Rock Hopping 101

Long before I ever got a boat, I bank fished. I loved to fish, and this was my only option. I chased after anything and everything, whatever would bite. But the bass fishing bug quickly bit me, and…

Long before I ever got a boat, I bank fished. I loved to fish, and this was my only option. I chased after anything and everything, whatever would bite. But the bass fishing bug quickly bit me, and it wasn’t long after that that I contracted ‘bass tournament fever’. While I could count on being paired with a boater in my club, and could occasionally hook a ride on the off weekend, most of my trips were spent at the local ponds and reservoirs walking the shoreline trying to learn to catch bass. Some of the easiest to fish and most accessible banks were riprap covered, and I coined the name “rock hopper” to refer to myself and this style of fishing. Even now I refer to bank fishermen as ‘rock hoppers’ after those early days. I literally put in hundreds of bank trips to those waters, and still to this day I spend lots of time fishing from the bank. Due to time constraints and convenience, I probably logged 75-100 bank days each of the past couple years and more when I didn’t have a boat. I have probably caught thousands of bass from the bank and would like to pass on some of the observations and conclusions I have made during these endeavors.

NOT CASTING TO OR ALONG THE BANK – This is far and away the biggest mistake I see most bank bound bassers make. The old observation about noticing ‘bank fishermen cast out towards the boats’ and why ‘boat fishermen cast in toward the shore’ is really true. Bass, by nature, are largely shallow water fish. They are also very cover oriented. When you combine these two concepts you have the basis for the start of an approach.

In most of the lakes I fish, the best cover is along the bank. And the best way to fish that cover is to cast parallel, or nearly so, down a bank. Sometimes, just short pitches are all it takes. Why waste your time throwing out into the middle of the lake when so many fish are at your feet? The only time I throw out into deeper water (say >45 degrees off bank) is if I’m fishing a point or a known piece of structure. Other than that, all casts are within 10’ of the shoreline. The clearer the water or the more open the shoreline, the longer and more parallel the casts. In heavy cover or small openings, small pitches and flips will suffice. Any piece of cover, no matter how insignificant gets a cast. Rocks, drains, washed in logs, weeds, lay downs, docks, you name it. Just be quiet and still and you’ll be surprised how many fish you’ll catch within 10’ of yourself.

COVER WATER – Mistake number two is standing in one spot for half an hour or more and making cast after cast. Have you ever noticed how most bass boaters are always on the trolling motor covering water? If you accept the fact that most fish you’re chasing are shallow water object oriented, then probability says that the more water and spots you can cover the greater your odds of running into an aggressive (read biting) fish. This is especially important when first learning a body of water. The more water you cover the more spots (holding areas) you’ll discover. I will typically make 3-5 casts from a given area on the bank and then move 20-40’ down the bank for the next 3-5 casts. On and on it goes. You can easily cover a couple miles of bank in just a few hours. Remember, you’re trying to find as many spots and as many bass as you can. Don’t wait for them to come to you, go to them.

USE ONLY ONE LURE (but carry backups) – How many times have you seen this mistake made? Someone bass fishing from shore with a big tackle box, casting a lure for 20-30 minutes then digging into his box and changing to another lure, only to repeat the process. At this rate you might only fish 2 or 3 spots in a day. This usually won’t work. The largest tackle box I ever carry with me is a tiny, flat drop-down that goes around your waist and attaches to your belt. Often times it is only an old lure box with a couple extra baits or a Ziploc bag stuffed into a pocket.

There are several advantages to this. One, it lets you cover water by not wasting time changing baits, thinking they’ll hit something else better. Another is that it makes you more mobile. Anymore, I’ll frequently fish an entire trip without a lure change. As long as you pay attention to retying when appropriate, you’ll rarely lose too many baits. Remember, you’re fishing shallow cover close to the bank. Most times, even if you do hang, you can reach out and unsnag lures that get stuck.

