New to Bottom Contact
For some reason, bottom contact has always eluded me as a fisherman, most likely because the species that I have chased most of my life (wiper, white bass, walleye) are more baitfish oriented. All I ever knew since I was a kid was to just chuck and wind. I am very comfortable using baits top to middle of the water column but never dabbled with bottom contact. So my fishing goal this year was to work on my bottom contact fishing as I have gotten more into bass fishing/using bass fishing techniques for other species. I've got the gear to do so, now I just need the experience and knowledge. From a few trips that I have tried it (keep in mind I'm a shore fisherman) I'm not sure what to do or what not to do. Apparently the fish haven't like it much either as well since I haven't had too many takers besides a big catfish.
Some context about where I fish: most lakes are just man-made reservoirs surrounded by concrete dams that drop at a very gradual rate. Almost no structure/vegetation and the bottom is almost always hard sand. All I pretty much do is cast and drag with the occasional hop and try to get a feel for the bottom.
So just some questions that come to mind...
- Why one bait over another (eg. worm over jig etc)?
- What makes you hop versus drag/stroke/deadstick etc?
- When do you decide to drop the other techniques in favor of bottom contact (and vise versa)?
- How do you interpret the bottom based on what your feeling?
Looking forward to some input!
So many good questions, so I’ll ramble just a bit.
Over the past 10-12 years, I started primarily fishing from shore. I fish every day; I need it like breathing. Just too much work/time to drag myself out on a boat. I fish bottom contact baits probably 40-50% of the time. What you are describing is not completely foreign to me when I’m surf fishing, but it is completely different from what I experience daily in fresh water lakes in FL. They are full of vegetation. When I’m fishing on the bottom, I’m typically initially casting to some target that I suspect is holding fish. Any isolated emergent vegetation, a laydown, under a dock, near or under someone’s boat. I walk banks, but also walk into docks that go out sometimes 30-50 ft into the water. Lots of targets. I let the bait sink and will usually pause. Sometimes they might take it on the fall sometimes they may take it 20 sec after the fall. Sometimes if you bounce the bait too fast they won’t take it at all. Sometimes they want you to bounce it within 10 seconds after the initial fall or they’ll ignore it. The behaviors vary widely and I usually need to spend some time to figure out the pattern. I find that these patterns may last a few days or until a new front comes through and then it’s times to figure it out all over again. I’ll bounce by lifting the rod tip and letting the bait fall back in place. I’ll try this gently initially just in case they are in a spooky mood and then proceed more briskly. Sometimes all they need is an ever so gentle lift. Sometimes they want that bait to pop up fast. These are sometimes mutually exclusive meaning if you do it one way they’ll ignore you until you switch. Some guys will pitch to a spot, work the bait a while and the reel it in and start over. That works for them. I’ll bounce or sweep it all the way back to me and start over. It’s a much slower way of fishing than with a moving bait and requires the right mood and concentration. Other then bouncing, I’ll also gently sweep a bait up and toward me and then let fall. I’ll reel in after the fall and then sweep again. I’ll pause between sweeps. Sometimes bites come at the beginning of the sweep, but usually on the fall.
The situation that you describe with no obvious targets would drive me nuts. I can read grass types, hard bottom, shell beds, various structure because it’s all there and it all feels very different. I sometimes try to fish for snook with a jig on the beach and it’s hard. Guys do it with success and sometimes it’s the best way. But with no obvious targets or structure changes to feel, it’s like going blind to me. Of course, there’s the possibility of site fishing then. So I usually default to moving baits in the surf.
I think you are going to have to figure out transition zones to target on your lakes. Either a slight dip in elevation, obvious holes, or even changes from smaller to larger gravel. You could target those and then try working the bait various ways along those transitions. You could figure out those transitions by either surveying your banks with a boat with sonar or looking at google earth images. I’ve figured out bank architecture on lakes I was unfamiliar with using google earth.
If I were recommending a bait for someone who’s just starting out with bottom contact from the bank, I’d say you can’t go wrong with a senko style stickworm. The fall on those will generate strikes always. After you get confidence with a senko, id move to a little jig. Sometimes they want the jig with bigger profile, faster fall, shorter bounces. But often a stick bait is all you need. You might have to add weight to your senko, but a 3/8 oz stickbait near shore without additional is often fine without additional weight.
