

Unless you know the lake really well, you may not want to throttle down as you run from fishing spot to fishing spot. Ross Barnett is a relatively shallow lowland reservoir with an average water depth of about 45 feet. I strongly advise you stay between the marker channels when you've got your boat up on plane. Anytime you're coming out of the river channel, run only at idle speed, or use your trolling motor.

As the weather cools down toward the end of October, a stable pattern at Ross Barnett is to fish the rip-rap down near the dam with a topwater lure for bass. The rocks will absorb heat and keep that topwater bite going, especially early in the morning and usually throughout the end of the month. As you work your way up toward and above Highway 43, you'll find some stump fields and stump flats.

My favorite lure for fishing these stumps is a Strike King spinnerbait and a HoleShot spinnerbait. Since the HoleShot is slightly different from the Strike King spinnerbait, I'll often alternate between the two.

I prefer to fish chartreuse, blue/white and chartreuse/white. The wind determines the size spinnerbait I'll throw, but I prefer a 1/2-ounce. If the sun's out, I like duller-colored blades. But with cloud cover, I like brighter-colored blades that give off more flash.

Most fishermen think the water on Ross Barnett at this time of year is clear, but it's actually not very clear. You have about 1 1/2- to 2-foot visibility, which at Ross Barnett may be fairly clear. But the fishermen who fish here regularly rarely ever see what I consider clear water where you can see from 5- to 25-feet deep. Clear is a relative term, depending on where you fish. When you hear that Ross Barnett is clear in October, you have to know the word clear means 1 1/2- to 2-foot visibility, not 25 feet.


Deep bite

A deep-diving crankbait can be a productive lure choice this month at Barnett. If you can find that 12- to 14-foot-deep water, you'll do well fishing a deep-diving crankbait. But oftentimes that depth of water is hard to find, especially if the water temperature cools down. The bass may be holding in the same places where you've found them at the first of the month, but they often will move out into deeper water.

The bass will feel a lot of fishing pressure in the areas where they're schooling. When the bass stop schooling on the surface, if you'll pull out that deep-diving crankbait and fish out a little farther on those lily-pad points and on the drop-offs and the ledges, you still can continue to catch the bass.

To be successful at the end of October, start working your way toward the backs of the pockets. In-between the points in the backs of the pockets, you'll find some suspended bass. You may want to start using mid-water crankbaits, as well as deep-diving crankbaits.

For deep-diving crankbaits, I like a Bill Norman DD22 in chartreuse/blue on 12-pound-test line or less. I prefer Vicious fluorocarbon line because it has good sensitivity, it doesn't have very much stretch and it sinks.

If I'm fishing a crankbait, I'll expect to catch 10 to 15 bass a day. And catching 30 to 40 bass a day on Ross Barnett isn't uncommon this month, even if you don't know where those traditional schooling spots are located.

The average bass will weigh about 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds. This past spring, there were some 11-pound largemouths caught on Ross Barnett. Four or five 7-to 8-pound-class bass are caught every month out of this reservoir. There also are a good number of 6-pounders caught here.

This lake gets a tremendous amount of fishing pressure. If there's one secret that will help anyone catch more bass at Ross Barnett this month, it will be to make five more casts to the same piece of structure than you normally would. Sometimes you may have to make 15 casts to get a bass holding on a log to bite.

One time I fished a jig down this one particular log, two times on each side of the log. I just knew a bass had to be there. So I picked-up a square-billed crankbait and made nine more casts to that same log. I caught the bass on the 13th cast. Now, 13 casts to the same piece of structure is a lot of casts to get one bass to bite. But the bass I caught weighed 5 pounds.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Known as a master at finding bass at Ross Barnett, Pete Ponds of Madison, started fishing the BASS Open Tournaments in 1986 and today fishes the BASS Elite Series.