By Jeff Walters
There are many anglers that are without the use of a boat. Some use rental fleets or other craft like kayaks and float tubes, or simply walk the shoreline looking for that better spot to fish. These diehard anglers most likely don’t have the use of electronics that most of the boat-bound anglers do, including the professionals. So how do these anglers increase their odds on the water? By asking a lot of questions, studying maps (if available), watching for telltale signs of fish activity and learning to read the water.
Looking at the hills around a lake or river will help give clues as to the structure on the bottom. If a man-made lake like most are, you can expect large numbers of rocks, especially around dams, dikes and marina areas. These lakes often have steep sides with massive amounts of rock all along the natural points that extend out into the lake. That and the sloping launch ramp areas always offer deeper water.
Some points are natural but are enhanced by human activity with the placement of rocks and removal of soil to form steep sides to increase the reservoir’s water capacity. These points are typically full of massive rocks and are a great place to find fish of all types. They offer shelter for all the smaller fish, crayfish and aquatic insects, which in turn provide food for the larger fish. Due to everything from drought to increased demand for water, some lake and reservoirs have been down in recent years, particular in the West. While this wouldn’t initially seem conducive to improved fishing, a smart angler will study the exposed structure in lakes and reservoirs when they are low, to have a better idea of where to fish when the water comes back up.
By developing a good eye, a smart angler can get a sense of a lake’s bottom contours, even when the water is up. The contours apparent above the water, such as sloping points or steep drop-offs, don’t suddenly stop at the waterline. The visible contours of the land extend into the lake, often for a considerable distance. By reading the contours and making an informed judgment, the shore-bound angler can very often get a good sense of what the situation is beneath the water.
What does this or that part of the shoreline look like? Is it flat and sandy, rocky or full of standing timber? If sandy and flat and you are still seeing emergent weeds on the surface several yards from shore, you know that this part of the lake offers a slow, steady and shallow area that only gradually drops off to deeper water. That’s a perfect spawning area for many different types of fish throughout the spring and summer because of the weed growth and shallow water.
Reeling in countless pounds of “seaweed,” as most people call it, is not only a pain in the rear; it makes you wonder how you can get around and away from it. Well, don’t, because that so-called “seaweed” is where the fish hide, live and eat. All along those plants, from the roots to the tops, are areas where tiny creatures live that the smaller fish and larger insects feed on. The little fish eat the zooplankton and macroscopic animals that live in this weed zone. That, in turn, brings in the larger fish to feed on the little fish.
FISHING IN THE STICKS
You don’t have to look only for weeds. When you see standing timber or dead trees, you know that offers cover for all species of fish, too, but how deep is it? One clue is offered by the shoreline. Is it steep where it meets the water, with lots of rocks next to the shore and close to the submerged trees? This usually means deeper water.
Now if you look at the shoreline near some of those trees you will see some areas that are sandy and flat-looking, with no rocks or other structure; just those trees sitting a little bit away from the shore. This tells you the area is shallow and that a shallow crankbait, soft stickbait or light jig might work well.
One lure that can be particularly useful from shore is a hard jerkbait.
Professional angler and guide Art Hill, who guides on many of Southern California lakes, likes to use a jerkbait made by IMA called a “Flit.” This slender, shallow-diving minnow lure is 4 inches long and comes in various colors. Art has had great success with this jerkbait by tossing it up and close to sticks, shrubs and weedlines. “It simply out-produces most other jerkbait series,” says Art, who is part of the Pro Staff for Optimum Baits in Temecula, Calif. “You simply cast to your desired location and work the lure back to you, going over all the structure”
Looking at the shoreline while bank-fishing, you can come up with many clues that will help you find fish. Look for submerged or partially submerged rockpiles, either natural or man-made, because they offer crevices that hold bait. Moreover, after warming in the sun, rocks hold heat, warming the surrounding water and drawing fish large and small. Looking under rocks that are merely near the shore can give you an idea of some of the terrestrial forage available to the fish. If you better understand their diet, you can better mimic their usual prey. Further, this will give you the opportunity to collect some live bait, if you’re of a mind to.
Losing tackle is not anyone’s idea of fun. The old saying that if you’re not getting hung up, you’re not fishing in the right places, has a lot of truth to it. However, knowing what to look for and how to use that to your advantage is the difference between catching fish and just dropping a lot of cash on lures.
