Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shore Fishing for Largemouth Bass

There are tons of fishing magazine articles detailing strategies and tips on fishing for largemouth bass from a boat, and only once in a while do you see articles about shore fishing strategies.  Not everyone owns a boat, and I wouldn't be going out on a limb to say that the majority of bass anglers don't own a boat.  For them, shore fishing is the way to go.  Many shore anglers feel that they have a disadvantage, and in some instances that's true, but there are advantages to fishing from the bank too.  I'm going to discuss some of the strategies that my friends and I employ to catch more and bigger bass.

My fishin' pal Howard with a dandy largemouth caught from
the bank, tossing a plastic worm around weedbeds.
First, let's discuss a few tips that will enable you to effectively fish from the bank, then we'll move on to specific strategies.  I like to have my hands free as much as possible, yet have the ability to carry the tackle that I need to do the job.  Being mobile is an integral part to my strategy, which allows you to cover more water, save time, and get some extra casts in.  Time that your lure isn't in the water is time not catching fish.  You can carry all your tackle and other necessary items in a backpack, fanny pack, fishing vest, or a combination of any of the above.  Later in this post, I'll discuss in detail specific items that I feel are essential on any shorebound fishing trip. 

I like to carry two rods, each with a different purpose.  That purpose and how many rods you carry of course is up to you, but I prefer to have a rod with some power to toss bigger baits, like jigs, spinnerbaits, and buzzbaits, and also a rod to finesse fish with soft plastics or lighter lures.  You can adapt as needed, but for an average trip, I'll carry a six foot six inch medium heavy power fast action graphite baitcasting rod and reel combo spooled with 15 pound fluorocarbon line for my bigger lures.  And, for finesse fishing, I'll bring a medium power fast action graphite spinning rod spooled with eight pound fluorocarbon line or thin diameter braided line.  Of course, if you have a different pattern in mind that requires a specific application, then feel free to adapt as needed.  You may opt to bring a flipping/pitching rod, or a frogging rod, or perhaps two finesse rods or power fishing rods.  It's up to you, but the point is to have two rods set up with different presentations.  The reason that I prefer to bring both baitcasting and spinning outfits is so that if I miss a fish on a power presentation, I can follow with a finesse presentation to catch that bass.  Now, remember what I said about keeping your hands free?  You can certainly move about with two rods and fish hands free, but that may involve setting a rod down or lean it up against something while you fish.  That's OK, but bending over a lot wastes time, and that mean less casts and perhaps a sore back at the end of the trip.  So, I've come up with my own way to be able to stand upright and have both rods available to me where I can get to them rather quickly, both rigged with different presentations.  I accomplish this by having a large clip on the back loop of my fishing vest, where I can clasp the rod blank with the clip and let it dangle behind me, out of the way.  You simply clip it below the guide close to your reel.  You nave to be careful about casting directly overhead though, but for me, I have learned to cast from different angles anyway, for various reasons including that one.  I'll get to that later. 

Noticed the rod clipped to the back of my vest.  In this case,
I'm using my baitcaster and my finesse spinning rod is
clipped to my back.  My brother Kyle is in the background,
his rod is being supported by his fanny pack belt.  This
keeps our hands free and allows mobility to find more bass.
What about damage to the rod?  I've done this for nearly 25 years now, and have never broken a rod as a result of wear from clipping the rod to my vest, and the only damage that I've ever seen was cosmetic damage to the finish.  That said, clipping directly to a guide on a rod will cause damage, so I'd avoid doing that.  If you're worried about damaging your rod, try a means of attachment with a softer surface, perhaps a velcro strap or something like that.  Or, if you're really worried about it, you could have a set of rods that are rather inexpensive to designate for shore fishing and save your more expensive rod and reel combos for boat fishing.

