For this article, structure is being defined as any protrusion off the bottom. It may only be a small group of rocks or just a hump or ledge in deep water but bass, especially larger bass, will key in on the structure and make it home, at least for a while. If the structure is an underwater point, where two creek channels join, you can bet the farm that big bass will zero in on the location. They may wander off in search of a snack but they will be back because the area is perfect for finding food and lounging around.
The real problem is getting these monsters of the lake to bite your lure.
There are a variety of lures to use for these big fish but the ones I depend on most are swimbaits, jigs and worms.
When it comes to swimbaits, you first have to determine what your goals are. If you are trying to win a tournament or trying to stay in the points, you may want to consider some of the new small swimbaits. Berkley has come out with 3 and 4 inch swimbaits that work exceptionally well when looking for numbers of fish. These efficient little lures can fill out a limit in short order, but if you’re looking for the trophies, set these aside.
Don’t get me wrong, there will be times when a big fat bass is just looking to fill in the corners and will suck up a smaller bait, but for the most part, big bass want one big meal, then they just want to go back to their hiding spot and relax – you know the feeling, eat a big Mexican dinner, or a lot of turkey and dressing, and all you want it a nap. This is especially true in the winter when a big bass can eat one big meal and go for more than two weeks before needing to eat again.
Once a big bass has eaten its fill, they really don’t need to eat again for a long time, but you can get them to bite by utilizing their territorial instincts. To do this requires pestering the fish, agitating it to the point they just want whatever is in their home to get out. You dance the lure around the fish over, and over again. This is where an 8- to 10-inch Power Worm works better than anything I’ve used in the past.
It’s a lot like when an old dog is laying on the floor, resting from a day of doing nothing much and a young pup wants to play. The old dog will lie there and take the little nips and the barking, but only for a while, then the old dog will give the pup a little nip to make the pest go away. That’s the same with the bass; you just want to make sure you’re ready to set the hook when you detect that little nip.
Jigs are still probably the best all-around lures to use when fishing deep water structure. Many times you will be fishing vertically and a jig is excellent for this kind of presentation. The sound of a jig scratching against the rocks can be very similar to the sound a crawdad makes when scurrying about and it will drive bass crazy.
Swimbaits have become vital to my arsenal of lures. I prefer the heavier models and tend to use the Optima swimbaits 90 percent of the time. They work very well when I’m fishing in 60 to 90 feet of water. The key here is that when you hook a fish don’t try to overpower the fish, use light pressure, don’t bring the bass up very fast or their swim bladder could explode. Bring your fish up slowly, measure it, take a quick picture and then release it as soon as possible to avoid any health problems.
Another thing to remember about swimbaits is to watch the wind; when the bigger bass are suspended off the points, a 10- to 12-inch Osprey or Castaic swimbait will work best if you cast into the wind. The wind creates a current going around a point and bass will usually face into the current, so if you cast into the wind and bring the bait back to them it’s more likely the fish will see the lure and you can entice a strike.
Braided lines are particularly good for fishing deep water structure because they are so sensitive and the lack of stretch is also beneficial. A few years ago, before braided lines, fishing more than 50-feet deep was almost out of the question, you couldn’t hardly feel the bites, much less the structure and by the time you did feel the bite it was almost too late to set the hook. When you did set the hook it was difficult to get a solid hookset because the line stretched too much. Today, with all the wonderful braided lines available, fishing 90 and even 100 feet is not only possible, but can be effective.
If you find yourself fishing a new body of water in the winter, the first thing to do is buy a good topographical map, key in on creek channels and especially where creeks meet and mark them on the map. Make sure to mark any underwater humps or visible rock piles. Try to mark 30 or more places on the map and then hit the lake with your electronics. I use a Lowrance X-135 and have found it to indispensable to my fishing. If you are really serious about marking the territory, turn off the automatic feature and switch to manual, that way you can pinpoint the features at various depths to really get a good look at the structure and how the fish are relating to the bottom.
When you are fishing deep, you have to remember that there will be a slight delay in the electronics. You may be slightly past the area on your graph before it has the ability to draw it. Considering this, there will be times when you see some promising structure but in order to reach the area you will have to back your boat up. Always take as straight of a line as possible and go very slowly.
I was fishing a lake in Arizona once with a non-boater. I was just cruising around watching my Lowrance when I noticed it drawing some fish on the bottom. I reversed my trolling motor but nothing would bite. After a few times of this I noticed I could actually see the fish swim away when I reversed the motor. I could see them on the graph, swimming away. Reversing the motor was spooking the fish. I told my partner that the next time I spotted some fish on the graph that I would tell him and he could drop his lure straight down the big motor on my Ranger. It worked like a charm, he caught our first five fish and then started talking to the graph saying, “Come on Lowrance, keep finding the fish for me.”
Every fish we caught that day was because we had spotted them on the depth finder, that’s why it is such a big part of my fishing. I let the finder do the work for me, whether the fish are shallow, deep or suspended, the finder is key to success, especially on a new lake. Even the lakes I know like the back of my hand, I still will use the finder extensively, looking for bait, trout or shad.
Another thing to remember is to watch nature at work. Many birds, including Western Grebes, will many times let you know where the bait is located, just spend some time watching them and let them find the bait for you, then use your graph to learn how deep the fish are. Keep in mind, though, the bigger bass will be the ones more closely relating to the structure.
Stay away from the numbers game and just look for five bites from big fish. If you play the numbers game you may get 30 bites from small fish but you just need to catch five, so try to make the biggest five possible.
Fishing this way will usually have one of two results, either you be on the leader board or you will fall on your face. There is a big difference between fishing for points and fishing to win!
When you do catch that fish of a lifetime, do me and all the other anglers in the world a favor; take a picture, measure the fish, treat her nice, release her quickly and get a fiberglass mount. A trophy-sized fish deserves your respect and we should allow her genetics to help build better fisheries throughout the West.