“It takes a little time and effort to access,” Lawrence Taylor says about one of his favorite bank- fishing spots at a lake near his Arkansas home, “but when we get there we always have it to ourselves, and the fish act like they’ve never seen a lure.”
As public relations director for Yum Bait Co., he’s part of a unique group of anglers. His job takes him all over the country to fish with top tournament pros, usually from the deck of a $50,000 ’glass boat, on the continent’s best-known waters.
But when he’s not on the road, Taylor prefers to grab his 6-year-old son, Hunter, and “take it to the bank.” The shoreline approach affords them quick access to close-to-home, fish-filled waters, at least one of which cannot be accessed at all with a boat.
He’s certainly not alone. The fishing industry is filled with guys who work similar positions and rub elbows with fishing’s elite on a daily basis. But when they’re off the clock, these same guys often opt to fish from the bank. Where they differ from the masses is that they’re armed with years of first-hand experience fishing with the best of the best, and they use that knowledge to home in on the best spots a shoreline has to offer, and they fish them in the most effective ways. Learn from their examples, and you can do the same.
Lessons From The Road
An avid angler who goes after everything that swims, Taylor has done extensive bank fishing over the years. Time has taught him the value of packing light, as well as little details like the importance of carrying surface lures and weedless offerings that he can pull across grass and other cover that often rims a lake.
Gary Dollahon of Tulsa, Oklahoma, another public relations pro, is an all-species angler who spends a lot of time beating the bank. He puts a premium on downsizing gear But he’s not just talking about packing light—he actually opts for smaller presentations.
“Go with smaller, finesse-type baits because the shallows are almost always loaded with smaller types of forage than you’ll find in deeper main-lake spots,” he says. “Going small will increase your odds of putting fish on the bank.”
One of his favorite shoreline setups is a variation on the float-and-fly.
“I take a 3-inch Bobby Garland Slab Slay’R and thread it onto a1 / 8 -ounce jig-head tied to a 6-pound main line with a loop knot,” he says. “I snap a crappie- style float about 15 inches above it and start walking the bank. I cast in and around cover, but always close to shore, and give the rig short, subtle pops.”
Most important to Taylor is an understanding of the types of spots that hold concentrations of fish and lend themselves to bank fishing. Knowing the kinds of features that produce consistently helps him figure out the best specific spots on any new lake.
“When you’re bank fishing, you obviously can’t just start the boat and run to another area, so it’s important to think about where you are going to fish,” he says. “I’ll study a map and pick a milk run of spots I can access by car.”
T.J. Stallings, who handles public relations for Tru-Turn and Blakemore Road Runner, cut his angling teeth in Florida, where his dad ran a bait and tackle shop. He uses a shore-fishing approach that facilitates hitting multiple lakes in a short period of time.
“Bank fishing in Central Florida is like a buffet,” he says. “Most lakes are only a mile apart and you can hop from one to the other. I’ve fished three lakes in one morning, hitting the high spots at each, and have had spectacular results.”
Taylor commonly locates his favorite spots through online research, often by looking at satellite images of the lake on Google Earth. He actually found one of his favorite shore-fishing spots, a stump- covered flat, on an archived image of the lake that had been taken during a drought year, when the lake level was down.
“I learned a tremendous amount from that old picture,” he says.
Old aerial images can also reveal shoals, sandbars and flats, along with the general lay of the lake. Taylor compares images to any lake map he can find, both to look at topography and to identify public access points near key features. Of course, the real survey doesn’t start till he looks at a spot in person, but he dramatically improves his odds of finding the best spots by doing recon at home and limiting his on-the-ground search to high-percentage locations.
One of Taylor’s favorite spots is at the mouth of a tributary, and he believes the influx of fresh water keeps baitfish and bass alike in the area. Creek outlets aren’t bass-specific, though, and they don’t have to be major feeders to be bankfishing hotspots. Anywhere that a creek of any size joins a larger body of water warrants at least a closer look, if not some dedicated fishing time.
Currents from tributary outflows do the double duty of scouring holes and depositing soil to form deltas where they slow. Often a shallow bar and deep hole are side-by-side. Depending on the terrain, current and soil type, the break between the two might be several feet or only inches. Either way, fish will hold along that edge, which is usually accessible from the shore. Often a current edge runs along roughly the same line, making that zone doubly appealing.