What advantages would you have by fishing from the bank over a boat?  Well, other than the obvious cost difference, there a couple things that give you the edge from shore.  You don't drift, so movement of the boat is not a factor on your presentation.  Plus, you spend less time controlling your boat and it's easier (in some cases) to position yourself to cast.  I truly believe that this alone allows you to work a specific area more thoroughly than your average boater would, maybe resulting in bass that a boater may overlook.  Obvious disadvantages are that boats can reach bassy spots that you may not be able to, either because of shoreline access problems or fishy areas away from shore.  Conversely, I could argue that you could reach places that most boats may not be able to go.  Another advantage is that often, you can save your cast.  What do I mean by that?  Well, let's assume that you're fishing a particular piece of cover, and you envision a beautiful cast beyond the cover that will run right by it resulting in a big bass.  But, in reality, for many reasons, your cast is slightly off target, and if you stand there and crank it back, your lure will miss the strike zone.  But, alas, all is not lost, you can "mend" your cast beyond your rod position simply by moving your feet a few feet one direction or the other, and thus your lure runs right where you want it.  In a boat, you'd have to move the boat, and that's fine if you have that control (and, it's easier said than done), but what if you're in the back of the boat?  Finally, back to the cheaper cost thing, you don't have to pay a lot of gas money beyond getting to the lake.  And, it's easier to change locations, meaning bodies of water, because you don't have to pull the boat out.  I'm not trying to say that shore fishing is better, because having a boat is the ultimate in comfort, storage, and access.  Rather, I'm saying that it's probably much better than you'd ever have thought it could be.  Another disadvantage is that you have to make sure that you're using lures that you can toss in heavy cover and be willing to lose, while in a boat you might have a better chance of retrieving your lure.

Sometimes when you snag your favorite lure, you might have
to get wet and go after it, or just break it off and hope some
kind boater, kayaker, or canoeist retrieves it for you.  In this
case, I wasn't about to lose my favorite fish catching buzzer.
On the subject of losing tackle, to catch big bass, often you'll need to put your lure at risk by pitching it into heavy cover.  So, the best lures for shore fishing are either those that hang up less, or those that you're willing to lose.  But, you can take steps to reduce that by the tackle choices you make.  Fishing heavier line or heavy braid on baitcasters will enable you to free most of your lures.  When they wrap around branches or vines however, you can pretty much kiss your prize lure goodbye most of the time.  Still, there's a chance that you can still get them back, so don't give up.  For finesse presentations, as long as the water clarity permits, small diameter superlines will also enable you to free many more snags, sometimes even straightening the hook.  Be advised when using braid, not to pull the line to free a snag with your hand.  If you have never used braid before, it could cut your hand.  So, use a thick stick or something to wrap the line around and pull with that.  If your perfect cast isn't so perfect because of that limb that you didn't see, and your lure dangles over it, you can free it by letting it hang about a foot under the limb, and if it's still swinging so much the better, time it so that the momentum of the swing of the lure is going the direction to free it, give your rod tip a quick short snap back to flip the lure back over the limb.  Sometimes you can actually save the cast and it could turn out positive for you.  Also, sometimes if the lure is dangling into the water over the strike zone, and the limb is relatively light, a bass may still hit your lure and hook itself and it's weight could pull your line free from the limb.  Not only could you retrieve your lure but you get that bonus fish too!  So, don't panic when your lure winds up over a limb, especially if it's weedless, because you may be able to actually vertically jig that lure on the surface and provoke a strike!  If snagged undewater, it's possible to use the bow string technique to free your lure.  Tighten up your line, then using the rod put some additional pressure on the line, then grab the line with your free hand and pull it back like a bow string about six inches to a foot, then let go quickly while easing pressure on the rod, and your lure may come free, especially on rocky cover.  If it doesn't come free right away, try doing it from a different angle.  Don't give upon the first try, keep at it and you may still get your bait back.  If you successfully retrieve your lure, then make sure that you check your line and retie as necessary.  When using heavier line or braided line, that extra pound test may allow you to pull a limb or small log out the snag to the point that you can reach it and free it.  We jokingly call that technique, "rearranging the cover".  Of course, it's not by design that you're ruining the hole for the moment, but you have to look at the bright side.  Often such situations are inevitable, because even if you try to break it off and save the spot, the power of the line may prevent you from doing it stealthily.  Another way to reduce snags and increase fishing time is to select weedless style lures that hang up less.  And finally, on this topic, practicing your casting will improve your odds for success in catching bass and reducing tackle losses.

