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Written By: Cal Kellogg, December 20, 2011
The entire shoreline was steep and made up of decomposing granite. Just ahead of me there was a horseshoe shaped cut that was even steeper than the rest of the bank, falling away at a near vertical angle. About 15 yards out in front of the cut was a single leaf studded willow tree.
Since it was the middle of April, I knew there was a good chance that there would be one or more spawning bass holding around the tree. My spinning rod was armed with a 4 inch smoke colored lizard on a split shot rig. Moving down to the near edge of the cut, I fired a cast beyond the tree and allowed the bait to settle to the bottom.
After the lizard came to a rest, I started slowly inching it across the bottom. The bait had probably covered two or three yards, when the rod tip signaled a rubbery pull down. In my experience when a small bass takes a soft plastic, the bite is typically signaled by a series of sharp ticks or taps. In contrast when the bass doing the biting is large the strike is generally conveyed as weighty rubbery pull…
Reeling down, I snapped the rod tip upward and the rod immediately drew into a satisfying arch. For a split second the bass didn’t move an inch and I knew it was a good fish. When the bass took off it headed directly for the tree and I gritted my teeth as 8 pound P-Line flowed off the spool. The bass made it to the tree and I could feel the line grating against bark and branches.
All I could do was keep the line tight and hope. The tactic worked and a beat later the bass abandoned the tree for open water. For the next two or three minutes the bass swam back and forth shaking it’s head against the energy robbing resistance of the spinning rod. When the pot bellied largemouth materialized a yard or so from the bank, it made one half hearted jump before I got it in a left handed lip lock. My old, marginally accurate at best spring scale, said that the bass weighed in at just over 6 pounds.
Whether the bass actually weighed over 6 pounds I can’t say for sure, but it was one husky Folsom Lake bucket mouth. Catching a bass like that from a boat is thrill to be remembered and recounted, yet when you land a big girl like that while bank fishing the event is even more exciting and meaningful.
For a long time I did all my bass fishing from the bank. This spring I plan on getting in touch with my roots, by once again doing the lion’s share of my bassing with terra firma underfoot, rather than aluminum or fiberglass. If you are a bank bound angler that has never fished for bass or an experienced bass boater looking for an increased challenge and little extra exercise, I invite you to join me.
There are two limiting factors when it comes to bank fishing for bass. First, the amount of area you can cover is limited both by how far you can hike and how far you can cast off shore. Sure that submerged offshore hump may be home to dozens of bass, but if you can’t reach it with a cast you can’t catch them.
The second limiting factor is the amount of gear you can carry. When I’m in a boat, I carry a ton of gear and routinely have 4 to 6 pre-rigged rods to choose from. When bank fishing you’ve got to choose your gear carefully, leaving all the nonessentials at home.
So what do you need and how do you carry it? The specific answers to these questions depends on your individual bass fishing style, but the basic philosophy is pretty much the same for all anglers.
When you think about it, there are really two different types of bass lures. On one hand there are reaction baits, such as spinnerbaits that draw strikes from active fish. At the other end of the spectrum there are slow moving impressionistic baits such as jigs that stay in the strike zone and have the ability to tempt bites from nonactive bass.
Since the bank angler will only be able to fish a limited amount of area, it is important to fish the water thoroughly. This means that you’ll want to work each spot with both reaction baits and slower moving offerings for maximum efficiency.
For this reason I carry both a bait caster and a spinning rod when banking. The bait caster is used for working reaction baits, while the spinning rod is employed for working the finesse stuff.
When it comes to selecting lures things get personal. For example, a lot of bank bound anglers like to throw spinnerbaits. I know that spinnerbait are fine offerings that are capable of catching bass all year long, yet I seldom if ever carry one. Why? I don’t get many strikes on them and as a result it is tough for me to use them with confidence.
In terms of reaction baits I carry a small collection of baits that allow me to work a variety of depths. One of my all time most productive reaction baits has been the vibrating crankbait. They can be allowed to sink to any depth and their ample vibration and flash draw bass from long distances.
To my vibrating cranks, I add a few standard cranks, a few suspending jerkbaits and a couple walking topwater baits such as spooks or River2Sea Rovers. On days when I’m feeling especially ambitious. I’ll often leave my reaction bait box at home and replace it with a couple monster swimbaits. Of course this means that I also have to ditch my standard bait caster and replace it with a beefy flipping stick.
My reaction bait assortment is balanced with a large zip lock freezer bag containing my slow moving stuff such as soft plastics and jigs along with a small compartment box containing worm hooks, darter heads, split shot, bullet weights beads and swivels.
I’ve caught more bass while bank fishing on 4 and 6 inch plastic worms than on all other baits combined, and my soft plastic selection reflects this reality. In addition to worms I carry a few lizards, some creature baits and of course a pack or two of Senkos.
Originally I used to tote all my gear in a hard plastic tackle box, but I soon found it to be clumsy and difficult to carry when the footing got tough. A small daypack is a much better choice. Not only does a daypack allow you to carry all the lures you’ll need, but you can add other essentials like water, lunch, sunscreen, bug repellent or even a lightweight windbreaker. Before I touch on fishing strategy, I’d like mention the bank angler’s most essential piece of gear…Shoes! When bank fishing you are going to encounter all sorts of terrain from flat muddy areas to steep rocky areas and everything else in between. You don’t want to take on these terrain variations wearing sneakers.
Sneakers offer poor traction, no ankle support and won’t keep out water. Instead of donning those old sneakers and ending up miserable after only a couple hours at the lake, invest in a quality pair of Gortex lined hiking boats with an aggressive tread design. When you find yourself two or three mile from the truck you’ll be glad you did.
As I mentioned earlier, the bank angler must cover water thoroughly, but that doesn’t mean that you robotically cover every inch of water that presents itself. Obviously long flats that feature little in the way of cover offer only a small chance for success. While it is true the bank angler wants to cover water thoroughly, you also want to focus your efforts on high percentage areas.
To me a high percentage area is any spot or stretch of bank that offers cover, structure or variation in depth. A spot that combines more than one of these qualities such as a partially submerged tree adjacent to deep water, is especially attractive. Over the years I’ve had phenomenal luck fishing near isolated trees and brush, rocky points and areas where tributaries flow into the main lake.
Well there you have it. I’ve outlined the basics, now it is up to you to learn the specifics. With the run and gun opportunities a boat offers off the table, bank fishing forces you to become intimately familiar with both the areas bass like to frequent and bass behavior in general.
I can’t wait for the blossoms to start popping out on foothill fruit trees, signaling the beginning of good spring bank action. I know I’m going to catch some feisty bass, but more importantly the experience is going to make me a better bass angler!
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