Finding structure is often the key to finding largemouth bass. Experts estimate that only 10% of a typical lake will hold bass. That 10% is usually around some type of structure.
Structure simply means a change in the lake bottom, whether it be the depth or a different type of bottom material. Points, sunken islands, rock or gravel reefs, creek channels and shoreline breaks are all typical examples.
Largemouth use structure as underwater highways. It provides easy access and relatable features like natural cover to make them more at ease. Weeds, flooded brush and timber or even manmade structures like riprap or brush shelters offer refuge to these ambush predators.
The quickest way to locate structure is with your contour map and depth finder. You’ll also want to learn to identify landmarks on shore that indicate good largemouth structure. You can pinpoint the shape of the structure with your depth finder, and then find the “spot on the spot” where you're catching the most fish.
You may find that identical pieces of structure do not produce the same number of fish. Bass sometimes choose spots for reasons we don’t fully understand, so just keep moving if a spot doesn’t produce. Try different depths and presentations until you find the right combination.
This illustration outlines the major structure features typically found in bodies of water.
Shallow Flats - finding bass on these can be challenging for the best of anglers. Most lakes have an abundance of shallow structure that provides an almost endless selection of feeding areas. The term shallow refers to anything 10 feet deep or less.
You may want to start by focusing on a small portion of the lake, and concentrate on fishing it thoroughly rather than roaming the lake. In clear lakes, your polarized sunglasses will help you find areas with sharp break points, weedy edges and creek channels in shallow water. Always look for subtle variations in these flats as they quite often hold bass.
Saddles - These are typically shallow ridges where a creek channel doubles back. Within the loop that is formed is a flat that offers prime shallow cover for feeding. Bass will typically feed here then quickly retreat to deeper cover. Track that movement and you’ve found your pattern.
Outside Bends - these outer edges of creek channels define where the creekbed ends and the flats begin. They usually have the deepest water, and are transition areas that may well be travel routes for feeding largemouth. Look for bass inside the channel just before and after spawning.
Cliff Walls - to find largemouth near these, cruise along the edge and watch your electronics for submerged trees, brush or rock slides. Any projection that has a different contour will probably hold bass.
Deep Holes - these are often adjacent to cliff walls, and offer steep drop-offs that will hold bass in the summer, late fall and winter. Bass schooled up in these deep waters are less likely to strike than fish in the shallows as they are not feeding. A lure retrieved slowly can usually tempt a few willing biters with the right presentation though. Vertical jigging might be the ticket here.
Point Extensions - if you examine the bottom off the edge of a point, you will often find an extended flat that is the general shape of the point. These submerged points can be fished from the deeper water if there is a gradual slope from the point edge. If it has a sharp slope, you may need to position the boat on the shallow side in order to keep your lure in contact with the bottom. Be careful about spooking fish up in the shallows.
Humps - these submerged islands often draw bass from deep water, especially if there is a ridge connecting them to other structures. Fan casting or criss crossing over a hump is a good way to determine where the bass might be holding. You should also explore the outer slopes.
Breaklines - these provide the best cover in most bowl-shaped lakes and reservoirs. This irregular structure may include sharp turns or lazy twists, and trolling them with deep-running crankbaits or spoons will usually reveal any hotspots. Pay attention to flooded timber and emergent weeds to signal the edges of the drop-off.
Inside Turns - this part of the breakline is where bass will most likely congregate. Fish them carefully and thoroughly as they are your best bet for finding largemouth along breaklines. They may be a good place to start when approaching a new body of water. You may want to find the proper depth by making passes with lures that run at different depths.
LURES - You will want to focus on lures for both shallow and deep structure.
Shallow - lures should include Texas-rigged plastic worms, weedless spoons, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, poppers and floating plastic worms. These allow you to cover a lot of area in a hurry. Carry a rod rigged with a plastic worm for working brush clumps or weed beds.
Casting is the best technique for fishing shallow structure. Approach quietly and follow the deeper edges, and drifting can be effective for working the structure. Positioning over the middle of a creek channel allows you to fish the flats on either side.
Deep - lures will include deep-diving crankbaits, Carolina-rigged soft plastics, jigging spoons, heavy spinnerbaits or vibrating blade baits.
Reeling rapidly can help make a deep-running crankbait dig into the bottom. The lip will kick up silt much like a crayfish scurrying on the bottom. It also gives the lure an erratic action. Speed also helps convince fish that aren’t feeding to give chase.
No matter what depth you’re fishing, keep in mind that largemouth will always tend to relate to structure. Knowing the type you’re seeing, and the best techniques for each is the key to finding and catching these hard-fighting bass. Now go fish on! -WR