The downside to working such spots from the shore is that fish tend to position facing upcurrent and baits usually cannot be worked downcurrent from a shoreline angle. When currents are significant, an excellent solution is to simply drift baits downstream. Taylor also likes to cast cross-current with a large, high-floating topwater.
Almost all bridges that offer public access from at least one spot provide bank fishing virtue because of the cover created by the bridge supports, current breaks and the shadows cast by the structure. The best bridges tend to be coupled with causeways, which funnel wind, current and fish travel routes under the bridge span while simultaneously offering long sections of riprap along the actual causeways.
Riprap is, obviously, a fish magnet, and Taylor fishes it extensively, casting parallel to the sloping banks. He always keeps an eye out for irregularities—any little indention or point in the riprap, change in the type of rock, or shift in the slope of the bank will hold fish.
The prime fish-catching zones around most causeways tend to be near the corners where the banks begin turning under the bridge. The best corner might depend on a the current direction or the orientation of the channel edge—or the spot might shift according to the direction of the wind or the position of the sun and corresponding shadows.
Beginning with the obvious, points extend the reach of a bank angler’s casts, putting them closer to channels and within reach of a wider range of depths than most other spots along shore—sort of like natural fishing piers. That’s just the beginning, though. Whether an angler fishes from a boat or the bank, points rank among the best fish-holding features in every water because they bridge depths and often serve as transitions between bays, creeks or coves and bigger expanses of water.
Not all points are created equal, though, and hydrographic map can be a huge asset for identifying the most productive ones. An angler can eye the general slope of point and its make-up, both of which can be important, but a lake map shows how the structure continues underwater, how near the channel swings to the point and how a point relates to the rest of the lake.
Dollahon especially likes points on windy days because they break the breeze and wave action, creating great feeding zones.
“Many times an incoming wind will actually create what will look like current going upwind and away from the point. That’s caused as the waves ricochet off it,” he says. “The transition area of this wind-break is a great spot for fish to lie in ambush and usually accommodates many fish competing for a meal. It’s a great place and time to throw a jig and work it from deep to shallow along the sides of the structure.”
Beyond the fish-holding benefits of current, current breaks, abundant cover, concentrated baitfish and well-aerated water (to name a few), the waters below many dams offer shoreline access to hotspots that boaters cannot reach or have trouble setting up to fish effectively. A stationary position commonly provides an advantage for identifying fish-holding current lines and making presentations accordingly.
Current seams and breaks are the keys to tailwater fishing, and if water isn’t running, the best plan generally is to move to another spot. Gamefish of most kinds hold along current edges and in eddies formed by submerged boulders, cuts in the banks or concrete structures, and anglers need to put lures or natural offerings in front of those fish.
Because shad and other baitfish tend to be highly abundant in tailwaters, white bucktails and similar lures that imitate them, as well as live baits drifted in the current under floats or bounced along the bottom with three-way rigs, are tough to top—for a variety of species.
Bank Slope Changes
A sometimes subtle but critically important type of feature to look for along the banks of a river or lake is a change in the slope of the bank. Where the bank shifts from almost flat to steep—like a bluff bank—that elevation change usually extends well out into the water, and fish hold along the edge.
“While a high bank may be harder to fish from, it’s a great clue that there is a steep drop-off at that edge,” Stallings points out.
Dollahon dissects such areas by casting from both the steep and flat sides.
“Position yourself so that your casts cross the transition zone between the two areas. A medium-diving, square-billed crankbait with rattle is a good option for covering water and the wide range of depths you’ll pull your bait through on every cast,” he says. “Make long casts parallel to and near the shoreline; hold the rodtip down to make the crank bump any rocks and stir up the bottom.”
Such areas which can be spotted with topo maps or aerial images, vary from sharp to gradual, and each variety has its virtues. Quick shifts are easier to fish effectively because likely holding areas are nicely defined along sharp breaks.
However,banks that slope more gradually often flank bigger fish-holding areas and lend themselves to more thorough fishing.
Take It To The Bank
Although it’s certainly easier to access a wider variety of spots from a boat, fishing from shore can be every bit as productive. These experts’ experiences prove it. You just need to devote a little extra recon and attention to detail. The rewards are well worth it!
Top Destinations: No Boat Needed!
Niagara River, New York: Fabulous populations of bass, salmon, trout, muskies and more run together in the Niagara River, and anglers enjoy outstanding shoreline access through much of the river gorge.