Quality bass can be caught from shore on a regular basis.
 What types of lures do I carry on a regular basis while shorefishing for largemouth bass?  For my power fishing, the most weedless big bass catching lures that don't cost me an arm or a leg are spinnerbaits and buzzbaits.  Also, see my post about making these lures, if you make your own to save money, you're more likely to cast them into big bass holding lairs than when using more expensive lures.  Frog baits, especially less expensive soft plastic ones, are good choices for power fishing the slop from shore. Weedless jigs are also good choices for shore fishing, but again, making your own saves money, and you'll use them more than if you buy them off the shelf.  For finesse situations, soft plastics are the norm, rigged Texas style or on weedless style hooks.  They're very inexpensive and very effective, and the Texas rigged plastic worm is probably the most popular way to catch bass than any other from the bank. 

My buddy Bill caught this chunky bass from shore
using a Texas rigged plastic worm on light line on
while using his finesse spinning set up.
If you're fishing reservoirs or places where cover is nearly absent, or the cover is rocky, crankbaits and topwater plugs would also be a good choice.  Again, the amount of risk is up to you.  Specifically, when fishing from shore in areas that have heavy cover, my arsenal includes spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, jigs, plastic worms, tubes, soft jerkbaits, frogs, senko style plastics, grubs and all associated terminal tackle.  The possibilities are endless, and your favorite shore fishing spots may dictate a different selection, and the amount of tackle that you carry depends on how much you can either stuff into a vest or backpack, or how much weight that you're willing to tote around.  Finally, having your fishing tackle in a vest or backpack enables you to remain more mobile and hands free.  You don't have to bend over and pick up that giant possum belly tacklebox each time you need to move, and you save your back if you're an old dog like me. And finally, you have your tackle, accessories, and comfort items at your fingertips.  Other useful items to have at your fingertips, clippers and/or scissors on a lanyard, forceps, water bottles, bug spray, maybe a lunch, extra spools of line, worm dye, Ibuprofen for old folks aches and pains, sunglasses, and anything else that you can stuff in there.  If I anticipate a good spinnerbait bite, perhaps a prespawn situation, I'll bring my spinnerbait bag that contains all the spinnerbaits combinations that I could possibly use along with extra skirts, blades, and trailers.

My friend Mark McWilliams found this quality bass while
thoroughly working a likely fish holding spot from shore.
Now that you're hands are free, you're loaded with tackle, and you have both rods - one in hand, and one at the ready, what strategies do you need to find big bass?  They hold in the same types of places regardless if you're fishing from shore or a boat.  Look for fish holding structure that has shoreline access.  Find places where overhanging trees aren't an issue.  If they are, wearing hip boots, waders or even wet wading could free you up to fish places that are too tough to fish from dry land, and enable you to avoid overhanging limbs.  This is where learning to cast from the side, backhand, or using other casting techniques comes into play.  You may find a good spot but casting overhead is nearly impossible, and perhaps the only way to get your lure to the cover is to cast backhand.  So, learn different ways to cast so you can work around obstacles.  Learning to flip, pitch, or cast with both hands will improve your access and catch more fish.  If you have a lot of room to fish from the bank, make sure that you work likely spots thoroughly, casting from different locations around the cover and from different angles.  Likely spots that you've patterned warrant more casts.  Don't blindly cast to a spot, develop a plan and pattern your fish, and make all of your casts count.  If you catch a bass on a particular piece of cover, or at a specific depth, or on a specific lure, remember what you did.  If you duplicate those efforts with success, you've found a pattern.

The following diagrams may seem fuzzy as shown, so for a clearer view, click on the diagram.  First, depicted in the diagram to the right, wood or weeds provide great cover to look for.  Cover give fish protection from predators and provide great hiding places from which to ambush prey.  To fish these spots from shore, if possible, try casting from different positions to give you various angles to work the cover.  Weeds and wood together are potential hot spots.  Deep water sanctuaries nearby allow bass to use cover like this in shallow spots too.  For wood or blow downs extending out into the water, make sure that you cast beyond the cover and work it back, for two reasons.  First, you don't spook bass in the cover, and second, you may be working cover that you can't see beyond what is exposed.  Casting parallel to shore near cover can also get you strikes from cruising bass that hang out near cover or are moving to and from the cover from deep water sanctuaries.

