On The Rocks
No! This isn’t about how you want your favorite beverage but the favorite type of offshore structure for bass. Sure bass like many types of cover such as grass, wood, docks, bridges and such but when it comes to offshore it is hard to beat a hard bottom. What makes the hard bottom even more attractive is the presence of rocks. It doesn’t matter if you are fishing a natural lake in the north or a southern reservoir you will always find bass on the rocks.
Generally speaking on northern natural lakes the rocks will be the last piece of cover on a specific piece of structure before it breaks off into the main lake basin. These areas occur on the tips of long main lake points the sides of a hump or even a small obscure point on the side of main lake point. The tops of these points can be anywhere from 5 – 10 feet with some sort of vegetation growing on it. This gives the bass two different types of cover on one piece of structure to use for ambushing prey and to keep from becoming prey. They will also use the grass as a holding place when they are in a negative mood to just hang out and relax so to speak as it’s a comfort zone for them. When they get active and they are ready to feed they will move out on the rocks and chase bream and pickoff crawfish that are caught out in the open, this is especially true during low light periods of early morning, late evening and cloudy days. Smallmouth bass have even been known for pushing smaller rocks out of the way to chase down their favorite meal. This is not to say that bass do not ambush and feed on prey in the vegetation that is available but it is much easier for them to chase down their prey in open water. These rocky areas hold the baitfish which are followed by the bass from late spring thru early fall as they tend to be on the deepest structure in the lake meaning cooler water temps with more oxygen in the water during the hottest time of the year. The best rocky cover will have some sort of algae growth on them that attracts the plankton to feed on them in return the baitfish follow the plankton which then are followed by the bass preying on the baitfish. You do not want the rock to be covered by the wrong type of algae though, which is can become a slimy stringy type of snaught that will cling to your bait the minute is comes in contact with it. This tends to happen during the early spring and dies off with warmer water temps of summer. You are looking for a mossy type of growth on the rock like the kind you would find growing on the outside of clam shell.
In southern reservoir systems, which are made up by damming a river to harness the river current to create electricity and use as flood control, rock is generally the primary cover on any piece of structure which again tend be points. The biggest difference here is the presence of current which keeps the rocks clean and brings fresh oxygenated water and baitfish to the structure which the rocks sit. These rocky areas tend to be on the leading edges of points, meaning the upper current point, but can also be on the top of the ledge on the flat or even on and insider corner of a creek channel or river bend that receive direct current. These areas can really be dynamite with the addition of mussels which are found only on hard bottom structure. Structure with rock on it will stay put when periods of heavy current tend to move and redesign structure with softer forms of bottom such as clay, marl, and sand which can be swept away. Points, humps, and channels that are made of a softer bottom tend to be vacant of any cover thus are flat bottoms and have nothing that baitfish or bass can relate to for hiding and ambushing . Thus areas that contain rock have a rough broken bottom giving crawfish and baitfish a place to hide and feed on plankton which then attracts the bass which feed on the baitfish and crawfish. Having a rocky hard bottom structure is a key to having a high percentage fish holding area not all rocky areas hold fish all the time. In spring with the urge to spawn push the fish shallow they will seek out areas of pea gravel and small rock and gravel to build beds and complete the spawning cycle. As the spawn transgresses into post spawn the fish move towards deeper water haunts but keying in on chunk rock transition areas on the way to ambush a quick meal. As post spawn transitions into summer the fish will key in on offshore structure with baseball-softball size chunk rock. As fall begins the fish will then again move shallow following their spring time pattern getting on secondary points with pea gravel mixed with smaller chunk rock. As winter sets in and the fish tend to move to a more vertical landscape bluff walls with large basketball size rock and slab rock will be the main attraction.