As a side note here for those of you fishing small ponds regularly, use a different lure each trip. I have the good fortune of having 5 ponds located within my subdivision. The theory of fish becoming conditioned is definitely true, especially in these smaller bodies of water. I can’t count the number of times I’ve proven this to myself. Day one I’ll go out and catch 30 bass. If I go back out the next day with the same lure, my results will be cut in half. By the time I try this a third or fourth day, I might only catch a few. These fish get used to seeing the same bait day after day, so change up! Try a crankbait one trip, a topwater the next. Jigs on the third trip and maybe worms after that. After a week or two of not seeing the same bait twice you can usually go back in with the original bait and they’ll bite it well.

FISH THE CONDITIONS – At first, this might not make much sense. Or maybe it’s too obvious. I’m referring to choosing the bait you throw based on the weather and water conditions you are faced with. It is usually best to not randomly select baits. Base your lure choice on weather conditions first, water (lake) conditions second and always keeping seasonal patterns in mind. For example, if you are getting ready to head out and you’re dealing with a sunny, frontal day, choose baits like jigs, worms, tubes, or single spins. On the other hand, if you have cloudy and windy conditions, maybe pack spinnerbaits, swimming grubs, shallow crankbaits, buzz baits, etc. Once you get to the lake, or if you already know what conditions to expect (water and cover), then use those to fine-tune your selections. Things like brighter colors, larger baits, or noisemakers in stained water and thinner, natural colored baits in clearer water. Likewise, if you are fishing open water conditions use grubs, crankbaits, top waters and such versus baits like jigs, worms, Senkos, single spins and so forth for heavy cover situations.

TIME YOUR FISHING – This is another one that may slip by most people. The best time to go fishing is whenever you can, no doubt about that. But whenever possible, choose the days and times you get to fish based on conditions. This little tip will truly maximize the number of bites you’ll get in a day. For example, everyone knows that bass generally seem to bite best first thing in the morning or right before dark, typical low light conditions. But they also bite extremely well on a good cloudy day with an approaching storm. Days with a dropping barometer come to mind, as do windy days. Try and avoid those nice, sunny, post frontal days if you can. This tactic also increases the odds of having more room for you to fish, as most bank fishermen don’t like to put up with inclement weather.

Another example of this tactic relates to time of year. Those extremely tough clear water lakes and ponds will give up some surprisingly good fish in the cold-water period or at night through the summer. Vice-versa, inherently murky water lakes usually aren’t all that great real early and late in the year, but can be great with the warmer weather and water conditions. If you have your choice of a couple different types of water to fish, choose according to which fits the given conditions and seasonal patterns best.

Finally, those odd times that create short windows of opportunity. The perfect example of this is a couple of the small ponds I fish. Almost without fail, one of the most consistent patterns is fishing the incoming flats or drains after a good rain. While you can always seem to count on one or two from these areas, these areas become incredible spots when you are able to coincide your trip with fresh, incoming water. Spots that only give up a fish or two now may give up 5 or 10 fish without moving, sometimes more. The bass realize this is a temporary feeding opportunity and act accordingly. You should too.

FISH SPOTS (the exception) – Earlier I said covering water is the preferred tactic. This is true, especially when fishing a new body of water that is not familiar to you. However, with enough time on a given lake or pond, certain spots will seem to consistently give up a fish or two most every trip. These areas or spots are worth taking a little extra time on before moving on. As I mentioned, small drains on my ponds always seem to hold bass consistently and I will frequently spend up to 20 minutes or more fishing these areas. The general rule of thumb is if you catch a bass on a spot, it is worth taking a few extra minutes to thoroughly scout the area. Sometimes the reason is obvious such as the drain example. Many times though you won’t be able to identify what it is about the particular location or bank. Some just seem to hold fish better than others. Your job is to be aware of these areas as they unfold to you and fish them appropriately. Then feel free to keep scooting along the bank between these hotspots.

There is no one ‘right’ way to approach bankside bassin’, but these tips have proven themselves to be pretty consistent over much of the waters I have fished through the years. Try utilizing some of these suggestions the next time you head out from the bank and see if they don’t increase the number of bass that you catch.

By Brian Waldman

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