These days I do most of my fishing from a fully-rigged 21-foot bass boat powered by a 225 horsepower outboard. Does the rig help me catch fish? Absolutely! I still do a fair amount fishing from shore, however, and before I owned any type of boat, I spent countless hours over many years on the bank. Do I catch fish? Absolutely!
For serious anglers whose goal it is to catch fish—every time—shore fishing requires more than a “pole-and-bucket” mentality. The equipment, approach, and primarily the location, you choose all should be part of an overall game plan.
Think about boat anglers for a minute. Though they have the run of the lake, many successful fishermen spend most of their time targeting shoreline cover. That means you, too, can get within casting range of plenty of fish, not only during the spawning seasons when shallow-water action is hottest, but well into late spring and summer because bass, bluegills, catfish, walleyes and other gamefish often haunt cover near the bank.
Fishing farm ponds, strip pits and rock quarries, for example, is sure to put you in touch with bass, panfish and cats. You can walk and cast around the entire shoreline of many of these micro fisheries. Lakes bordered by state and national parks and forests are also kind to bank fishermen because they offer easy access to the shoreline.
Dams and causeways are open to bank fishermen on many waters, and a variety of fish make a good living along these riprap shorelines. Likewise, bridges, culverts and creek mouths let you cast into and around a funnel of flowing water that many times drops into a deeper pool. The combination of depth and moving water attracts fish the way the Golden Arches lure hungry teen-agers.
Wherever you live, you can find places like these, though sometimes it takes a bit of scouting. Fortunately, it’s not as difficult as it once was. Many state and county maps that identify public parks, forests and other lands are available commercially, or through local government outlets. Go to your state or county website, or click on NAFC Links at fisingclub.com for more information.
Take What You Need
The one inescapable fact about shore fishing is that you’ll have to carry your equipment to your fishing area. If it’s a short distance from where you park the vehicle, and you plan to remain relatively stationary, the concern isn’t as great.
If you’re like me, however, you constantly move down the bank as you fish, so plan your equipment list accordingly. Take only one rod, since you can only cast one at a time, and backtracking to fetch those you leave behind, is a pain.
When I target bass on a lake that has ample shoreline cover, I carry a rod that serves a number of purposes—a 7-foot Team All Star medium-heavy rod matched with a Pflueger Supreme baitcaster filled with 14- or 17-pound Silver Thread mono. The length allows long casts, and it’s stiff enough to bury the hook of a jig, Texas-rigged worm, soft stickbait and the like, yet it has enough tip action for spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. Add a Scum Frog to the mix, and you have my essential bass baits for bank fishing.
All of them are weedless, which is no accident. I don’t cast lures with trebles to heavy cover from the bank because I don’t want to waste time cleaning them off, or worse, kiss them goodbye on a snag.
On clear-water lakes with little shoreline cover, I choose a 7-foot medium- action spinning outfit with 8-pound mono. It nicely serves up finesse Texas-rigged worms, jig worms, poppers, jerkbaits, light spinnerbaits, and small crankbaits, which are the lures I use in this type of environment since there’s little cover on which to snag a treble hook.
This rod also doubles for panfish. Throw in a variety of floats, split shot, small hooks, tiny jigs, inline spinners and crankbaits and you’re set for bluegills, crappies and redears.
For all-out panfishing, however, I recommend an extra-long rod, capable of throwing light baits a long way—those like Fenwick’s HMXS 90L or Shimano’s CPSM902LB or Quantum’s 9-foot Xtra-Lite Todd Huckabee rod—strung with 8-pound mono. They will sling slip floats far enough to reach crappies and bluegills well away from the bank.
Finally, you can elevate your odds for success by following a couple simple guidelines: be stealthy in your approach and fish each spot thoroughly.
I always wear subdued colors and sometimes even don camouflage clothing to blend in with the background. I sneak along the shoreline with light footfalls, sometimes casting from my knees or from behind the cover of a bush or tree trunk. If you blunder along the bank, or remain conspicuously silhouetted, you’ll spook the very fish you’re trying to catch.