Make sure to use fluorocarbon even if that’s not your line of choice. You feel slack line bites on fluro like no other line type. It’s not even close and that type of sensitivity is needed. Depending on their mood, a bass can slurp up a bait ever so gently. It’s not missing bites that will suck, it’s setting a hook into the gut of an otherwise perfectly healthy fish that will suck. That fish will likely never be the same even if you carefully remove the hook from behind the gills.
I’ll probably think of something else to look ramble on later.
How do I choose bottom contact? Usually it’s my first choice in ultra still glass water or under 15mph+ wind. Second, if I chuck and wind for 15-25 min without a bite, I know it’s time to try something else.
The situation that you describe with no obvious targets would drive me nuts. I can read grass types, hard bottom, shell beds, various structure because it’s all there and it all feels very different. I sometimes try to fish for snook with a jig on the beach and it’s hard. Guys do it with success and sometimes it’s the best way. But with no obvious targets or structure changes to feel, it’s like going blind to me. Of course, there’s the possibility of site fishing then.
I appreciate the input! I know the best answer would probably be "time on the water" but any piece of info is great.
Here is a picture of one lake I often fish on a low water level year for more context. Keep in mind it's not really a bass lake but I usually use bass fishing techniques here to aim for the wiper/walleye. As you can see...not much here.
@pkn8 Yeah wow; seems tough. A pro angler might sugggest to try to find some piles of larger isolated chunk rock and to throw a football jig at it. This type of water is well outside my wheelhouse. Maybe some reservoir specialists will chime in.
I relocated from NJ to SC. Most of what I fished was small ponds, small dammed creeks with a couple of small reservoirs. I fish a small 1000 acre reservoir now. Before, it was baitfish, sunnies, yellow perch, crawfish and terrestrial stuff. Now, I had about 75% shad, 15% craws, 10% everything else.
NJ was rock, stone, riprap, dirt, sand, clay. SC is 95% clay, 5% everything else. If you’re thinking I was a fish out of water, you’re right. The first thing I did was divide the lake into areas. One area per year. It took six years to do the lake at one/two trips per week.
It took 6 years to catch a 5 fish limit of bass. I caught some nice bass, some really nice bass but could never do numbers.
I was also learning which tackle I was still able to use and which was useless. That was an expensive education. My first Eureka moment was figuring out my $99 Humminbird Depth Finder wasn’t going to serve my purposes, so I picked up a HELIX 5, good enough.
So my first 3 suggestions:
Look out the lake and form a plan.
Separate the usable from the non-usable tackle.
Think about one piece of NON tackle equipment that will help your situation.
More to follow.
Responding in order of your questions, and unfortunately, It’s gotta be broken up into two posts, as we are trying adjust/increase per-post size limits for the site.
Bait selection varies based on forage, pressure, and other factors such as time of year and temps. But, for me, something that represents a big, easy meal is usually the first to be thrown. A worm has fewer appendages and in my opinion, represents one of those "easier" meals vs a large craw or creature-type bait with a bunch more going on. Most fish don't want to "battle" their prey, and some studies have shown that baits with fewer appendages get bit more than, for example, a craw bait with two big pinchers. Why? Less threatening and less work for the predator, IMO. For me, this has certainly been the case, but again, time of year and conditions may change this. Keep it simple, though. Another reason I like a T-rigged big floating or stand-up head-rigged worm is the action that I can get out of my offerings without a lot of input/need for imparting action. Not to mention, I can very effectively fish many different types of structure/cover with a T-rigged worm vs jigs/other rigs and get hung up less than baits with more appendages. A Gika or a jig is next, and I often trailer my jig with Paca chunks, double tail grubs or even worms. Something more simple if you will. If I'm fishing somewhere where primary forage is craws, I'll often throw just that, but... I tend to remove one of the pinchers.
Mojos/Light Carolina's are incredibly effective in areas like you're fishing as well. Those desolate shorelines with sparse rock, etc. Something buoyant on the back of a Carolina floating off the bottom in a very natural state...can be deadly.
