‘Shallow’ thinking leads to bass success
CHESAPEAKE BEACH, Md. — Years before the current craze to fish from kayaks and target shallow water took hold among anglers, outdoors writer, author and lecturer Joe Bruce favored the action to be had on small streams and shallow rivers over the likes of the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River in his native Maryland.
With the Saturday opening of Pennsylvania’s bass season just days away, it may benefit anglers to be shallow thinkers in some situations. Indeed, less is often best when targeting bass.
Bruce, whose book “Shallow Water Tips & Techniques, Rigging for Success,” is the ultimate textbook for those who are serious about exploring the depths of shallow-water fishing. When he presented a seminar on his passion for fishing shallow water at the recent Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Conference it was like getting a degree for those with a casual knowledge about the topic.
Using a slide presentation to illustrate and support the success of his technique, seeing was believing that Bruce only fishes in shallow water for everything from rockfish and snakeheads to pike and bass. He considers anything with a depth of eight feet or less to be shallow water and that with stealth any fish can be caught in fresh or saltwater.
“Shallow is anything that covers the fish so it can breathe,” Bruce said. “When I am fishing lakes in the early spring into mid-May I make sure to pound the shore, but not with my first cast.
“I have a saying, ‘TCS,’ making the first cast is parallel to the shore 10-20 feet out, and I find a lot of fish on the first break line. I refer to this break as the debris line, where the leaves, twigs, branches tend to sink, and what that mean to a fisherman is that this debris line is also the area that holds bait like crawfish, shrimp, insects and minnows.
“If it holds bait, it will hold fish and sometimes this line is closer in, so make a ‘C’ cast closer to the shore, maybe 4-5 feet out. My third cast is the ‘S’ cast made on the shore or as close as I can get to it.
“By following this technique I don’t spook the fish in between the shore and my boat. I can say without a doubt TCS has put more fish on my hook and it will for anyone who uses it.”
Bruce fishes all types of baits, including top water, shallow-runner solid and jointed lures, flukes and flies. His favorite fly is an unweighted Articulated Bullethead Darter fished on 7- and 8-weight rods, and he customizes by trimming the hackle from soft baits for more action.
When spin fishing Bruce uses 6 1/2- and 7-foot medium rods in his kayak and loads his reels with braided line 10-15 pounds with a 16-inch leader of 40-pound mono attached to the main line with an Improved Albright Knot. He recommends learning to tie a variety of slipknots in different test lines for attaching lures.
“There is no such thing as a short strike, but the retrieve can be too fast for the mood level of the fish — which are aggressive, neutral and passive,” Bruce said. “Retrieve the lure to match the aggressive level of the fish.
“Animating the bait on the retrieve is one of the best ways to increase the aggression level of fish, and another way is to create the illusion of a fish chasing another fish by adding a trailer. This can be done with both hard and softbaits and it even works with flies.
“Probably the simplest technique to induce fish to strike is by varying the retrieve from steady to crank and pause and back to a slow crank. When fishing surface lures try some erratic twitching, then pause or use panic skipping across the water to simulate a wounded baitfish.”
When hooking up Bruce immediately drops anchor and fan casts the immediate area, varying tempo and action of retrieves to see what is working. He also has a second rod rigged and at the ready in front of him, rather than placed in a rod holder.
If fishing new water Bruce always scouts the area by using the free Google Maps app which shows the layout of the water and features like shallows, and weed and pad fields. Depending on fishing conditions, he often switches back and forth between spinning and fly tackle.
Before leaving home Bruce always makes sure his hooks and often re-sharpens sharp hooks. When rigging softbaits such as frogs and flukes he often hooks them upside down so fish see the darker top of the lure and not the white bottom.
There is a saying among anglers about not leaving fish to find fish, and Bruce will often fish a pad field all day — always casing into the wind. He starts by fishing the outside early in the day, moving inside later.
Copies of “Shallow Water Tips & Techniques, Rigging for Success” can be obtained by visiting www.joebruce.- net/shwatite.html.