Boca Grande, Florida: State park beaches and a bay-side fishing pier provide access to Charlotte Harbor, the Gulf of Mexico and legendary Boca Grande Pass, which connects the harbor to the Gulf. Shore anglers are apt to catch everything from seatrout to tarpon.
Lake Pymatuning, Pennsylvania: Virtually every bit of shoreline surrounding this big flatland reservoir is open to pubic fishing and most is easily to access. Popular species include walleyes, crappies, catfish, bluegills and muskies.
Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma: The entire culture surrounding this massive lake revolves around crappie fishing every spring, when the fish move shallow, and thousands of anglers enjoy great fishing from the shore.
Eastern Sierra, California: Dozens of spectacularly scenic, high-country lakes stay loaded with trout (including some very large ones), and most offer outstanding shoreline access. Anglers can easily drive from lake to lake until they find the hottest bite on any given day.
Best New Stuff For Bank Fishermen
Plano Bucket-Top StowAway: This cool insert-type topper fits pretty much any 5-gallon bucket, and it includes 18 compartments split into two layers for keeping hooks, lures and various accessories nicely sorted and readily accessible.
Heddon One-Knocker Zara Spook: Whenmobility is limited, anglers need a bait thatwill call fish from afar, and the One-Knocker Spook’sdistinctive single-ball sound is well-suited.
Berkley Gulp! Alive 1-inch Minnows: These little softbait minnows offer the virtues of live bait without the need to carry a bucket filled with water when covering ground between bank-access spots.
Alpen Zoom binoculars: Bank fishermen havelimited mobility, which makes every decision count. Binoculars like these, which are waterproof and light-weight, allow an angler to sweep the surfacein search moving baitfish or zoom in on a possible newspot before packing up and making a move.
Lindy Fish Handling Glove: When toting a landing net isn’t practical, it’s nice not having to worry about getting jabbed or sliced by a gillplate, tooth or fin spine. Lindys Fish Handling Glove eliminates such concerns.
See The Light—Feel No Bites
Arguably the best all-around times to fish from the bank are dawn and dusk, when many fish species move into shallow near- shore waters to feed.
Problem is that’s also when biting insects are at their worst. Plus, the lack of light makes the simplest of fishing tasks much more difficult.
The staff at Club Headquarters recently got a firsthand look at something that solves both problems: the new ThermaCell Mosquito Repellent Outdoor Lantern. Like the original personal-size ThermaCell unit, the lantern uses a butane cartridge to activate a repellent mat that keeps mosquitoes, black flies and no-see-ums out of a 225 square-foot area for up to 12 hours. Meanwhile the lantern’s eight LED lights, powered by four AA batteries, kick out ample illumination for tying knots, unhooking fish and managing gear. The $29.99 price is right, too. You’d be hard pressed to find a bottle of standard bug dope and a decent flashlight for the same amount of cash.—NAFC Staff
Currents from tributary outflows scour holes and redeposit sediment, creating deltas. Often fish hold along the edges of these two types of structure, as well as near any cover, such as laydowns. Fish these spots by drifting baits downstream into holes and along shallow shoals, or cast a large top- water cross-current.
Bridges with riprapped causeways funnel wind, current and fish travel routes within range of shore anglers. The best spots are points and cuts in the riprap, as well as where the causeway juts out from shore to extend underneath the bridge.
Points are obvious bank fishing spots, as they allow anglers to hit a wide range of depths, and the structure itself attracts numbers of fish. But they’re best when buffetted by a prevailing wind. Active gamefish wait in ambush in the narrow zone where wind-blown current reverses onto itself as it deflects off the point. Fish bottom-oriented presentations from deep to shallow along the sides of the structure.
Tailwaters large and small offer almost innumerable targets for shore anglers. Current breaks and eddies, whether caused by boulders, concrete current deflectors, laydowns or cuts in the bank, hold fish. As a general rule, if they’re not pulling water through the dam, choose another spot that day.
Bank Slope Changes
When you see a steep bluff bank that quickly dropsand flattens into a gradually sloping shoreline, zero in on it. The same rapid contour often continues out from bank, with deep water falling in front of the bluff with a long, shallow flat adjacent to it. Fish often hold on the transition zone between the two; more active fish will feed on the flat, whereas neutral to negative fish will head down the breakline into deeper water. Attack such structure from several angles—both atop the bluff and from the shallow side—until you pinpoint fish.