Large weedbeds may at first seem unfishable, but often bass will relate to these as they provide perfect ambush points, shady cover, and are bait magnets.  Cast from various angles making sure to cover channels, outcroppings, holes, and sparse patches nearby.  Try working the outside edges first and work your way in to the cover.  Texas rigged plastic worms, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, topwater plugs, and crankbaits may be great lures for working the edges.  Frogs, weedless topwater lures, floating soft plastics, and a technique known as punching will allow you to work the heavier weed patches, especially if they are matts where bass can hang out in the shady comfort below.  Early in the spring when these weedbeds are emerging, spinnerbaits, shallow diving crankbaits, chatterbaits, and lipless sinking crankbaits are extremely effective.  Try various positions that enable you to cover the weedbed effectively while at the same time allowing you the ability to land your fish.

Probably the most popular structure on any lake or reservoir is the point.  If deepwater is nearby, or you have deep water on each side, a long sloping point could hold bass in several places.  Try positioning yourself in various places and fan cast the area.  If you're catching fish, move when the bite slows, if you're not catching them right away, try a different angle.  Any type of lure goes in this situation, just try different things that you know work during the time of year that you're fishing and let the fish tell you what works best.  The blue boxes indicate likely spots, and you can see how fan casting from various places on a point will allow you to cover the maximum amount of area around the point. Work shallow and deep until you locate fish.  If the point has woody or weedy cover, so much the better.  Consider wading to get a cast out to the end of the point.  Knowing the depths around the point may help you eliminate fishless water and focus on the hot spots.  If you're not familiar with it, trial and error may be your best bet.  Wind across a point will stir up the food chain, attracting baitfish and predatory largemouth bass. 

Backs of coves in early spring, especially if wind is blowing warmer water into the cove, can be fish magnets stirring up the food chain, especially if they are of Southern exposure.  These areas are likely spawning areas, and fish may stage there and feed heavily prior to the spawn.  Work as many angles as you can, and don't forget to cast parallel to shore to effectively work the area.  If there are stumps, logs, or weedy cover, make sure you take advantage of the shoreline changes to give you better casting angles.  Knowing the lake contour in the area might prove useful and help you focus on more likely spots.  If the bottom is pea gravel, it's likely a good springtime spot because of the potential for bass to use the area to spawn.  Look for changes in bottom composition, because fish, like most game, relate to edges, and these changes form an edge and affect the availability baitfish or other tasty morsels in the food chain.

Creek mouths offer great fish holding ability, especially in the spring.  If you can cast across the creek, outside creek bends usually offer slightly deeper water providing a good hiding place for bass, especially if you have weedy or woody cover along the bend.  The points of creeks, or the "delta" formed by silt deposits create an underwater structure similar to a point.  Fish areas around the delta that have deep water pockets and cover like weeds, woods or stumps.  Having waders may allow you to cross the creek and work even more angles.  If the creek has current, look for current breaks provided by rocks, log jams, creek bends, gravel points or bars and cast to the downstream eddies behind such cover.  If the current is strong, you may have to cast upstream of the cover and let the current carry your lure into the eddy.  This is true for tidal waters too.  Changes in tides move the water, which stirs up bait, and puts our favorite fishy predator into feeding mode.  They'll stack up in tidal eddies waiting to pounce on and swallow bite sized critters that wash by them. Tides create a conveyor belt of bait, bringing a smorgasbord to the bass on the feed.

