Just over the state line, about two hours away, lies a secret little bass lake that few anglers know about. It’s a 1,000-acre gem that sits way off the paved road down a long dusty road and is surrounded by a deep, unbroken forest. The shores are littered with textbook cover. Fallen trees and stump-covered points ring the lake and grass grows thick in the upper end where huge spawning females pounce on tube baits in the spring.
It is of course, a lake that exists entirely in your mind. In fact, in most bass-rich states, lightly fished lakes simply don’t exist. Those that don’t receive much pressure are either void of bass or locked up on private property, open only to the landowner and his best buddies or those who can afford a steep trespass fee.
The rest of us are relegated to the nearest public lake. And even when we do travel, it’s often to a body of water that gets nearly as much pressure as our home water does.
We all have to deal with crowds on our favorite lakes. A tip is to fish the places on the lake that don’t get pounded every weekend.
Unfortunately, we all have to deal with crowds on our favorite lakes. Whether it’s a full frontal assault by hordes of personal watercraft or a national tournament that draws hundreds of professional and amateur anglers all vying for the same fish, every serious bass angler has to learn how to deal with such predicaments.
It may be hard for most anglers to believe, but every large lake has a few places that don’t get pounded into oblivion on Saturdays and Sundays. You may have to spend some time looking for them and you may have to put in a little extra effort, but the rewards can be great.
Chris McCotter guides on Virginia’s Lake Anna, a 9,600-acre playground sandwiched between the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and Richmond. To say that Anna gets fished hard would be a major understatement. On mild weekends in the spring, bass boats dot the entire lake and every point, cove and creek arm gets a pounding worthy of Desert Storm. Added to the mix are countless water skiers and personal watercraft churning the lake into a froth.
“One of the best places to escape fishing and pleasure boat traffic is in the extreme upper ends of the lake tributaries,” explains McCotter. “It’s often too shallow for pleasure boaters and many bass anglers won’t go to the effort to find the creek channel that leads them around the mud flats that often cover the upper ends of these areas.”
Once you find the deeper water, you also have found current, cooler water and plenty of bass that don’t get molested on a regular basis.
Use Evasive Tactics
Lance Vick, a Lake Fork, Texas, guide, agrees and spends 20 minutes or more picking his way through stumps and shallow water just to get to an area that rarely gets fished. Although the lake is 27,000 acres and has dozens of creeks, which helps spread out angling pressure, there are times when Vick has to use evasive tactics to put his clients on bass.
“I tell them we’re going four-wheeling because that’s what it’s like,” he says. “I’ll drive right over stumps with my big motor if I have to. Once I get back into those areas we often catch good numbers of fish because they haven’t been worked over real hard.”
Both guides also look for unassuming areas that many anglers bypass for greener pastures. Debris piled up in the backs of shallow coves aren’t very pleasing to the eye, but often hold bass. Logjams on river systems also hold good numbers of bass. Vick also looks for small coves or cuts in the bank that doesn’t have any appealing features. Remember that it’s not what lies on the surface, but under, that counts.
“What do most guys do when they put their boat in the water on a weekend outing? They want to get out on the open water and go for a ride, so they leave the marina and run a good ways up or down the lake,” says McCotter. “Think of all the fish that are caught somewhere else, brought back to the marina to be weighed and then released right there. Spend some time fishing right at the boat ramp before you take off.”
Don’t Follow The Crowd
While bass can be fairly predictable at times, not all of them pay attention to the rulebook. In fact, while most anglers are targeting spawning fish in April, McCotter searches for bass in a more active stage of the spawn.
“Nature takes care of it so that not all the bass on a lake are spawning at the same time,” he says. “While it may be fun to target bedded bass, that really isn’t the most efficient method of fishing so I’ll move to a different section of the lake and target fish that are more active. In the spring, there always are bass in different stages of the spawn.”
Vick will shy away from the hot bait of the day, favoring instead to throw something the fish haven’t seen on a regular basis. He believes that bass do become conditioned to avoid certain lures, and during certain times of the year, many anglers follow the crowd and throw the same baits. Sometimes, it only takes a slight color or size variation to make a difference.
