Deep Strategies Find Feeding Fish

Originally published 6/21/19 on by Outdoor Writer Kevin Tate

PICKWICK LAKE  When the weather gets hot and the big bass head for the outer deep, the best fishing strategies call for following them there. It pays to arrive with the right strategy in mind.

“It all starts with doing your homework, studying the map card topographics and picking out the spots you’ll want to ride over and look,” Mitch Harrison, of Dorsey said.

Exactly what fishermen will be looking for, Harrison said, is a land structure at depth that has an edge facing into the current.

“Any underwater structure, any hump or rise, can produce good fishing,” he said. “From the bottom of the river channel to the bank, it’s not flat all the way across there. Also, you’re not limited to looking at the river channel itself. Any deep hump or rise can create a good ambush spot for bass to wait for shad. Once you find it on the map, then you’ll ride over it and look at it with your electronics.”

Deep water structure creates hydraulic pressure points that influence current in a way that causes schools of shad to tumble over the top of waiting bass. Finding these spots begins with topographical maps, then proceeds to searching with electronics, and finally arrives at identifying fish that are ready to feed.

Bass are predators. Just as a pride of lions won’t jump on every antelope that happens by, neither do bass hit every minnow and shad they see. They lay around and rest when they’re in the mood to do so, then feed when mood says to do the same. Depending on environmental conditions, bass may hold tight on the bottom. They may suspend eight or 10 feet above the bottom or, ideally, they’ll come up a foot or so and square up to feed.

“If they’re tucked into the bottom really tight, or if they’re suspended high above it, that’s not good,” Ty Cox, of Guntown and a member of the Blue Mountain College bass angling team, said. “When you find them about a foot off the bottom and grouped tightly together, that’s what you’re wanting to see.”

Holding tight and low

“You definitely want to find them sitting pretty close to the bottom,” Harrison said. “When they’re ready to eat, they’ll set up on the crown of the structure they’re holding on. They’ll get right on the edge of the current just over the top of the crown and crush the shad that wash by. Water flowing over up and over the face of a rock creates a void, and they’ll nose right up into that void.”

Finding fish that are ready to feed depends on timing their mood.

“Many times I’ve found fish that wouldn’t bite, then come back to them 90 minutes later and caught them like crazy,” Harrison said. “When you find fish feeding on structure you’ve identified, then you duplicate what you’ve found all around the lake by depth and current.”

Seeking similar conditions throughout the remainder of the lake needn’t be limited to the primary river channel, either.

“Even in feeder creeks, you can find the same current-affected situations,” Harrison said. “Current can be dam-driven, it can be wind-driven or water rise-and-fall-driven as well.”

Harrison and Cox said bass can reliably be found on off-shore structure from now through July.

Feeding with the flow

How actively fish feed atop current-affected structure depends strongly upon the current doing the affecting. At Pickwick, that’s almost entirely dependent upon how much water Tennessee Valley Authority’s engineers are running through the dam. This information is readily available online in an up-to-date format.

“When the rate of flow is around 50,000 to 60,000 cubic feet per second, that’s when it seems like fishing is best, but we don’t often get that much,” Cox said. “You can definitely see the bite start to pick up when the flow gets up to at least 30,000 cubic feet per second.”

The rate of flow depends on how much power TVA is making at any given moment, and is also affected by how much incoming rainwater they’re anticipating having to manage. Pickwick Dam serves both the needs of power generation and flood control.

"When we get a lot of rain upstream, they’ll pull the water down to be better able to fluctuate with the rain,” Cox said. “If we don’t get much rain, they won’t run much through the dam.”

Ultimately, the deep ledge strategy depends on being confident and competent with electronics and giving it a try.

“The main thing is to trust your electronics, and don’t let the thought of fishing somewhere out in the middle of the lake intimidate you,” Harrison said. “It’s more comfortable to many people to stick to fishing shoreline structure or maybe the extensions of points that extend into the lake. You’d be surprised how many people have never stopped in open water and found fish holding deep, but the fish are certainly out there, waiting to be caught.”

Working fish down deep calls for special gear. While a Carolina rig can allow for a lengthy presentation time and speed, both Harrison and Cox prefer to move things along a little faster.

“I don’t want to say I’m impatient,” Cox said. “I can drag a worm with the best of them, but I like to catch them on deep-running crank baits or swim baits because it’s just more active fishing.”

Harrison prefers a worm with a half-ounce weight, or a three-quarter ounce jig.

Both base lure color on their own comfort more than water clarity.