I’ve never owned a nice bass boat with comfortable seats, a casting deck and a fast outboard. Sometimes I wish I could, but the expense of owning such a craft is just too prohibitive.
The fact that I do most of my fishing from shore hasn’t kept me from catching many lunker bass, however. During five decades casting from the bank more often than not, I’ve caught hundreds of 5- to 7-pounders, and dozens more to 9 pounds. Autumn, when bass move from deep summer haunts to shoreline shallows, provides especially good bank-fishing action.
Even if I had a boat, I’d still bank fish much of time because the waters I most like to fish are quiet, out-of-the-way hotspots that seldom have boat-launching facilities or where boats aren’t permitted at all. For example, there’s a city lake I fish where boating isn’t allowed. It harbors some big bucketmouths, but catching them requires standing on the bank or wading the shallows. There are good reasons for fishing there, nevertheless. I recently watched a youngster catch a 7-pounder using a cane pole and minnow!
In a nearby national forest, there are several small, walk-in watershed lakes stocked them with largemouth bass. You could portage a canoe or small boat to one if you had the wherewithal; nothing prohibits that. But it really isn’t necessary. There are plenty of places to fish from shore, and I’ve caught lots of nice bass in these lakes year-round.
I like the fact that bank fishing forces you to be a more thorough angler as well. When your room to maneuver shrinks, you spend extra time examining your options and putting maximum effort into each cast. By working each bit of cover and structure more thoroughly, I’ve caught many trophy bass I otherwise would have missed.
So, let’s assume that like me, you’ve decided to bass fish from shore. You want to catch as many bass as possible and could use some helpful hints. Here are some tips to get you started.
Select the Right Tackle
To select the proper tackle for your bank-fishing excursion, it’s important to know as much as possible about conditions you’ll encounter on the body of water you plan to fish. Let’s say, for example, you’re fishing a pond or oxbow lake that’s off the beaten path. To select the best tackle, you’ll need to know something about vegetation growth around the water. Are there lots of overhanging trees that will make casting difficult? If so, you may want to use a shorter rod. Are shorelines open but most bass cover is away from the banks? A spinning reel and longer rod may allow longer casts. Is the water mostly open or filled with dense cover? Knowing the answer will help you select the best lures.
You’ll have better access to prime fishing spots if you’re willing to wade. You may need to get past overhanging branches that obstruct casting. Or you may want to wade out so you can cast the extra 10 feet to the stump where you saw a bass blasting bait. Wearing knee boots, hip boots or waders, or some shorts and wading shoes, is usually a good idea when bank fishing.
Use Snag-free Lures
If you take diving crankbaits and in-line spinners to a lake full of logs and brush, you better take a lot because you’ll lose many to hang-ups. You’ll do more fishing and less cussing if you select lures appropriate for the season that can be rigged for weedless fishing, or lures that can be worked on top over inundated cover. Good choices in fall include prop baits, chugger plugs, stickbaits, soft-plastic rats and frogs, and weedless spoons.
Take a Tackle Tote
Buy a small tackle box you can carry in a pocket or clip on your belt. You should move often to maximize your bank-fishing efforts, and you’ll spend more time fishing if your lures go with you.
Some of my friends don’t use a tackle box at all. They hook a variety of lures to their hat band instead. Carrying a multi-tool is a good idea, too, and a small landing net attached to a belt loop or your fishing vest.
Fisheries agencies often build long piers to accommodate anglers who must fish without boats. These tend to be excellent bassing spots with access to deeper water away from shore. Look for buoys around the pier marking man-made fish shelters where bass are likely to hold. These serve up the best fishing, but also cast to nearby stumps, trees and other cover.
Fan for Fish
When fishing ponds, city-water reservoirs or other waters with little visible cover, try the “fan” system. Stand in one spot and start by casting near shore on your left. Then place each consecutive cast three feet or so to the right of the previous cast. Continue until you reach the shore on your right. Then move to another spot farther down the shore and continue the pattern. Too many anglers cast in a haphazard fashion and fail to work a body of water thoroughly. Fan casting eliminates this problem.
Chug ‘em Up
Try a chugger such as Rebel’s Pop-R or Creek Chub’s Super Knuckle-Head for near-shore topwater action near dawn and dusk. Launch the lure parallel to bank so you can work it back through the shallows. Count to 10, then twitch the lure so it spits. If this doesn’t garner a strike, jerk the popper hard so it makes a deep bloomp sound, and keep it coming. Detonating!
Prop on Top
When the water has a glassy surface, you may elicit action close to shore by working a Heddon Torpedo or other prop bait around woody cover or grass. Avoid overworking the lure, however, as many anglers tend to do. The optimum presentation is often nothing more than an occasional twitch or a very slow, steady retrieve that barely turns the props. Cast close to a laydown or in small holes peppering a weed bed. In these situations, strike zones are small, and, often, the first forward sputter of the prop bait is all it takes to trigger a strike.
Activate Inactive Bass
A soft jerkbait like Herb Reed’s Original Slug-go or Yum’s Houdini Shad will garner the attention of inactive bass. Cast near cover in the shallows, then use gentle twitches, flips and jerks to bring the lure to life. The jerkbait will respond to your rod twitches in a variety of ways, depending on how it lays when you begin working it. It may dart toward one side, flip 180 degrees or do a forward nosedive. During a long pause, it slowly descends like a shad suffering death throes. This is when many strikes occur. These lures are relatively weedless, so you can bump them into objects and fish even dense cover.
Slow-rolling a spinnerbait is another good way to entice fall hawgs from shore. Bring the lure up to a stump, log or bush and ease it over. Then allow it to flutter down into the living room of an unsuspecting lunker.
Live baits make good near-shore enticements as well. My favorite is a live minnow under a slip cork. I cast beside a stickup or stump and let the bait hover seductively until a bass succumbs to the allure. Many will.
Don't Forget Hotspots
Remember the precise locations where you catch, lose or see big bass—the specific stump, particular bush, etc. A return visit could turn up the lunker you missed, another trophy that moved in or a bass that grew bigger after you released it.
Yes, bank fishing can be just as fun and effective as fishing from a boat. The recipe for success is simple. Take one scenic shoreline on one pretty lake or pond. Add one angler or several. Warm them in the autumn sun. Toss in a few hard-fighting bass. Season with a blue sky. Stir with a light breeze. Brew as long as possible.
The results are unforgettable. Try it and see.