Fishing the different types of structure and areas of rock all depends on the time of year of course. Finding the areas you want to fish is the first priority and with the spring, fall and winter periods it can be fairly easy as you can almost go by what is on the shoreline will continue under water. Offshore on the other had can be a bit more challenging. This requires some good maps and map study time and the use of good electronics. Side imaging units introduced in recent years has really helped identify these areas much fast and easier than in the past. As with conventional electronics you are looking for hard bottom which on side imaging units shows up as a brighter white signal where as on conventional units will show up in bright red and will have a second echo. This is a second orange and red line underneath the first bottom reading. Though just because you get a hard bottom reading on your electronics doesn’t mean that rock or shells are present. This could be a hard pack sand or clay bottom also and this is where a Carolina rig or a football head like the Outkast Tackle T-2 come into play. Once you’ve located what you believe is hard bottom you now use one of these bottom probing baits to identify what it is. When throwing a football head I prefer a bait with a flat spot on the front edge of the bait as this helps create friction on the bottom and will give you a better feel as to what is there. This also aids in tipping the trailer up into the water as if a crawfish going into defensive mode. Depending on depth and current I throw a 1/2oz model 75% of the time but when probing depths over 25 feet or in cases of high winds or strong current flow I will go to a ¾ or 1oz. sizes to keep better contact. As for the Carolina rig I will throw it with either a ½ or ¾ oz Tru-Tungsten sinker, tungsten is very key here as it will give you the max sensitivity to distinguish the different bottom types and cover on the bottom be it shell or rock. Both baits are thrown on fluorocarbon line and a 7’-6’’– 8’ rod. My personal preference with these baits is a Powell 734 Endurance or 753 TiMax with 16lb Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon will get the job done. Once you’ve determined you have rock or shell bottom you can continue to fish the area with either bait or switch then over to a crankbait which you can then cover the area much faster and trigger that reaction bite. In the spring you are targeting prespawn and spawning fish in which the normal spring baits with come into effect, such as tubes, spinnerbaits, shallow running crankbaits, finesse jigs and Carolina rigs. Again as fall approves and the fish move back shallow spinnerbaits, topwater and squarebill crankbaits will get top billing in these areas. Though as the winter season sets in, it is hard to beat jerkbaits and the finesse jig along the bluff wall rocks. The next time you plan a trip to the lake try some bass on the rocks you are sure to enjoy the results.
Fall is for the birds
Not only in Kentucky but around the country you’ll notice flocks of all species of birds gathering together. Some are in the beginning stages and others are already in the midst of their annual migration for warmer climates. My favorite flock though is a flock of seagulls hovering over a school of bass feeding on baitfish. Depending on what part of the country you live in the baitfish is going to change but one thing is for sure the birds will let you know when a school of hunger bass are putting on the feed bag. In most river systems like the Tennessee and Cumberland which make up Kentucky and Barkley lakes respectively the major baitfish population is shad whether threadfin or gizzard. As summer gives way to the cooler nights of fall our water temps begin to fall triggering shad and other baitfish to begin their fall transition to shallower water. This transition can either lead them to the backs of the creeks and bays around the lake to shallow main lake flats. Close behind will be the predator fish white bass, crappies and bass following this food source. Many times the bass will use the baitfish as cover and suspend below them making them very hard to find as the baitfish are continually on the move. What makes them easy to find is when the bass and other predators decide it’s time to feed. They will circle the bait into a ball and push them towards the bank or the surface of the water and begin slashing through them eating and wounding them. As the bait tries to escape they begin to jump and break the surface of the water. This action is what draws the birds in as they instinctively now this is their chance at an easy meal also. For the angler seeing the birds diving down to the water should trigger the thought process of what is going on under the water also. So the next time you’re running down the lake and see a bunch of seagulls diving the water it might be worth the time to stop and make few cast.
