Have your fishing buddies ever called you a “bank beater”? Do you get a little nervous if you fish deeper than 10 feet? Do you wonder what those other guys are doing in the middle of the lake? If you answered “yes” to any of these, this article may just be for you.
First of all, there’s no shame in being a “bank beater”. Heck, most of us bass anglers spend the majority of our time fishing up shallow around the bank and impressing our buddies with our pinpoint casting to a dock or laydown, made even more impressive with our new Trika casting rod. There’s no doubt, that there’s almost always going to be bass living shallow in most bodies of water and those are the fish that can be targeted effectively because visible cover usually indicates high percentage spots. The problem is, the other anglers on the lake know that too and on heavily pressured lakes, a particular boat dock or stump may get fished several times a day.
At certain times of the year, there’s no other place you should be but up shallow. Take the spawn for instance. As big females flood to the bank to reproduce, your chances of catching big fish are highest in shallow spawning areas. However, during many times of the year, particularly when the water temps are under 50 degrees or over 80 degrees, there will be a large percentage of the lake’s bass population offshore. Many times, large schools of bigger fish will be in small areas on offshore structure. Normally, these offshore fish are more willing to bite as they’ve received less pressure but the biggest task is locating them and fishing the structure effectively.
The absolute most important step toward becoming a better offshore fisherman is investing the time into locating high percentage spots and developing an understanding of where bass are likely position themselves on offshore structure. If you have good electronics on your boat, finding offshore hotspots is infinitely easier but you can still be successful without them, it’s just going to require a little more time.
The first step to finding offshore honey holes is putting in some research hours off the water. Resources like Fishidy, Navionics, Google Earth and old-school paper maps are essential tools when looking for areas off the bank. Studying likely places at home and developing a game plan before you get to the lake saves time and gives you more confidence when you start executing your plan on the water.
Pick a local lake you like to fish and commit to a few map sessions at home. We find that a beer and burger make this even more enjoyable….but that’s just how we like to roll. You’ll be looking for things like long sloping main lake points, creek channel ledges, deep water holes, underwater islands, creek channels down the middle of coves, and so forth. Typically, deeper areas that are close to shallower spawning areas are money starting in May. As the season progresses more to the dog days of summer, you’ll want to look more to the main lake and find ledges, humps, or main lake points as the fish seek slightly cooler water offshore.
Keep in mind that a good offshore spot doesn’t necessarily have to be deep. You may find fish way offshore in less than 10 feet of water but it will probably be located close to deeper water. Always keep in mind that the highest percentage places are those where the fish position themselves comfortably closer to deep water and can move the shortest distance to feed, which is typically shallower. For you guys that also deer hunt, it’s much the same principle as patterning deer. Deer bed in certain protected areas and feed in crop fields or around mast trees near where they bed. Finding the travel routes in between is the key to consistently seeing deer. The same applies to finding offshore hot spots, find areas where they rest and feed. However, fish don’t feed continually so be patient with potential new areas and check them at different times of the day before concluding a spot is a bust. A spot that is poor in the morning may be on fire in the later afternoon. Like most things, timing is everything.
So, let’s assume your homework has resulted in some good potential spots you want to fish when you get on the lake. Now what? The key to these exploratory fishing trips is to focus more on learning the spots than on catching fish. Keep your approach simple at this point. Having three set-ups on the boat deck is probably all you’re going to need.
Your first option should be a deep diving crankbait tied on a baitcasting outfit with a longer rod like the Trika C73MHF or C75MHF. The length of these rods will allow you to make long casts in open water and the medium-heavy power will handle a big-lipped plug while still maintaining sensitivity with the lighter tip. Feeling when your bait is in contact with the bottom is key to understanding how the depth changes across a point or underwater hump.
Your second option is bottom hopping a jig or Texas rigged worm. The Trika C73HF or C75MHF is hard to beat here. You want plenty of backbone to set a hook in deeper water particularly if the bite comes a considerable distance from the boat on a long cast. We’d highly recommend using braid here because the stretch in monofilament will cost you some missed hook-ups in deeper structure. Plus, you’ll likely be in and around stumps, rocks, and other structure that is highly abrasive on fishing lines.
Lastly, the tried and true “old school” Carolina rig is an excellent offshore tool and it’s probably the most effective way to crawl a bait across the bottom to feel those “spots within the spot” like isolated rocks or stumps. You’ll be throwing a lot of hardware with a heavy sinker and leader so there’s no better weapon than the Trika C77XHMF for bottom-crawling. It’s got the length to sling that weight and long leader and mega-hook setting power.
Regardless of the which rig you’re using, focus on feeling for brush piles, rocks, shell bars, or anything that is unique on a piece of offshore structure. Using baits that maintain contact with the bottom are keys to doing this and with a little practice you’ll begin to distinguish one type of bottom feature from another just by feel. Make sure you mark the location of these unique features either with a waypoint on your electronics or by triangulating landmarks if you don’t have electronics. These irregular features are the spots that will produce time and time again.
After you’ve located a few offshore places, you can then begin to expand your horizons as you fish them in future trips. Topwaters can be deadly offshore when the bass chase bait to the top when feeding. Jerkbaits are also a great open water choice because you can cover water and they are particularly effective in clearer and / or colder water especially when smallmouth are present. As you become more proficient offshore, you’ll find that the range of effective techniques far outnumber the high percentage shallow water techniques.
By committing some time to improving your skills offshore, you’ll become a much more versatile angler who will locate fish on days the “bank beaters” can’t. And, during certain times like the middle of summer, consistent success is probably only going to be found offshore. So, we’d recommend you make this the year you become a more well rounded angler by developing your skills not only near the bank but offshore as well……you’ll be glad you did.