Novice bass anglers tend to be magnetized by the potential of shoreline cover, but sometimes your best bet for finding fish is to patrol the depths.
Bank fishing has always been a staple for catching bass at all times of the year. In the spring, you’d better be fishing the bank! During the summer and fall months, however, there are a lot of fish that move away from the bank and group up together to feed. Finding a good school of bass offshore can be a rewarding feeling, and can pay off big for tournament anglers. But the ability to locate and target bass in deeper water out in the open takes knowledge of the lake bottom and experience with reading electronics. For someone who’s looking to try offshore structure fishing for the first time, here are a few things to speed up the learning curve.
PAY ATTENTOIN TO POINTS
Just like points on the bank, bass will follow the same principal of using points to feed in deeper water. The majority of offshore structure fishing is based around points. Points with creek channels nearby, brush piles on points, rock piles on points, pond dams on points, road beds on points … you get the idea.
GET TO KNOW YOUR GRAPH
Getting to know your electronics is essential for finding bass offshore. If you’re inexperienced with reading a graph, it’s well worth it to hire a good guide who knows electronics to give you a jumpstart on knowing what the difference is between hard and soft bottom, and what bass and baitfish look like. Once you have a basic knowledge of those things, you’ll be able to build confidence in reading your own electronics. Electronics that include side and down imaging capability are a great tool for learning the bottom. A split-screen view of down imaging and standard sonar is the easiest way to learn the identity of the images you’re looking at.
Going over a group of active feeding bass usually looks something like this. Notice, some are a couple of feet off the bottom.
WAYPOINTS, BUOYS AND BOAT POSITIONING
Once you actually find some fish, it’s important to stay on them. A must-have tool is a marker buoy, and a handful of them. When you’re away form the bank, it’s much more difficult to calibrate where you might have just made a successful cast. Having a marker buoy or two will allow you to reposition quickly after having your head down for a few minutes. When idling over a group of fish or structure that you want to fish, continue past the area 10-20 yards and then give the buoy a toss. This will allow you to cast directly where the fish are without getting tangled in the buoy, and this tactic will also prevent some fish from being scared off during the initial buoy drop.
Having the ability to mark a GPS waypoint on your electronics is another key to successful offshore fishing. A healthy collection of waypoints marked throughout the lake gives you a nice roadmap for a potential milk run. Don’t be afraid to mark the little things that you think might hold fish at some point in time. You can go back to that waypoint after a few years and it becomes the new honey-hole.
Using trees as landmark can help stay on a spot, but having a buoy out helps stay precise.
As a general rule, try to keep the boat at a distance that reflects your longest cast. The less noise you make around fish, the better. Don’t forget to change angles if you’re not getting bites where you know there are bass. Sometimes, the bass like the lures to come from a certain direction. Making a circle around the spot can help identify the exact angle they prefer. At certain times, and often in water that’s 20-plus feet, it can be productive to position the boat directly on top of the fish and use a vertical presentation to keep the lure in the strike zone longer.
SELECTING OFFSHORE FISHING TACKLE
Remember that fishing away from the bank often means deeper water, so investing in some heavier weights to maintain a good feel of the bottom is a good idea. Texas rigs and football-headed jigs are excellent lures to fish when fish are close to the bottom and require a slow presentation. Lure weights from 1/2 ounce to 1 ounce are usually heavy enough to keep you feeling the bottom and getting good casting distance. The Carolina rig is arguably one of the most popular setups to target bass away from the bank. It’s very easy to work and very effective in the way that it naturally presents the bait on the bottom. It also allows you to feel what’s down there with a direct connection to the bottom. Deep-diving crankbaits and spoons are good hard baits to keep handy when fishing off the bank as well. When fish are actively chasing shad around, large hard baits will attract some very big bass! Also, having something to vertically present a bait such as a drop shot will help to get more bites when fishing is tough.
Having some longer rods will make offshore fishing easier. Being able to achieve more distance and pick up more line on those long-range hook sets is a big advantage. Try using rods that are at least 7 feet, 3 inches in length, and see what feels the most comfortable to you. Also, having a low-stretch line such as fluorocarbon or braid will help you get more lure sensitivity at greater depths.
The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re offshore fishing is that, unlike bank fishing, you’re not looking to get a few bites down a stretch, but rather pinpointing a group of bass to potentially load the boat. Don’t be afraid to run around the lake and not pick up a rod until you see something on your electronics that gets you excited. There’s nothing better than seeing a big group of bass on a screen that you just know haven’t seen a lure yet.