We first start seeing it, then we notice the changes and then finally we begin to feel the change. The change I’m talking about is the arrival of fall as we see the leaves starting to change color, we notice that the days are definitely getting shorter. The squirrels are really working the oak trees over and the bucks have rubbed of their velvet cover from their antlers. We really know fall is here when we start feeling those temperatures drop out of the 90’s into the 70’s for highs and the lows are in the 50’s rather 70’s. Things are changing on land and in the water and for us fisherman we call this the fall transition. As the days begin to shorten shad start moving towards the backs of the bays and creeks. When air temps start dropping so does the water temperatures and this will really push the baitfish into full fall transition mode from main lake open water life to shallow flats and backs of creeks and bays. Considering bass and other gamefish need to eat, they also make this fall transition and follow the bait. So it seems simple find the bait find the bass right well not so quick. Two things to consider here are at this point there is simply so much bait that not all of it is going to have fish around it. The other is it simply spreads the fish out to the point there aren’t many schools of fish in any particular area or spot. Don’t get me wrong once we are in a full blown fall pattern generally mid to late October you will see schools of fish again chasing bait in the backs of the bays and even some on main lake flats. As far as the fall transition goes though fish are fairly spread out. You can now catch bass from 30 feet deep on the main river channel to less than 3 feet deep in the back of a creek and everywhere in between. With the bass so spread out many anglers will use a run and gun approach meaning they will fish as many spots as possible during the day and not spending much time on any particular one. We also see a switch in baits from the dragging around of a Carolina rigged creature bait, big Texas rigged worm and football jigs with a move over to more horizontal moving baits. Lipless crankbaits like the SPRO Aruku shad, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits, swim jigs like the Outkast Tackle pro swim jig, blade baits such as the Steel Shad, swimbaits and of course topwater walking style baits. This is the time of year you don’t want to spend a bunch of time on one spot or area keep yourself moving. Those that are crappie fishing will notice it’s becoming a whole lot easier to find and catch them as they begin to school up again. You still need to be on the move while either spider rigging or jigging brush piles as the crappies are following bait fish and will be moving along creek channels as they migrate into the bays and creeks. The guys spider rigging or trolling are used to moving but the jiggers and casters tend to sit on a stake bed or brush pile to long. Even though the crappies are coming together and schooling more they are still moving and will only stay in cover while the bait is present. As the bait moves on the crappies will follow along either to the next brush pile or maybe just open water along the creek channel or on top of a flat. All in all the fall transition is an exciting time of year as the fish are starting to feed up but can be a challenging time also as they are continually on the move.
Water color the great debate
Depending on where you live in the country and or how you like to fish water color can be a big issue and a big piece of your bass fishing puzzle. Region wise it seems anglers from western and northern states tend to like clearer water. Pit that against those who fish many of the lakes and reservoirs of the central and southern part of the country that would much rather find themselves some stained or dirty water conditions. A big part of this is the fact that many if not most of your western lakes/reservoirs and northern natural lakes are clear and the fish are accustomed to living and feeding in such environments and anglers have learned to fish deeper and more finesse type tactics to catch these fish. This is not to say they never fish shallow. On the other hand, many of the central and southern lakes and reservoirs tend to have more off colored water that is stained to dirty looking. If you asked a northern angler what they considered stained or dirty water he may say if he can’t see his bait down 3-4 feet that it muddy. Whereas an Ohio river rat may be able to see his bait down 18’’ and call it clear. No matter what you call clear, stained or muddy water when it changes you need to change with it. Generally cold (under 50 degrees) muddy water is the toughest condition to fish in but warm that water up to 70 get that flippin stick out and hang on! Clear water fish are for the most part more apt to stop biting with the influx of new muddy water into their area. Clear water fish feed much more by sight that muddy water fish that use their sense of smell and sound to target prey. So as fresh muddy water over takes a normally clear area that the fish are living in it can be tough fishing for a couple of days before the fish adjust to the new situation or move. Many times in a clear body of water the reason it gets muddy is from torrential rains which will cause heavy runoff into the creeks and rivers which then carry the muddy water to the main lake. What will happen once the heavy rains have subsided with the creeks and rivers muddied up and pushing out to the main lake the very backs of the creek are actually clearing up. No longer is there a massive amount of water pouring in it’s down to a slow steady flow that will help push the muddy water out. Now it may take a day or two but it will happen and this is the place you want to start looking for active fish. The same thing can happen on an already stained or muddy body of water. The water that is actually pouring in from the heavy rains though dirty may actually be clearer than the lake water along with bringing in new oxygen these creeks and runoffs can be a great place to find active fish. Mud lines (the area or line in the lake that you can physical see the muddy water pushing the clear water) can also be an excellent place to catch fish as they will use the dirty water to hide themselves from bait fish and ambush them as the swim by in the clear water. Power fisherman (the spinnerbait, squarebill, flipping guys) love stained and muddy water as it allows them to get close to cover use heavier line and target visual pieces of cover. Now the clear water guys not that they won’t or don’t catch fish shallow tend to like to fish deeper water with a bit more of a finesse approach with drop shots, shaky heads, Carolina rigs and casting jigs. They are fishing more of a structure spot rather than a piece of cover, though cover on the right structure is the golden needle in the haystack. When fishing a new lake or even your home body of water start with what you have confidence in. If you follow many of the tournaments, you’ll hear two guys looking for completely opposite looking water conditions. The guy that’s use to fishing clear water is generally looking in the midsection of a reservoir down to the dam where as a power fisherman may be running to the upper end of the reservoir that tends to be more river like and have dirty water color. Which one is better to fish, well that’s the great debate.