How to Fish Bare Banks
By Ron Kurucz
Bare banks exist in virtually all reservoirs and lakes in the country. They are void stretches of clay, sand, mud or gravel or composites of these materials. Bare banks may border creek embankments, main river channels or islands. Some run for short distances; others stretch for hundreds of yards. Still, the thread that ties all bare banks together is their lack of obvious features. The degree to which bass use bare banks varies from lake to lake and even from one bank to the next.
Bare banks in deeper and/or older lakes tend to attract more fish than do similar banks in shallow, newer lakes. The latter waters usually have other, higher quality structure to draw the fish. Bare banks aren’t as important in lakes that have timber or grass or lots of up and down bottom structure. Even in lakes with plenty of other structure, some bare banks still hold bass, and these can be honey holes because they are rarely fished. The only way to learn which banks are good is to test fish them. This takes a lot of time, and this is why fishing bare banks is more practical for anglers on their home lakes than for pros, who move around from one lake to the next.
Bass are more prone to hold along bare banks during seasonal migrations. The best times to fish these banks are spring and fall. In spring, the bass move into the creeks to spawn, and a lot of times they follow banks back to shallow water. And in the fall, shad swim into the creeks, and bass come in behind them. Much of the feeding activity during September and October takes place close in to shore. Sometimes bass also feed along bare banks in summer and winter, usually in main lake areas where wind or currents push shad up shallow. Bare banks have the potential to produce fish all year long. Wind is one of the main keys. Fishing along a bare bank is 100 times better if there’s a wind blowing on it, especially on a clear lake. The waves ‘blow in’ baitfish. They stir up the bottom and expose crawfish. They break up sunlight penetration. Overall, wind blowing on a bare bank creates prime feeding conditions, and it causes the bass to be shallower and more active. One more note about bare banks: They hold an extra attraction to smallmouth and spotted bass. If a lake only have largemouths, plain banks will be good sometimes. But is spotted and smallmouth are present, they can be great virtually anytime.
Bass Locations along Banks:
Actually, the term “bare banks” contradicts the actual makeup of these void looking structures. A bank may look bare if you’re running down the lake at 50 mile per hour. But if you stop and really study and fish it, there’s almost always something that will attract bass. It’s just a matter of knowing what to look for and how to find it. You can find bass near subtle changes or isolated features along bare banks. Examples include where a bank’s makeup changes (i.e., gravel gives way to clay), where a creek channel swings near the bank, where a bank becomes flatter or steeper, or where a bank makes a slow turn. Also, underwater features along a bank are like beacons that draw bass. A stump, log or large rock can have a magnetic effect on fish swimming alongshore. Also, a lot of people sink brushpiles along bare banks. A brushpile along a bank that doesn’t have any other features is almost a sure bet to draw some fish, plus it’s not as likely to be found by other fishermen because of the lack of fishing pressure.
Knowing what to look for along bare banks and being able to find these spots are two different matters. A visual check is simple enough. An angler can see bank composition changes, shoreline turns or dark shadows of underwater stumps or logs. (Polarized sunglasses are vital in seeing below the surface.) He can also study a topo map to find where channels angle near the bank. However, most fish attracting features along bare banks are hidden from view and not shown on maps. Fishermen have two methods for finding them: electronic inspection with a depthfinder; and test fishing. Start out checking a bank by idling along it and watching your depthfinder. Zigzag in and out to scan different depths. Mainly, look for cover down the side of the bank, and also watch for contour changes and baitfish returns. If a bank is 200 yards long, cover it all. Then if you see anything that looks promising, turn around and fish it. It’s common to idle part way down a bank and see nothing, then to begin detecting features or fish. Another approach is to start at one end and fish it all. This way you can really cover the whole bank effectively. Invest the time to go down it and check different areas and depths. That way you can do a thorough job of eliminating thinks and develop a reliable pattern. As you fish along, constantly monitor your depthfinder for objects or changes in the bank’s contour. Look for little shelves or places where the first break occurs closer to the shore. Again, these are the subtle, little changes where bass are more likely to be. Sometimes the only way to find these places is by fishing the whole bank.
Baits For Bare Banks:
For fishing bare banks you can rely on a small selection of dependable lures: crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, topwaters, grubs, jigs and plastic worms. Diving crankbaits are top choices for prospecting along bare banks from early spring through fall. Also, because you can cover water quickly with them. In addition, you can cast them right to the waterline, then bump them back down the bank’s subsurface slope. This facilitates a check of depths ranging from a few inches to deeper than 10 feet. Another good bait for searching bare banks in early spring is a jerkbait. Fishing a jerkbait is a good way to catch suspended bass. It’s especially effective when the water first starts warming up (low to mid 40s). When fishing this bait move along the bank while making 45 degree casts to the shoreline. Cast right to the water’s edge, and crank the bait four or five times to start it down, then begin a “jerk pause jerk jerk” retrieve. Repeat this all the way back to the boat. The colder the water, the slower you want to work the bait. A spinnerbait is a third option for prospecting along bare banks in the prespawn and spawning periods. A spinnerbait should be cast shallow, then pulled down the slope with a middepth retrieve. Many times, if bass are actively feeding, they will be drawn in by the flash and vibration, and they will hit from below or beside the bait. Alternate among crankbaits, jerkbaits and spinnerbaits to see which the bass prefer on a given day. This is just a matter of trial and error. One day the fish will hug bottom, and the diving crankbait works best. The next day they may be suspended, and the jerkbait is best. And the third day they might be roaming and feeding, and the spinnerbait is the trick. You just have to analyze the weather and water conditions and try to figure out how active the bass are and whether they’re shallow, deep or suspended. Then pick the bait that will work best under those conditions. But if that bait doesn’t work, try the other two type. Sometimes bass are hard to second guess. Jigs, grubs and worms (so called slow baits) are deadly along bare banks. These baits are good under three distinct circumstances.
If you’re working a shoreline with a crankbait and hit a piece of cover without a bite, pick up your jig or worm rod and work the cover a little slower and more thoroughly. If the bass aren’t too active, it’s not uncommon for them to pass up the crankbait or a spinnerbait but to hit a jig or worm. The second case for using a slow bait is when a bank has yielded some fish to one of the faster baits, and the angler wants to make another pass down the bank and offer remaining bass a different option. And the third case for using grubs, jigs and worms is when a pass down a bank with faster baits yield no action, but the angler believes bass are present and just not in a chasing mood. Topwaters are excellent baits for fishing bare banks after the water temperature rises into the 70s. This is just another alternative. Topwater baits fished along bare banks early and late in the day are a good pattern for heat-of-the-summer fishing. This may not be the most consistent pattern in the world, but sometimes it will produce some big fish.
All in all, despite their “non-structure” appearance, bare banks are a viable alternative for finding and catching bass. The biggest reason is because they’re so overlooked by most fishermen. And that makes bare banks a secret worth checking.