One of his favorite high-pressure baits for shallow water bass is a 5-inch Ring Fry, made by Lake Fork Trophy Tackle. Instead of fishing with a weight on the bottom, he rigs it just like he would a soft plastic jerkbait, another popular Lake Fork lure. It’s a lure the fish haven’t seen a dozen times a day and the action is slightly different than any other lure.
“I’ll also throw a Texas-rigged worm in an area that has been worked over with Carolina rigs,” explains Vick. “Sometimes that subtle difference is all it takes to get a fish to bite.”
Another tactic is what he calls “strolling,” which is nothing more than trolling a crankbait over deep structure. The variation comes not with the lure or simply through trolling; it’s in the way he gets his client’s lures down to the fish.
“I’ll pass over the deep structure, turn around and have my clients cast way out behind the boat,” he explains. “Then I have them let out about another cast’s worth of line before I get on the electric motor and pull the lures across the structure.”
The trick is to run the lures far behind the boat. According to Vick, by doing so, he can get deep-diving crankbaits to go much deeper than by simply casting and retrieving them. With lures like Excalibur’s Fat Free Shad, he can dredge the bottom in 20 feet of water, even more.
“Bass that spend most of their time in real deep water never see a crankbait because no one can get them down that deep,” adds Vick. “That’s why it’s such a good tactic.”
Just about all bass anglers are creatures of habit. How many of us can blow by a fallen tree, a row of docks or a series of stumps in shallow water without making a few casts? The problem is that a dozen anglers cast to that same cover before you got there.
That’s why you can gain the upper hand by working cover that lies under water. Points, submerged brush, humps and other unseen structure can hold bass that haven’t spent their days running from the assault of wood, steel, rubber and plastic.
Instead of beating the bank, try backing off shore and working the zone in which most boats are sitting. The fish that have been chased of the shallow structure are likely waiting in the 12-foot range — right under most boats — for the “all clear” signal.
“Look for the first ledge or hump out from shore,” says McCotter. “When the fishing pressure gets real heavy, that’s the first place many of those fish will go.”
Vick likes to stay on a spot he knows holds fish and work it thoroughly. Too many anglers, he says, pull up to a brushpile or hump, make a few casts and then move on. The trick is to have the confidence that bass are indeed lurking in the area. Some spots, such as brush- or stump-covered humps and points are what are considered high-percentage areas. That is, they often hold bass throughout the year.
“I believe that except for the spawning period, some bass will stay deep all year and some will stay shallow. I’m going to target those deep bass because they are harder to find,” he said.
Every angler knows that bass aren’t always interested in eating all the time. Sometimes, there is only a short period of time when they want any bait, Vick added. “I’m going to be there when they turn on.”
When All Else Fails
There’s no way an artificial lure can outperform a lively jumbo shiner struggling under a bobber. Even the most inactive bass can’t refuse such an offering. That’s why McCotter will sometimes drag a few shiners behind his boat while he eases along the shoreline, casting artificials. He’ll also pull up to a likely-looking area, drop anchor and set out a few rods baited with live minnows.
“It’s relaxing, it’s highly-effective and it simply adds another element to the fishing equation,” he says. “Why do you think professional anglers aren’t allowed to use live bait? Because it works too well.”
Although the heavy timber and thick grass of Lake Fork can lead to lost lunkers, guide Lance Vick says that sometimes, you have to scale down in order to catch finicky bass. But scaling down is a relative term.
“Fourteen is the lowest I’ll ever go unless I’m fishing open water in winter. Then I’ll drop down to 10-pound test,” he says. “If you hook a big fish, you just have to take your time and wear them out.”
The real key, he says, is to use a line that blends with the water. He favors 17-pound green Silver Thread in clear water and clear Silver Thread in murky water.
Smaller baits also tempt bass that are lure-shy. Texas-rigged grubs, finesse worms and small jigs work when larger baits won’t.
Instead of giving up your favorite rod for a nine-iron when the summer assault takes place, adjust your tactics. That’s usually all it takes to catch bass on high-pressure lakes.