Most anglers like to fish heavy cover when at all possible, knowing that weed growth and submerged structure (if you can see it), including trees, pilings and rockpiles, hold fish. The trick is extracting the fish without leaving too much tackle behind. For getting in close, some anglers like to use long flipping sticks, designed for gently tossing jigs and Texas-rigged soft plastics. The problem is, such rods are pricey. Using equipment with a lower cost factor may be more reasonable for some anglers. An especially affordable outfit is a Shimano Sedona spinning rod and reel combo, costing around $99 at most retailers. This is a very effective rod for getting in close and tight, even while fishing from a float tube, kayak or canoe. Although it’s a good strong rod and reel combo, you still should use a good quality line that will help pull your lure through tough cover. A jig with a firm fiber weedguard or a Texas-rig utilizing a straight-shank worm hook can really spare you a lot of frustrating snags. The straight-shanked hook will allow you to thread it through the soft plastic at an angle and completely bury the point in the plastic.
Finding submerged rockpiles in murky water can be tough. If you look for certain things you will be able to cast to the leading edges of these piles and catch fish. Look for the slight difference of disturbed water on the surface. This tells you that something is below the waterline causing the water not to break evenly on the shore. Often, you can discover rockpiles and other structure by casting blindly and carefully noting what you feel with your lure. Jigs, particularly weedless football or casting jigs, are excellent for this, especially those weighing at least 3/8 of an once. Fluorocarbon line, with its greater sensitivity, and a good-quality high-modulus graphite rod really help with this.
When you do find rocks and ledges or other submerged hard structure when you’re on the water, using crayfish imitations is a good bet most of the time. Typically, you’ll need a rod and reel combo that can handle line test of 12 pounds and up. That will minimize break-offs. The most common crayfish imitator is probably the skirted jig. Excellent examples are offered by Skinny Bear, Booyah, Dirty Jigs, Revenge, Stanley and others.
However, skirted jigs can do more than imitate crayfish. With a soft swimbait attached, they can mimic feeding or injured baitfish, too. That’s handy for working through weeds or anytime you want to fish a little higher in the water column.
CREEKS AND INLETS
Creek inlets offer some advantages as well; however, most will be shallow and may be hard to reach from shore, float tube or kayak. Always look around to find the best casting spot to fish from.
Fly-fishing for bass is not only fun, it is a challenge for even the seasoned fly-fisherman. While it can be done from a boat or float tube, those things are sometime impediments. Typically, fly-fishing is best accomplished while wading. Wading often obviates electronics since you are in the water and can approach and usually feel the structure — you don’t need to see it on a video screen. Fly-fishing requires some research and more than a little skill, certainly more than can be offered in a paragraph. The point is, it’s a very viable option for bassers and one that can spare you having to invest in electronics. Starter combos, including matched rods, reels, lines, bass fly assortments and instructional guides are available from L.L. Bean, Orvis, Bass Pro Shops and Cabelas.
PLASTIC WORMS AND CREATURE BAITS
One of the favorite and most effective lures for bass is a plastic worm. Using one rigged on a drop-shot, Texas rig or other setup, you are sure to find fish. Although fishing rockpiles always produces, be careful when doing so with plastic worms because you will get snagged quite often. Fishing the leading edge of weedlines with a slow pulling or darting action works well, too. Most anglers in the know like to use a small 4- to 6-inch plastic worm for this. A large and fat “senko”-style soft stickbait works well while fishing just outside of tight cover. Simply drag the do-nothing lure on the bottom and wait for that telltale line movement or vague heaviness that indicates a bass has picked it up.
There are many types or style of worm and a variety of techniques used for worm fishing. Knowing what colors, sizes and scents fish the best locally is always a big plus. Finding this out is as easy as asking at the local bait and tackle shop. You don’t want to use a big, heavy worm in tight cover or a small, skinny one in large, open water. Looking at the shoreline, seeing what is around you and making some calculated choices on where to cast will put the fish on your line.
FISH FINDERS ON A BUDGET
Of course, electronics aren’t a bad thing. However, they sometimes don’t seem to make sense for those who don’t own their own boat. But that has been changing over the years. Companies have begun targeting the rental boat market with portable fishfinders that are easy to mount and dismount from rented boats. And that’s just for starters. New technology has led to some really fascinating new devices.
One effective electric fish-finding device now found at many retailers is made by Humminbird Electronics and called a “Smart Cast.” It is a small, castable fishfinder. Yes! You tie it on your fishing line and cast it out in the water! They offer a few different versions of these to include one that mounts onto your rod and reel, or transmits to a view screen that you wear as a wristwatch. These are all pretty cool little gadgets that some anglers have really taken to. The casting unit has a built-in battery source that activates once it hits water and the view screen runs on small batteries most commonly found in remote car alarms. The price ranges from $85 to $125. You can find these items by checking the manufacturer’s Web site at www.humminbird.com.