The second part of the equation is to fish smart. Even if you can move along a shoreline, your total fishing area will probably be limited so you should fish every part of a weedbed, point, dock or inlet. It may mean changing baits and presentations, but you’ll have more success in the long run.
When targeting largemouths from shore, I start with a lure that best matches the cover I find along the bank. On a farm pond with a mucky bottom, for example, I often cast a weightless Yum Dinger or other soft stickbait. The slow-sinking lure is practically irresistible to shallow bass, and bottom scum doesn’t glom onto it as it does to jigs and worms. It’s also much less inclined to snag along riprap banks.
Spinnerbaits and buzzbaits are my first choice around boat docks. I generally begin by working over the corners and sides, targeting aggressive fish. To entice less active fish, I follow up with a Texas-rigged worm, then finish by skipping a soft stickbait underneath, and I never overlook the walkway.
Spinnerbaits and plastic worms are the most versatile baits a shore angler has. I can bulge the spinnerbait just under the surface over cover, run it next to cover at a medium pace, or slow-roll it through tree limbs and submerged grass. I rarely fish it deeper than five feet when casting from the bank, but I can if I need to.
A Texas-rigged worm is one of the most snag-free lures ever. You can fish it effectively in almost any cover and at any depth. I use the lightest weight that lets me maintain bottom contact, whatever the depth, current or wind conditions.
When fishing a matted grassbed near shore, I usually start with a hollow plastic frog like the Scum Frog. An ideal situation is when you have an open area between the bank and vegetation. I cast the frog onto the grass, then twitch it off the inside edge into open water. If that doesn’t get results, I cast a soft stickbait to the edge.
Riprap banks can be difficult to negotiate for a shore fisherman, but they can be worth the trouble. I’ll start by casting a buzzbait along the rocks, as parallel to the shoreline as possible. This targets active bass cruising the riprap in search of crayfish and baitfish. Then, I’ll cast a spinnerbait at a 45-degree angle to the rocks and slow-roll it back, followed by a soft stickbait, again at 45 degrees.
My final strategy for attacking riprap is to cast a jig or a Texas-rigged worm straight out from the bank, beyond the rubble, and hop it to the deep edge. At that point, I jump the bait once or twice and reel it in. If you work it all the way back, you’ll snag too often.
Close Quarters Panfish
Bluegills spawn several times a season, so it’s not uncommon to find bedded ’gills throughout the summer, especially around full-moon periods. My favorite method for bedded bluegills from the bank is dragging a nymph behind a quarter-size round plastic float.
I tie the 8-pound line from my spinning rod to the top of the float and a 2-foot, 2-pound test leader to the bottom.
I cast beyond the beds and slowly pull the nymph over the ’gills. The bobber gets their attention, and they can’t resist the tiny nymph trailing along behind it.
The size and color of the nymph is more important than the pattern. I bring black, brown and cream colored nymphs tied onto No. 12 and No. 14 hooks. Don’t wait for the float to go under or the bluegill will spit the nymph before you set the hook. Sweep the rod back the instant you see it twitch or stop.
When ’gills aren’t spawning, look for them around docks woody cover and grass edges. The float-and-nymph works well in these situations, as do small in-line spinners and jigs, including spinner jigs like the Johnson Beetle Spin or Road Runner.
I favor a slip float and jig combination when I’m targeting crappies because I can set it for any depth. I usually rig an 1/8-ounce Crappie Pro jig dressed with a 11/2-inch tube and add enough split shot 12 inches above the jig to offset the buoyancy of the slip float.
When I’m casting to deeper water, I go with a long-stem waggler float, with an aerodynamic shape that sails through the air. I often rig a second 1/8-ounce tube jig a foot above the first when I fish deep water. That doubles my odds, and allows me to fish different colors.
Fishing from shore may be just one option for some anglers; for others, it’s the only option. Whatever your situation, you can be more successful by zeroing in on a species, then forming a game plan. The extra work will pay off in higher catch rates.