April 07, 2022
Most anglers new to bass fishing are introduced to the sport by casting toward shallow, visible targets along the shoreline. While fishing shallow for bass can be a great way to catch them, especially during the spring of the year, there is very often a significant population of bass living offshore, in the opposite direction that the angler is facing.
The benefits of searching for these offshore bass are twofold: These bass are often grouped in large schools, and they are often less pressured than those living in the shallows.
While the topic of understanding offshore bass movement is a vast subject matter, it’s important to first define two key terms that often get conflated: structure and cover.
"Structure" describes any significant change in contour on the bottom of the reservoir. Examples include a 15-foot flat that suddenly falls into a 25-foot creek channel, a long tapering point that goes from 8 to 15 feet or even an old pond dam that rises 3 to 5 feet off the lake bottom. Bass are attracted to these depth changes simply because they provide increased feeding opportunities.
As schools of shad migrate up and down the reservoir, they often stay within the confines of the river and creek channels, which is why bass will often position very near to these channel ledges to intercept the passing bait schools. Additionally, bass use any type of depth change to herd and trap bait against that structure. Understanding and identifying key structure features within the lake with detailed map study is the first step in locating offshore bass.
The term “cover” refers to any physical object on the lake bottom that bass position around. Examples include brush piles, rockpiles, vegetation or an old house foundation. While bass are naturally drawn to the structure breaks to feed, they usually position within or over whatever cover is available as a place to hide and ambush bait. Therefore, an offshore angler is most often looking for the right combination of cover located on or very near a structure break or depth change.
Certainly, not every structure change with cover is loaded with bass. Therefore, a seasonal understanding of how bass, and the baitfish they pursue, move within a reservoir is helpful in identifying high-percentage areas in which to begin the search. In the pre-spawn months, bass will position on structure breaks located immediately adjacent to spawning flats. Points, high spots and creek channel turns located within the various creek arms near spawning flats are key areas. As fish complete the spawning process, many will migrate back to deeper water toward the mouths of creeks and into the main lake, so the search area shifts accordingly. As the fall months approach, bass will again use the creek and tributary channels to chase bait—much like in the pre-spawn months. Flats located next to channel turns in the backs of creek arms can be a major factor during this season. The winter months imitate the summer months, with creek channel ledges and points along the major tributaries being prime areas to locate schools of shad and bass.
It’s important to recognize that fishing offshore doesn’t necessarily mean deep water in the middle of the reservoir. Flats and tapering points that extend 30 to 50 yards from shore, as well as creek channels that turn near the shore can be high-percentage places for bass, yet many anglers will overlook these areas if they’re focused solely upon casting toward the shoreline.
Finally, the depth at which bass position in any lake or river system is highly dependent upon water clarity. Bass in bodies of water that stay muddy throughout the year—say, with less than 6 inches visibility—may only position in 3 to 5 feet of water. Conversely, bass in clear-water reservoirs can position in 30 to 50 feet of water or deeper.