Summertime wisdom tells us to either find something shady, or head offshore to fish deep structure. Those who choose the latter know that offshore ledges, humps and rock formations offer lots of habitat to which bass may relate. It’s always nice when you drive right up to an area with lots or strong marks below and it’s even nicer when those marks stay put. Reality is often very different though, but the deal is certainly doable, if you pay attention to some key principles.
Indeed, finding active schools and staying with them is the key, so we asked a few of the top national pros for a little insight into working these deep summer bass.
A long ledge, a big hump, a prominent rock formation – bass could be anywhere on the structure right? Are they usually everywhere on the structure? Nope. Fact is, bass can seem pretty darn particular, but in most cases, where they choose to position can be explained in straightforward detail when you take a good look at where you found them.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Jason Christie said the key is to look beyond the obvious and search for something different from the surrounding structure. A little break, a slight turn in the contour, a drain running into the primary structure, an isolated stump – these are the subtleties that make the difference in good bottom and fishy bottom.
As Christie points out, it’s often tough to locate such gems because you’re not throwing at visible targets. Nevertheless, the payoff justifies the effort.
“When you find one of these little different spots, you can sit in one spot and catch the heck out of them,” Christie said. “It’s definitely a little harder to find them offshore, but when you do find them, you can catch (several) in a row.”
FLW Tour pro Todd Hollowell adds this: "I'm looking for clues as to why those fish are there because in today's era when a lot of anglers have high-end electronics, you're going to have to find more than one school of fish. For instance, if I see that the fish are on a stump, this provides a clue that I need to look at other areas that have isolated stumps. So these clues will help me find other schools of fish just like the one I'm looking at."
Electronics, Christie said, are simply invaluable to the deep water angler and these days, you simply cannot be consistently competitive without a good set of underwater eyeballs. Making his living on a boat, Christie doubles up on his electronics with a Lowrance HDS 12 Gen2 Touch and an HDS 9 Gen2 Touch at his console and a duplicate setup on his bow. He uses the HDS 12 units for mapping and 2D sonar and the 9’s for DownScan and StructureScan.
Hollowell points out that finding a school of fish is only part of his objective. He wants to know not only their location, but their tendencies.
“I want to see if the school is intact,” Hollowell said. “Sometimes a smaller group of fish will break out of a school and hold 75-100 yards away. These are often your bigger fish, so I want to know if there any smaller groups holding outside the main school.”
Variety is Good
Now, with fish located on one of those sweet little sneaky spots, you might think it’ll be a whackfest until you get tired of whacking. No doubt, a good piece of offshore structure will leave you with a chewed-up thumb, but all good things must come to an end – if not, gradually.
Christie fully expects to catch the majority of his offshore fish on a Bomber BD7 Fat Free Shad fished on 7 ½-foot crankng rod with a slow and easy 5:1 reel carrying 12-pound fluorocarbon,
“This is a good bait when the fish are not pressured,” Dudley said. “They’ll usually respond quickly, so I start with this one and I keep throwing it until the bite slows down.”
If the fish get their fill of that moving bait bumping across their little patch of bottom, Christie will slow role a 5-inch YUM Money Minnow on a ¾-ounce head. Sometimes the fish still have some interest in feeding, but they just need something smooth and subtle to put them at ease.
Christie’s parting shot at a waning offshore bite will be a 10 ½-inch Yum Mighty Worm. He’ll either Texas rig the big plastic or stick in on a ¾-ounce Pumpkin Ed. The latter, he said, allows him better hook sets, while affording him that enticing stand-up presentation that fish dig out deep.
Know When to Back Off
Knowing how long to work on an offshore school is a judgment born of experience. Often, though, too much pressure can shut down a school of fish; possibly even compel their departure. FLW Tour Pro and offshore specialist, Mark Rose said that a relocating school of bass isn’t necessarily a negative. He said he pays attention to when and where this happens so he can press the reset button.
"Whenever you catch a fish, (some of) the other fish swim in with that one,” Rose said. “So you wind up with a whole school of fish under your boat. You have to reposition your boat and run up behind where you were just catching them and try to bring those fish back."
The key here, Rose notes, is trying to coax the school back to its original holding spot. He does this by moving behind the school and casting to them until he gets one to respond – and ideally, bring the fun bunch back with him. This, Rose said, is a much better play than easing forward and fishing for a relocated school.
"Sometimes, it just takes leaving to let them return to their spot," Rose said. "But if I know I have the right bait – and I can tell by the way the fish are reacting to it – I'll stick with it. But sometimes you can just tell that there are more fish there, they've just gotten off of it, then you need to put that down and try something different – maybe a different color or a silent version (of a rattling bait)."
Patience and persistence, Rose said, are key attributes of the successful offshore angler; but particularly so when the school gets up for a break. Take your time, understand the situation and do whatever you can to bring them back to the dinner table.