Bank Fishing for Big Bass
Even when you have a boat, sometimes it's best to beach your craft and cast from shore in order to fish an area more thoroughly. Big catches often result. (Keith Sutton photo)
I remember the spot like I was there just yesterday—a scenic cove on a beautiful, back-forty farm pond.
In shallow water along the bank, willows grew. Beyond the willows, in slightly deeper water, were many inundated stumps and logs. Big largemouth bass haunted this cover-filled flat. I knew because I had caught numerous 4-, 5- and 6-pounders there. I was certain, however, that even bigger bass swam there.
Back in those days, I didn’t have a boat from which to fish. But I probably wouldn’t have used a boat even if I had one. There was no vehicle access, so bringing a boat to the pond would have been difficult at best. Besides, no boat was needed. I could walk the path to the pond and be fishing from its banks in minutes.
A foot trail circled the water, and at regular intervals, there were openings in the bankside brush where I could stand and cast. Often as not, I fished with a Crème worm or Lucky 13. And often as not, five to 10 bass would fall for these offerings each day.
The biggest bass always seemed to elude me, however. I saw one occasionally, exploding beneath a school of shad or coming up to snatch a bullfrog or water snake from the amber water’s surface. But always, they were beyond reach. Even when I waded out waist-deep, I couldn’t quite cast to the stumps and logs where I knew they lived.
All that changed when I bought a new 7-foot bass rod. My old 6-footer didn’t have enough oomph to shoot a lure to the flat’s edge. But when I loaded the 7-footer on my backswing, it would fire a topwater plug or plastic worm just beyond the outermost stumps. I snagged and lost a few lures before I could cast it with any precision, but soon I could put a lure where I wanted it. And where I wanted it was beside a big stump where I had often seen lunkers blowing up on bait.
I launched the Lucky 13 just beyond the stump and let it sit. Nothing happened. I let it sit some more. Still nothing. Then I twitched the lure, ever so slightly.
Have you ever stood on a bridge and dropped a big rock into the water below? Do you remember the big suckhole the rock made as it plummeted beneath the surface? And the geyser of water that shot up immediately afterward? When the hawg hit my Lucky 13, it looked like that.
The bass sucked the lure so far down there was no way she could spit it out. She darn sure tried though. Again and again, she jumped. Each time she broke the surface, she shook her big head like a terrier shaking a rat.
When I finally I landed her, I was shaking, too. I had never seen a bass so big. I fumbled around for my Zebco De Liar and hooked it on her lip. I lifted her carefully and eyed the little bar above the compressed spring. Eight pounds even, it showed—a nice largemouth in anybody’s book.
I cradled the bass in the water, gingerly removed the plug, then turned her head toward the stump and watched her swim away.
A few days later, I stood in the same spot and caught 14 bass that weighed a total of 62 pounds. I’ve never had a better afternoon of bass fishing.
The point of this story is quite simple: you don’t need a boat to enjoy bass fishing.
Certainly I would love to own a big, shiny bass boat with comfortable seats and a casting deck and a fast outboard. But I don’t, and I probably never will. During the 45 years I’ve spent fishing for bass from the banks, however, I haven’t noticed that the lack of a boat ever hindered me in my search for lunkers. If you’re a shorebound angler, you shouldn’t let it hinder you either. In fact, if you do own a boat, there are times when you’ll do well to leave it at home and fish from shore.
Why fish from shore?
Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of necessity. We can’t afford a boat. We don’t have a place to store one. We don’t have a vehicle to pull one.
Sometimes it’s a matter of choice. “Why should I spend all that money for a boat and motor?” one of my boatless buddies asks. “I can catch just as many bass from the bank as other guys catch from a boat. While they’re hitching up their boat, checking it over, gassing it up, pulling it to the lake, launching it and running across the water to a good-looking fishing spot, I’m already catching fish. And when they’re dealing with a fussy outboard or bailing water because they forgot to put in the plug, I’m still catching fish and smiling all the while. For me, being a bank fisherman is simply a matter of convenience. I don’t want all the hassle and expense owning a boat requires.”
My own preference for bank fishing is more personal. When I fish, I prefer small, out-of-the-way waters where I can enjoy some peace and quiet. I’d much rather fish a backcountry oxbow lake where I won’t see another soul all day than to fish on a huge reservoir where boats are racing past from dawn to dark. I prefer farm ponds over big lakes, and remote streams over high-traffic rivers. For me, the reasons are primarily aesthetic ones.
In some cases, good bassing waters simply don’t have boat-launching facilities or vehicle access. Sometimes, too, boats aren’t permitted.
For example, in Ouachita National Forest in my home state of Arkansas, the federal government has built many small watershed lakes for erosion control, and many have been stocked with largemouth bass. You could portage a canoe or small boat to one if you had the wherewithal; there are no regulations against it. But it really isn’t necessary. There are plenty of places to fish from shore, and I’ve caught lots of nice bass in these lakes year-round.
We have many city water-supply lakes, too, where boats aren’t permitted. Many also harbor big bucketmouths, but if you want to try for them, you’ll have to stand on the bank or wade the shallows. There are good reasons for fishing these places, nevertheless. I recently watched a youngster catch a 7-pounder using a cane pole and minnow while fishing from the bank of one such lake.
I think bank fishing forces you to be a more thorough angler as well. When your room to maneuver shrinks, you tend to spend more time examining your options and putting maximum effort into each cast. Anglers in boats tend to keep the trolling motor running, moving constantly. And certainly there are benefits to that. But the angler on shore benefits as well by working each bit of cover and structure more thoroughly, taking many bass that would be otherwise missed.
There’s another benefit of bank fishing that shouldn’t be overlooked either. Bank fishing is ideal when youngsters are going with you. The kids don’t have to be saddled with a life jacket every minute. They don’t have to sit still and be quiet, an impossibility for many. And if their attention span is short, they can chase frogs or turtles while you keep fishing.
Yes, bank fishing can be just as fun and effective as fishing from a boat. The recipe for success is quite simple really. Take one scenic shoreline on one pretty lake or pond. Add one angler or several. Warm them in the sun. Toss in a few hard-fighting bass. Season with a blue sky. Stir with a light breeze. Brew as long as possible.
The result will be unforgettable. Try it soon and see.