May 27, 2021
By Larry D. Larsen
In most Southern impoundments, bass-fishing pressure in June is significant, and the majority of that pressure occurs along the banks. It just feels natural to cast a lure at something, and the shoreline satisfies that fundamental desire.
But since the majority of bass anglers are doing the exact same thing, the banks quickly become fished out. Resist that primal urge to fling your bass lure at something you can see and instead point your bassboat to vast openness of the middle of the lake.
Move away from the shoreline crowds and "bassy-looking" shallows and you'll discover the bounty of deep-water fishing. The fishing action is usually worth the loneliness.
The key to bass fishing offshore is to find good habitat, including submerged humps, hilltops and islands. Locating concentrations of summer largemouth and even smallmouth bass offshore normally requires knowledge of bottom depth variations. Scouting a section of the lake with electronics will be time well spent.
Search for bass on ledges, humps, creeks and other submerged structure in waters typically ranging from 8 to 25 feet deep. Check changes in bottom topography where rocks, brush or vegetation is present. Schooled-up bass in these places are typically larger in size than the fish found along the banks, and many have never seen a lure.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
One of my all-time favorite offshore structure hotspots lies right in the middle of the 2,400-acre Fayette County Lake near LaGrange, Texas.
The impoundment attracts hordes of anglers that often head for the flooded near-shore treelines, points and banks, but the most consistent fishing for big bass is done in deeper waters over submerged humps. It’s relatively easy to catch several largemouths weighing at least 3 pounds in this spot far from any shoreline or emergent cover.
You have to know where to look to find the humps on this power plant impoundment, though. The lake is full of deep-water structure because much of the timber in the original lakebed was left uncut prior to it being filled. The result is plenty of underwater habitat for bass in the form of channels, ledges, humps and brush. There is so much, in fact, that small, productive spots may be difficult to locate and then find again without GPS coordinates.
I had marked a favorite hump of mine when I was fishing the lake regularly several years ago. The submerged hump, about 10 feet deep, had surrounding water ranging from 20 to 25 feet. I had dropped two outside markers right at the edge of the sharp incline up the hill. A third marker buoy was positioned over the shallowest point on the hump and my boat was anchored near it. I was casting toward the hump as a couple of curious onlookers moving from one shoreline spot to another motored across the open water near my location.
They slowly circled my markers three times before motoring off, their heads still buried in their sonar unit. Over their puttering engine, I overheard one say, "He has just got to be sitting on something." Obviously, they didn’t have a modern side-scanning sonar unit.
Even on lakes you know well, you may occasionally find new submerged structure. To search for prime humps, ridges or submerged hilltops, locate an old creek channel and follow it to find the drops. Criss-cross the area to determine what structure—timber, grass, rocks, old bridges, etc.—might be present and look for fish around the cover.
Many structure fishermen spend a lot of time looking at their electronics while searching for productive hump or channel habitat. The fact that most big bass are caught in deeper water underscores the necessity to patrol the depths. Hot-weather patterns may include fishing brush piles on humps in 15 to 20 feet of water or in creek channels at the same depths. Prime locations also may include vegetation breaks in 10-foot depths growing from submerged hilltops.
With a good sonar unit, you might also locate forage and/or suspended bass. The latter, often motivated by environmental factors, are not as active as they would be on structure or feeding on a flat, so they are more difficult to catch. Suspended largemouths, however, may move horizontally to the nearest structure or hump, maintaining the same depth. That’s where you can start your sonar search a few days later when conditions change.
MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE
A prime area to seek big largemouths in most Southern reservoirs is just off any humps (or drops) at the intersection of submerged creeks. Such places provide bass with a holding area where forage such as shad will frequently cruise. The predators will position themselves on ambush points along routes frequented by threadfin shad. Find the creek channels or depressions that baitfish move along and you will find the bass.
Another productive spot for mid-lake action is along a slough that winds along the lake bottom to intersect a submerged roadbed. Shad often migrate into such habitat, and you may find a largemouth concentration. Locating brush or rocks along that submerged slough or ditch just off a hump may also often result in one or more bass.
Many anglers who fish deep-water structures in lakes during the summer will catch a lot of bass in the 3- to 5-pound range. I have caught many largemouths that size, and some up to 8 pounds, from a "secret" hump just off an island on a man-made lake I often fish.
Over the years, I have had dozens of trips that resulted in 50-bass days. Most of the fish caught on days with the hottest action were from concentrations hanging around humps in water 15 feet deep or more.
The shorelines on many impoundments across the South are crowded with boaters in warm weather. For a bit of seclusion—and an increase in hookups—head offshore and target bigger, uneducated bass on deep-water structures.
LURE OPTIONS FOR SUBMERGED STRUCTURE
Lure selection and control is important once bass are located on deep-water structure. These aren’t high-traffic waters where numerous lure and presentation options work. An offshore arsenal for fishing hump structure in 8 feet of water could include ½-ounce spinnerbaits, crankbaits, topwater plugs and any number of soft plastics.
In 15 feet of water, the lure possibilities include Carolina-rigged worms, deep-running crankbaits, soft-plastic grubs, drop shots, tubes and swimbaits. To locate a large bass under such conditions, try a large, fast-retrieved crankbait and bump it into hard cover. Texas-rigged worms and other soft plastics with 1/2- to 5/8-ounce jigheads or slip sinkers also are very effective at this depth.
A 3/4- to 1-ounce jig head or bullet weight with a plastic trailer or skirt may be the ticket to catching big bass from waters between 18 and 25 feet deep.
In even deeper waters, the ideal baits are limited. A jig-and-grub or Carolina-rigged soft plastic with a heavy 1- to 1 1/2-ounce weight might be ideal. The bait often needs to crawl along the bottom to be effective. Pumpkinseed, black, brown and other dark colors are usually productive at greater depths. When cranking deep, always try to match the most common forage fish in those waters. In the summer months, that’s normally shad.
Garmin’s forward-facing sonar helps you catch more fish with live, real-time underwater views.
Garmin’s LiveScope technology is a new approach to electronic fish-finding. As the name implies, LiveScope offers anglers a live, underwater view with its trolling motor-mounted transducer that can be aimed by turning the motor (while running or not) at any area of interest. The image is then transmitted to the user’s onboard Garmin unit.
When fishing offshore humps with brush piles, for instance, simply turn the trolling motor from side to side to get an instant live view of what’s there. If fish are present, they’ll show up on the screen and can actually be seen swimming in, through and around the brush pile. The Garmin LiveScope allows fishermen to cast baits directly to fish they see on the screen and offers enough resolution to actually watch them strike. It’s that powerful of a fishing tool. — Dr. Todd A. Kuhn