June 26, 2023
I love fishing from boats—most do. Much of my work revolves around boat-oriented activity and there’s no denying the benefits of mobility, diversity and time efficiency.
That being said, there’s a ton of fun to be had while standing on terra firma. As a balance to more serious boat fishing efforts, a teaching time for young/new anglers, or simply the unplugging of detail-heavy norms, fishing on foot has yielded some of my most endearing fishing memories.
Many have been solo missions where awkward selfies documented giant bass or plump panfish. Others comprised instructional moments at my church’s kids fishing program where 3-inch bluegill and pencil-length largemouth prompt beaming smiles that outshine my personal best moments.
In any form, bank fishing takes us back to basics and reminds us how/why we took up this rod-bending addiction. Notwithstanding the obvious limitations, consider the advantages:
Low entry cost — One or two rod and reel combos, minimal tackle, a backpack or shoulder sling pack — maybe just a few items in a ziploc bag stuffed in your shirt pocket — and you’re on your way.
Spontaneity — Got an hour to kill during a break in vacation or business meetings? Maybe it’s just a sunset stroll after dinner or a lazy weekend morning. The planning, prep and logistics requisite for launching a boat simply are not there.
Seclusion and Relaxation —
Yes, boating can be very relaxing, but sometimes, it’s nice to get away from launch ramp drama and crowded waters shared by multiple user groups.
Lake fronts, hiking trail streams, county park ponds—options are many. Beyond the standard stuff, I’m always on the lookout for a handful of dependable opportunities.
Canals and Bayous
Some of the most target-rich shore-bound scenarios you’ll encounter await within narrow roadside waterways. Google Earth can help you identify spots along your travel routes and as long as you can find a safe and legal parking area, a little light duty hiking might turn up incredible opportunities.
Depth and current are important, otherwise, you’ll have a stagnant, weed-choked artery. Low bridges are natural gathering spots, as their shade and ambush points attract largemouth bass and panfish. Visit South Florida and you can add peacock bass, Mayan cichlids, Oscars and various tilapia species.
Live baiting with shiners or minnows will tempt the larger predators, while earthworms do the trick for your smaller species. For an artificial approach, throw swimbaits, jerkbaits and topwaters for bass and keep a few light ball head jigs with a selection of plastic bodies handy for the panfish and those South Florida exotics.
Note: You always want to remain alert for snakes, but anywhere in the Southeast, check those weed covered edges for alligators and watch out for fire ants. In South Florida, you can add American Crocodiles to the list. Reclusive creatures, but you don’t want them mad at you.
One of my most memorable days of bluegill fishing occurred in a retention pond about half the size of a football field. Sitting between my hotel parking lot, an adjacent townhome community and a business park, this pond had a surprising amount of character—multiple drain pipes, a seawall with an elevated walkway, distinct drop offs and a small overflow dam draining into a forested area.
The challenge was determining the best place to focus the hour break I had identified during my work trip. To maximize my time, I devoted 30 minutes the evening before to scouting this retention pond.
I found no lack of peanut panfish not worthy of my time, but a piece of white bread from the hotel’s breakfast bar provided the chum I needed to persuade bigger bluegill to show themselves. In many cases, I did not initially see the fish, but the speed with which a descending bread ball vanished told me bigger ‘gills were holding in the deep and dark.
Cutting to the chase, after locating a particular pipe with a significant depth change at the end, I got right to work the next morning. At the hour’s conclusion, I had stopped counting at a baker’s dozen respectable bluegill up to an honest hand size—all within shouting distance of my hotel room. A 4-piece travel spinning outfit with 4-pound monofilament enhanced the fun with my larger fish.
Culverts & Spillways
I have access to a neighborhood lake with a drainpipe emerging from a seawall adjacent to a dock flanked by lily pads and other weeds. Basically, a slam dunk when that pipe’s blasting out stormwater.
In such scenarios, an unweighted Texas-rigged Senko is hard to beat for its diversity. Cast and retrieve through open water, flip/pitch into vegetation pockets or free line the bait through swift current. Close range frogging makes a killer complement, especially when current eddies pile up the duck weed or other light cover.
In such scenarios, once you figure out how that flowing water’s interacting with the vegetation, you’ll identify what I call the “death holes”—the spots where current-born forage gets blasted.
The only downside of bank fishing is that outflowing water typically is going away from you. That makes it harder to present baits naturally, as opposed to pull them upstream. I’ve caught plenty of bass going against the flow, but you’re relying on a fish spotting a bait that approaches from behind and then deciding quickly enough to bite before the opportunity passes.
A few options here: First, if your access point allows you the proper angle to hook a cast toward the outflow source, you can let your bait flow with the water. Just manage your line prudently so you’re ready to tighten up and set the hook.
Lacking upstream access, don’t hesitate to cast across the flow. For one thing, slack water areas—especially those with a dock, lily pads or some other cover often hold opportunistic bass. If you can’t fool one that way, pull your bait into the current and let it catch as much downstream movement as possible.
From huge Tennessee River dams to modest spillways, out-falling water creates a turbulent, oxygenated froth that offers prime feeding opportunities. Disoriented bait, current seams—it’s bass fishing 101.
While some tailraces, like Wisconsin’s Lake Onalaska spillway, have immediate access, safety precautions limit bank anglers to downstream areas. No worries, current dynamics often extend the opportunities well beyond the turbulent outfall.
A favorite northern memory involved crossing a modest Upstate New York river and finding a small water control structure with a turbulent tail race. After a few minutes of watching the flow and reading the water, I identified a couple of reachable current seams and caught smallmouth and goggle eyes on dropshots.
My best bites came behind a big rock that broke the current and created a slick spot. I couldn’t see the obstruction, but the surface evidence bespoke the fish magnet below. When I fired a small swimbait into the tailrace let it drift past the rock, smallmouth slammed it on every pass.
Nothing huge, but a fine afternoon of fish slinging, all within a 2-minute stroll from my car. My biggest challenge—avoiding goose bombs.