Boat docks, lily pads, and laydown trees all hold a lot of fish. Problem is, everyone on the lake knows it and those places get peppered by baits. In the past, offshore structure like points and creek channel bends were the best way to avoid the crowds; however, these days even a novice can turn on his Lowrance and drive right to previously hidden deep water hideouts. Obvious spots produce bass when the crowds are light. On weekends or during a tournament, you can bet that if a spot looks good to you, it looks good to a lot of others too. As a result, fish in easily recognizable places get a lot of pressure and often stop biting…if you’re even able to get on the spot amongst a crowd of other boats.
The holy grail of bass fishing, especially for tournament success or regular lunker catches, is finding something that most anglers overlook. As more anglers become proficient with new sonar and mapping technology, finding the unexploited becomes increasing difficult, yet the payoff is worth the hassle. Following are a few ideas on where to start your treasure hunt:
Barren Spots on the Map: Does that big main lake point with a channel swing on the side of it look good to you? Yeah, the last 3000 guys on the lake thought so too. At the FLW Tour on Chickamauga this past summer, everyone knew it would be won on deep structure and it was going to fish small with big crowds on key spots. I went into practice and pretty much eliminated any spot that looked remotely fishy on my map. Instead, I spent hours graphing around large expanses of seemingly flat, featureless bottoms. In most cases, the maps were correct. However, over the course of 3 days, I found some fish holding spots in the middle of nowhere. While most of the field was fighting over the good looking areas, I had 3 key spots all to myself and rode them to an 8th place finish…by fishing the worst looking water in the lake.
Micro structure & cover: You don’t need a 200’ long point or a 10’ channel drop off to hold bass. Subtle contour changes or small pieces of cover regularly hold a school of fish, or at least a quick keeper. Today’s graphs are an awesome search tool for this. On plane, I’m always keeping one eye on my Lowrance sonar screen, looking for any subtle humps, ditches or drops not marked on my map. Some of my all-time best fishing spots are humps that slowly rise less than 3’ in nearly 30’ of water, or 1’ deep ditches running through 8’ flats. If I see one, it’s very easy to mark a quick waypoint and come back to investigate further. When I’m off plane, StructureScan clearly shows isolated rock piles, fallen trees, sunken boats, isolated grass clumps and tons of other cover that few others find. Often, you can make 5 or 6 casts to one of these spots and catch an active fish or two.
The “wrong water”: In the spring, you’ll find almost every boat beating the bank. In the summer on legendary structure lakes, all the boats will be out on the ledges. When creeks get big runoff and turn muddy, most anglers flee the area. Whatever the time of year, not all of the bass are in the same area doing the same thing. Go against the grain, figure out the fish, and you’ll have virgin water the entire trip.
Bottom transitions: Hard bottoms are consistent bass producing locations, especially in lakes with lots of soft, muddy bottoms. In this case, gravel, rock or shell beds hold big schools. In lakes with lots of rock and hard bottom, transitions from one type to another (such as gravel to clay or chunk rock to ledge rock) are bass magnets. The best spots aren’t noticeable by looking at the shore, lest everyone will know the transition exists. These transitions are easy to spot when the lake is down, so make mental notes of where they are located for when the water comes back up to normal. Again, new sonar advances make finding these spots a lot easier. Use your StructureScan to find changes in bottom hardness (harder bottoms appear brighter and thicker, often producing a second bottom return or “double echo”), and you can actually see what size rocks are on the bottom in the side view. Having trouble setting up your graph and reading the Down and Side sonar? If so, check out my instructional videos:
Vast grass mats: Many anglers quickly find the areas of a lake that have grass. However, submerged aquatic vegetation like hydrilla, milfoil, cabbage, and coontail grows irregularly and changes vastly from one year to the next. In large flats, grass beds can grow for dozens of acres, often making it feel like looking for a bigmouthed needle in an Everest-sized haystack. Most anglers fish a small stretch of the grass by wandering aimlessly, shrug their shoulders, and move on. It takes a lot of effort and skill to stay on the raggedy outside grass edge, often a high percentage area. If the fish are actually up in the middle of the grass flat, it can take hours of fishing to stumble on a good school through all the dead water. In this case, the grass bed is obvious, but finding the hidden jackpots takes a lot more persistence than most will invest. By Tom Redington
The next time you’re struggling to catch fish, keep in mind that you might have an “obvious” problem. For more fish catching tips, check out my website www.LakeForkGuideTrips.com, or follow me at www.facebook.com/tomredingtonfishing and www.twitter.com/Tom_Redington .
Tom Redington is a FLW Tour pro, host of TV’s “Big Bass Battle” & a bass guide on Lake Fork. To make the most of your experience in the outdoors, he recommends the Boy Scouts of America, Lake Fork Trophy Lures, Dobyns Rods, Ranger Boats, Mercury Outboards, Diamond Sports Marine, Lucky Craft, Costa Sunglasses, Lowrance, & Power Poles.