During winter months, waders allow you more insulation and protection from the elements, and serve the same purpose from shore as any other time allowing you access that you might not otherwise have. Look for similar situations diagrammed above except work the deeper areas around those spots if they are available, especially off points and the outside edges of coves.  If spring is approaching, big bass will stage nearby prior to the spawn.  On those "Indian summer" days when winds push warmer waters into the backs of coves, or across a point, shallow water next to deep in these situations could yield good numbers of bass on the feed.  I've found that the first warm day may not be productive, but if you have two or three warm days in a row, the bite could really be hot.  Use bigger baits in the spring because they best match the forage, and you'll have a good chance of catching a huge fat sow of a bass.  I really like a tandem white 1/2 or 3/4 ounce spinnerbait with a large blade, up to size seven, and a white plastic worm or grub trailer to give it a big profile, to tempt a big female largemouth to strike.  These same areas will also hold bass in the summer, except they are more active.  Think deep, like 10-15 feet or more, and you'll find bass.  Larger baits again work well in the summer, because they offer a big meal and sometimes you'll get that good reaction bite.  Don't be afraid to throw a topwater over deep water.  A Zara Spook or other walking plug can be deadly across a point, and big bass will attack from deep water and explode on your lure especially if the water is clear. 

Howard shows off the rewards of finding bass in the shallows
during the hot summer months by fishing at night from shore.
Finally, on those hot summer days, think about fishing the early morning and late evening hours.  Dawn and dusk are prime time, like the magic hour on your morning or late afternoon hunting trip when everything seems to come alive.  And sometimes fishing at night is the best during the dog days of summer, assuming that it's legal for you to do so.  Noisy topwater lures, black spinnerbaits, and even plastic worms will take bass during the darkness.  Bass move close to shore, providing the shoreline angler better access to them than they might otherwise have during the daylight hours.

Small ponds on public or private land (make sure you ask permission before fishing), provide some of the best fishing available, and in many cases these waters are underfished.  As a result, many state records or citation fish are caught from private ponds.  Shore angling isn't the only way to take advantage of these small waters, but it certainly is an option in many cases.

One more thing, there are times when you may only have a half day or a few hours to fish, and often shore fishing provides you the most time efficient way to fish.  There are many folks that take their lunch hour at work and fish nearby waters from shore for bass (I'm not that lucky).  But in my case, if I have only a few hours, I can grab my gear and go, and I'm on the water in no time catching bass.  In one of my earlier posts about finding good smallmouth wading spots, I mentioned using maps or internet satellite maps to find good potential spots to fish.  You can also find good spots along lakes or ponds this way.  So, find a good lake, find a good potential spot with good access, grab some gear, keep your hands free and stay mobile, and you'll catch more and bigger bass.

For more info on shore angling, make sure that you check out Bass Junkies Fishing Addiction blog post titled, "Shore Angling, Anywhere Anytime", just CLICK HERE


Anonymous said...

Great job on the blogs FB!

See you on FF or IS buddy.


Bass.Junky said...

from one shoreline fisherman to another.. great read

Fat Boy said...

Thank you BassJunky!!!!

Angry said...

Great post FB! I have a boat, but I'm on Lake St. Clair in Michigan so I have to deal with the weather and trying to beat the wind. I have lots of other lakes in the vicinity where I have shore spots to work, but your insight will help me greatly. Thank you for sharing techniques. I love nothing more than a hard slam on the shore, and you gave me a lot of ideas to explore. Talk back at you after I land some big hawgs.

Fat Boy said...

Thank you Angry, sorry for not responding sooner. I'm looking forward to an update on your fishing adventures!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for talking about a subject that is woefully neglected. I emailedto In Fisherman about neglecting shore fisherman but never got a reply. I'm retired and will never be able to buy a Bass boat tricked out with all the latest electronics so shore fishing is the only way to go for me. You have given me lots of tips to improve my chances of catching more fish and given me a boost in my confidence. Glad I found you site. Thanks again!

Unknown said...

Great read, fantastic information. Thank you for putting this together.

Unknown said...

It is my hobby to look for articles and tips about fishing that will make me good on fishing.
Fishing Tips

Unknown said...

Can't wait to take Zach on Lake Needwood using grubs and spinnerbaits plus other ideas you've posted. The info is timeless. Thanks!

Fat Boy said...

Keep trying. I'd be happy to join you and revisit my home lake. Glad that I could help. I look forward to our next fishing trip.