Sight Fishing Bass: Start At The Boat Ramp
May 11, 2015
Most anglers launch their boat, idle away from shore, then hit the throttle to get the boat on plane before they begin thinking about where to start fishing. Bass-ackwards, in my opinion.
A game plan I follow religiously is to take a moment at the boat landing to observe. Of course, I'm careful not to slow up anyone wanting to launch or leave the lake, but more often than not I have plenty of time along at the boat landing to look into the water and observe.
Ideally, I'll spot panfish and minnows moving about in the shallows, as well as frogs along the bank, bug life on lily pads, and anything else that enables me to "read" the water. Because boat landings often have sand/gravel bottoms, it's also a good area to spot bedded largemouths or smallmouths.
Certainly this is easier with relatively clear water, but I can still learn a thing or two if water clarity allows me to see down only 6 inches or a foot. I almost always have one rod rigged with a Berkley Power Worm, so if I can't see down in the water, I'll simply drop a rigged Power Worm beside the dock supports and feel for telltale "tap, tap, tap, tap" panfish strikes. Occasion I'll actually catch a bass — bonus.
Leaving The Landing
My next move is to lower my trolling motor and slowly begin cruising the shallows. Again, I'm trying to read the water and looking for evidence of forage and/or bass. In order to locate bass and build a pattern, eliminating possibility (eliminating water) is one of the best tips I can give anyone. One of the most effective ways is to start shallow (especially on moderate to clear lakes) and look for life.
Granted, with today's fishfinders, temp gauges and smartphone apps you can learn just about anything regarding what a specific species should be doing given the current conditions, but fish — bass included — don't always read the script.
With the aid of topnotch polarized glasses (copper or amber lenses are my favorite) and a baseball cap helping cut the glare, I can learn a lot about a lake in little time. After I'm satisfied I know what's happening in the shallows, say 6 feet and less, I steer the boat a bit deeper and begin moving toward the deep weed edge. Depending on water clarity, I might spot cruising panfish or bass, but at a minimum I'll get a good handle on the amount of weed growth on the flats.
Finally, I'll use my electronics to decipher the deep weedline. Sometimes I'll spot fish, but generally I'm looking to gauge the thickness and type of weeds in the depths, as well as pinpoint the exact depth where weed growth ends.
Everything I've described so far takes me 5-15 minutes. The outboard is still waiting to be started, and I haven't made a single cast. But I've learned a lot, so I'll take this info and make my best guess as to whether bass are on the banks, on the flats, or set up along the deep weedline.
Rigged for Success
Anyone who has spent time on the water with me knows I believe much more in "location, location, location" than "presentation, presentation, presentation", but that said, I do think some items help put the odds in my favor. I won't turn this short article into an infomercial, but it might be helpful to some anglers to know about two tools that I believe are keys to my success.
*Weedless Wedge trolling motor prop. I bought my bow-mount trolling motor in March 1994; it's a 24-volt Minn Kota 524 with 48 pounds of thrust, and it pulls my 16.5-foot Skeeter with no trouble through the nastiest weeds Mother Nature can grow. Once during the past 20-plus years I broke the prop; it clipped the tip of a submerged metal fence post. If my 524 ever quits, I'll probably buy a 24-volt 70-pound-thrust Maxxum, which has the Weedless Wedge 2 prop. For slowly cruising the shallows and reading the water, a quiet and dependable trolling motor is a must.
*Action Optics polarized sunglasses. If I could produce the receipt that showed when I bought my favorite shades, you'd think I was weird and/or disturbed, so I won't dig for it. But suffice it to say these amber-lens glasses have been guiding me to largemouths and smallmouths since sometime in the late 1990s. I know you're asking yourself: How can someone avoid losing or breaking sunglasses for 15-plus years? The only answer I can give is I love them and can't imagine fishing without them.
Depending on your target species and home waters, bass could be pre-spawn, spawn or post-spawn. No doubt a high percentage of the fish will be shallow. This time when you hit the landing, use your first 5-10 minutes wisely — and let the "eye test" set you up for a fantastic day of fishing.