Years ago, the Arizona Game and Fish Department got a bunch of bass fishermen together, and we all went up to the Black River for some smallmouth fishing. That trip was a blast – they flew us down to the river in helicopters and gave each group a floating net basket. Every smallmouth over 9 inches long went in that basket, and at the end of the day, the helicopter came back and took off with the basket. All those fish went into a tank truck and took a trip down the hill to Saguaro Lake, where they found a new home. Fishing for smallmouth from shore wasn’t something I had done before, but it was awesome. We caught fish all day long, and even if they weren’t all big enough to go in the tank, they were all fun to catch.
Since we were fishing in a relatively shallow river with a decent current, crankbaits weren’t our first choice. We did throw inline spinners, and those worked well – we’d cast them far out into the stream, then crank them back quickly enough that they didn’t get snagged on the bottom. The smallmouth were aggressive enough to grab those things pretty quickly. Another fantastic technique was to split-shot a 4-inch worm on a ReBarb hook. They preferred brighter colors like worms with chartreuse tails or something bright pink. That may vary in your waters. One of the guys with us had a fish break him off, and a lady just downstream caught the same fish and was able to give him back his hook! If you are lucky enough to find a river that has smallmouth and isn’t heavily pressured, you can have the most incredible day of fishing ever.
This same thing happened to us in Wisconsin when we were visiting our Uncle Ralph’s cabin on one of the small lakes that feed into the Chippewa Flowage. This is a substantial 15,300-acre impoundment that you have to see to believe. All around it are tons of little lakes with streams between them. Just down the road from Ralph’s cabin, we hopped out of the car, grabbed our spinning gear, and started catching smallmouth like crazy right next to the highway. Uncle Ralph didn’t have a lot of usable lures – most of his were for musky, but we found some Power Grubs in a tackle shop nearby, and we threw the 3-inch root beer and chartreuse ones on 1/16-ounce jig heads with 4-pound-test. We just threw them out and reeled them back across the current. There was plenty of current, too, so we reeled pretty quickly. Ralph was amazed – I don’t think he even knew there were smallmouth there!
It seems like most of us think of boats when we think of bass fishing, and there’s no doubt that a good bass boat is a fantastic tool, but there are plenty of places where a bass boat can’t go – streams, shallow backwaters, ponds, etc. Also, even on a big bass lake teeming with boats, there can be an advantage to fishing from shore. For starters, a guy fishing from shore will cover an area much more thoroughly than someone just beating the bank in a boat.
Before we got a bass boat (before we got ANY boat, actually), we used to bass fish from shore all the time, especially at night in the summer. We fished Lake Pleasant a lot, and the urban lakes were stocked with bass, trout, and catfish. Shore fishing is a lot of fun. We’d take a cooler, some icy cold sodas, a lantern, and some basic tackle and spend a few hours fishing and having a good time. I did learn some things that make shore fishing more fun and a lot more comfortable.
You’re apt to walk the bank quite often, which can mean vegetation, even in the desert. Generally speaking, vegetation means bugs. Wear insect repellent, and bring it with you so you can refresh it as needed. I’ll never forget the chiggers I got from wandering around in the brush at Arivaca lake in southern Arizona. If you are fishing at night, you’ll need good light so you don’t fall over things. One that straps around your head will keep your hands free for unhooking fish, tying on, etc. We always wore a cap, even at night, with a headlamp strapped over the hat, or we’d use those little lights that clip to the underside of the brim. If you’re night fishing and you plan to stay where you are, for instance, fishing from a dock or a pier, you might want to invest in black light and use mono that glows under black light. It makes it easier to see the bites and where your line is.
I live in the desert, but I wear long pants for shore fishing, even in the summer. They help keep the bugs away, intercept any flying lures, and keep my legs from getting scratched and sliced by branches. Long sleeves are also handy – you can get nice cool fishing shirts with ventilation and sun protection. At night, long pants and sleeves keep those annoying gnats off your skin and make life easier. I also wear sturdy shoes that can handle getting wet because now and then, I like to wade out into the drink to get that lure just a little further out. I also keep my phone in a waterproof case because I’ve fallen more than once. I don’t mind getting wet, but my phone hates it.
The one thing that boat fishermen have that I’m jealous of is storage. They can carry thousands of baits with them, but a shore fisherman is much more limited. This can be a good thing – you don’t have to spend much time deciding what to throw when you have a few things. If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in one place, you can carry a larger tackle box, but even that is dictated by how much you can carry. Don’t forget that in addition to your tackle, you’ve got rods to carry and anything you want to have along to eat and drink. Something to sit on is nice, too, unless the lake you’re going to has fishing piers with seating.
You must pare it down if you’re planning to walk the bank. I carry a small backpack with food and drinks, basic first aid, water, etc., but I try to carry my tackle up front, so it’s easy to get to when I need it. If you look at fishing tackle chest packs, you’ll see they have lots of great gear for guys walking the bank. These strap on and often unzip so the front drops open for easy access to a box or two like a Plano Stowaway, and they also have room for bags of hooks and other terminal tackle you might need. You can also get rod carriers. I prefer a one-piece rod, so I don’t have to re-tie every time I get where I’m going, but if you are walking a long way to a particular spot, a two-piece rod is sure a lot easier to carry, especially if there are a lot of overhanging branches along the way.
I haven’t covered much in the way of techniques because you fish for bass from shore the same way you fish for them from a boat. If you watch the bass fishermen, they usually get right up next to shore and cast parallel to the bank. One thing I do find invaluable is an actual paper map of the lake. Get one if a good topo map is available for the lake you’re fishing. It will help you pinpoint the best spots to fish. Look for long points that run out to deep water, channels that swing close to shore, especially with a flat area from shore to the drop-off, rock piles, old structures, etc. If you’re fishing a stream or a river, a deeper pool at the end of a riffle is usually a great spot, and so are those calm backwaters you find now and then. In spring, look for spawning flats; in summer and winter, look for steeper banks near feeding flats. Under a bridge is good almost any time of year.
With a minimal investment in gear and tackle, you can start catching bass from shore any time of year. You can even get to hot spots that a bass boat can’t navigate, and you’ll often have those places to yourself. Take your kids with you, and give it a try.
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