Finding Unpressured Bass
September 24, 2010
With so much intelligent fishing pressure on our favorite bass waters, sometimes locating fish that haven't seen every lure in the catalog is half the battle.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
How many times have you spent a day on your favorite lake, beating the bank for a few little bass and wondering if you were the first angler to fish the bank that day or the 50th? Did you wear the bass out, or did you come home tired, bass-less and complaining that the lake had been "fished out?"
Sure, you caught a few, but they were small, and the action was sporadic at best. It was nothing like you planned or dreamed.
What happened? You caught bass in that same area when the lake was new. Now it seems like the bass have left, but you're still fishing there - along with everyone else.
SIZING UP THE PROBLEM In the 21st century, we bass anglers have a lot for which we can be thankful. There's more bass water (and more bass) out there than ever before. Of course, there are also a lot more anglers. It's reached the point where few of us are ever fishing outside the view of others. It can make for some pretty tough fishing.
Twenty years ago, every article in every fishing magazine told us that 10 percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish. It may have been true back then, but it's not true any longer. Magazines, how-to videos, television programs and a wall full of books have helped to educate the 90 percent of anglers who previously couldn't catch enough bass to stink up their livewells. Today's bass angler is better equipped, better educated and better prepared than ever before.
You see it every time you visit a public reservoir. If a point or a ledge or a patch of standing timber looks good to you, it looks good to the guy who launched his boat right before you did, and it looked good to the guys who fished the lake yesterday.
How many truly secret hotspots do you have on heavily pressured public waters? If you've got one, that's more than most, but don't kid yourself - that favorite spot of yours is really no secret at all. The guys in the other boats read the same books and magazines that you do. They watch the same shows, and they hear the same fishing reports.
Let's just admit it: Our competition is better than ever, and, in some cases, they're just as good as us. What can we do about that? In a word, nothing. But we can take advantage of what we know about our competition to improve our own chances of catching fish. It's no longer enough to know our quarry, the bass. Today we need to know our fellow anglers and find ways to catch the bass they're missing.
THE SOLUTION Once we realize that it's probably folly to beat the same banks and throw the same baits that the other guys throw, we can take a big step toward solving our problem. The best solution isn't simply to do a better job of fishing than our competition, it's to locate different groups of fish than they are finding.
Where do we find these fish? All over the place, it turns out. Just not in the places where you and everyone else have been going.
Chris Scandrett is an angler who knows something about breaking away from the crowd. He specializes in finding the bass that other anglers miss, and once he finds them, he catches them.
Scandrett focuses on just a few types of areas when he's looking for the bass that others miss. Follow his advice, and you can be casting for fish that have seldom - if ever - seen a fishing lure or a hook.
Get Away From The Bank A quick glance at your favorite bassin' water will tell you that most of the anglers fishing from the bank are casting as far out toward the middle of the lake as they can reach. Simultaneously, most of those anglers fishing from boats are within an easy cast of the shoreline. So what part of the lake is getting the most fishing pressure? If you think it's anywhere other than the first 30 feet off the shoreline, take another look.
"Offshore structure is my favorite for bass fishing at any time of the year," said Scandrett. "It gets a lot less pressure than the bank because most fishermen won't go to the time or trouble to locate good offshore habitat."
Scandrett's favorite offshore bass haunts are humps or "underwater islands." Find one that rises to within 10 or 15 feet of the surface, and you may have a year-round bass hotspot.
You can locate productive underwater humps through a careful study of topographic lake maps. Unfortunately, you're not the only angler with such maps. Generally, any hump that appears on a popular topographic map will have enough lost bass lures clinging to it to stock a tackle shop. The best underwater humps are those that don't show up on a map.
But if they don't appear on a map, how can we find them? By identifying the areas where they're most likely to occur and by riding around the lake with one eye carefully focused on a depthfinder.
If a number of humps can be found via a lake map in a particular creek or arm of your favorite reservoir, it's a good bet that others exist there but don't show up on the map. This is because your map only shows topographic changes of 10 feet or more (on most topo maps). If the topography changes by 9 feet, it could hold lots of bass but will never make a map.
Keeping a vigilant eye peeled on your sonar unit is the key to finding these spots. Your depthfinder is your underwater eyes, and you need to see what others are missing.
The next time you're at the lake, spend some time riding around and watching your depthfinder. If something interesting presents itself, make a few casts and see what happens. It could pay off big.
Fish The Ugly Banks Everybody targets the shoreline with the good dropoffs and all the deadfall trees. It just looks "bassy." Unfortunately, the only thing bassy about many of these areas is the way they look. Too many anglers have thrown too many baits too many times, and they've taken a severe toll on the bass population there. Sure, you'll catch one or two there every once in a while - it is great habitat, after all - but why take your turn working the mine when the gold is gone?
Scandrett suggests another tactic when you're thinking about bank-fishing. "For every great-looking bank that gets lots of pressure," he said, "there are miles of 'nothing-looking' shoreline that go untouched. Lots of these banks hold bass, too, but nobody's fishing them."
Keep an eye on where other angler
s are fishing. If there's a stretch of shoreline near a productive area that never seems to be fished, take the time to work it over carefully - at least once. Check the area out with your underwater eyes, as well. Your depthfinder may reveal something that everyone else has missed - a brushpile, a dropoff or a deadfall tree that's out of sight. You just might hit the mother lode.
Going The Extra Mile ... Or Two OK, take out your favorite lake map. It doesn't need to show the lake's topography - a simple navigational map that shows all of the marinas and access points will do.
Now, take a red marker and circle the marinas and access points. Everywhere there's a boat ramp, you should put a red mark.
Do you see the area with the most red? That's where most of the fishing is taking place. You may even have heard a fishing report claiming that that's where lots of bass have been caught lately.
Well, of course, lots of bass are being caught there; that's where all the fishing pressure is concentrated!
Now find the areas on your map that are far away from the red marks. Those are the areas that get the least fishing pressure. Notice we didn't say that those are the areas with the fewest fish. That's not true. They're simply the areas that get the least pressure because they are the most remote, take longer to get to and put most anglers farther away from civilization than they're willing to go.
"I try to avoid heavily pressured waters any way I can," said Scandrett. "One of the best ways to do this is simply to go that extra mile or two and get away from the crowds.
"Not all of these out-of-the-way spots will hold lots of fish," he added, "but enough of them do, and when I find fish in these areas, they're usually easier to catch than the heavily pressured fish in other parts of the lake."
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We'll never stop the trends that most influence our bass fishing - aging reservoirs, crowded waters and increasing knowledge among our fellow anglers - but we can stop beating our heads against the wall while fishing for the very same bass that everyone else is targeting. If we're going to keep catching fish, we're going to have to find the bass that other fishermen are missing.