Of course, being that you’re fishing from shore, a Drop Shot with a long leader for making long casts will also work and that king leader is needed, as the angle of the line will be your enemy when fishing uphill. A long leader will keep the bait off the bottom.
Very important to remember a longer rod will give you the ability to get up and over obstacles much easier. A 7'2" rod would be my minimum, while a 7'5"+ would be ideal. If it was me, a T-rigged big worm (floating, curly/ribbon tail 6-10"), Gika or Tokyo rig with a smaller offering, a casting or football head jig/straight worm trailer or simple double tail, and light Carolina rig with a smaller craw/creature (minimum appendages) would be tied on and ready.
Unless fish are aggressive/wanting a lot of action (and if that's the case, I'm usually throwing moving baits), I'm primarily a slow crawl/drag/lift type of bottom contact fisherman. I just get bit more often that way, whether it be slowly lifting through the brush, over rock piles, etc, or lowering my tip and dragging...slower is better IMO. Especially during pre-spawn/spawn when I'm fan-casting to breaks/flats etc...I'll literally creep (aka "stitch") my bait along as slowly as possible, often taking long pauses between movements, so that if I am in or near a bed, I am giving that fish time to get aggravated into biting. Big females on the break/spawning area edges are looking for those easy, filling meals and don't want to chase. This applies all year round, though. Point is...SLOW DOWN. The problem with that statement is that most fishermen have a very hard time maintaining that agonizingly slow pace/cadence for long periods. If you can be diligent about this, you're gonna get bit.
I'll fish bottom contact in everything from glass-calm water to 35 MPH gusts, just have to adjust your weights accordingly. I will also toss some lighter weights in specific, windy situations. Those being when I want my bait to drift past a target on the fall, but this is something you can focus on later after you've gotten dialed in with other techniques. It won't take long for me to go to the bottom of the water column if nothing else is getting bit within the first 1-2 hours, sometimes 20-30 min. if I'm on a body of water that I've done well on with BC or conditions dictate/call out to me.
It's really the sum of all parts, but...Your rod, line, and even knobs play a big part in transmitting a clear picture of what's going on underwater. A soft, muted or dull feel will let you know your fishing sand or mud bottom. Once you start to feel more of a sandpaper/grinding type of sensation, you'll know you're coming across small gravel and/or rocks. Chunk rock will be "stop n go" and your rod is crucial in this situation for being able to effectively fish it. You don't want a rod with a very stout tip if you're going to be fishing chunk rock. Something with a lighter tip section in a faster taper tends to be much better for this scenario as it allows you to creep/finesse your way over obstacles. Vegetation, either by itself or moss on brush tends to feel spongy and like dead weight. Clean brush will feel like slight resistance, almost squeaky as you lift and come through it. These are just quick descriptions, but you really need to put the time in and sometimes actually see what it is you're fishing so that you can associate the two with one another. Again this is where a high-end rod will come into play. The better the stick the clearer the picture is.
Hope this helps in some way, but get out there and try different things...fine-tune, and pay attention to subtle changes in areas, especially when there's not much there. Those fish want/need something to relate to. As Polkfish mentioned...Isolated clusters of rock or anything that stands out, no matter how slightly different it may seem...hit it from as many angles as possible and at different times of the day. You’ll be surprised.
Most importantly…Have fun, keep grinding and enjoy the ride.
Think about one piece of NON tackle equipment that will help your situation.
I really might just have to buy one of those sonars that look like little bobbers. It may just help out more than I think.
Unless fish are aggressive/wanting a lot of action (and if that's the case, I'm usually throwing moving baits), I'm primarily a slow crawl/drag/lift type of bottom contact fisherman.
Adaptability on the water and overconfidence in a technique. Something I have struggled with. They aren't eating a jerkbait? Too bad I'm gonna keep throwing it since I have so much confidence in it. lol
Point is...SLOW DOWN
Definitely a big thing I need to work on as well. I am naturally a person who does things quickly. So when it comes to dragging something TRULY slow, it feels like I have been dragging something for a decade and am just so tempted to bump/twitch/hop/speed up.
Appreciate the chunks of knowledge!