GETTING A HANDLE ON STRUCTURE FISHING
by Jim Porter
It is a common question that professional anglers are asked at seminars and tournaments: "What is structure and how do you fish it?"
It is a very good question, too. Understanding the difference between 'structure' and 'cover' is a starting point.
Of all available structure features, ledges and drops are the most common AND the most continuously productive.
- The terms 'cover' and 'structure' are NOT synonymous. They are different features.
- Cover is for hiding; structure is for feeding.
- The potential of a given structure feature can be reasonably determined by: 1) the nearby availability of 25 feet or more of depth; 2) and, the 'steepness' of the drop-off associated with the access to that depth.
- Structure, even if it consists of weeds, brush or timber, is not used to hide the bass, nor is it used for his protection. A productive structure feature is one, which provides ready availability of food or serves as a reference point during periods of inactivity.
- When a bass experiences fear or senses danger, his instinctive reaction is to dash for the deep water near his structure or cover area.
- Unless actively feeding, a bass will nearly always hold near the edge of the structure drop into deep water.
'Pattern depth' is a term used to define the location (depth) the majority of bass schools can be expected to be found in a given body of water.
- A 'drop' is a contour change resulting in deeper water and has a downward angler of decent of 30 degrees, or more. Any change less than 30 degrees is considered a slope and will not be as productive.
- A 'ledge' is the upper lip, or edge, of a drop.
- While ledges and drops usually exist throughout a body of water, those associated with submerged channels and the deepest water in the area are always the more consistently productive.
Then, we must have a rational and orderly approach to addressing structure. Structure fishing is a seven-step process, each of which is important to being successful. In order, the steps are:
- It is dependent upon the coloration/ clarity of the water.
- The 'pattern depth' of the normal, lightly stained reservoir is 12-18 feet.
- The clearer the water, the greater the 'pattern depth'.
DEFINE. This simply means that we have gained enough knowledge about structure basics to understand what we should be looking for. We must be able to define in our own minds those types of underwater topography that are likely to hold bass. This definition is in terms of shape, soil composition, relation to the surrounding area (deep water, channels, current flow, other structures), available cover, water conditions, and seasonal aspects.
RESEARCH. Generally, this step involves an armchair analysis of the intended fishing waters to determine what structures are available. The expected structure will differ between, say, a shallow Florida lake and a Tennessee reservoir and we can readily fix in our own minds what probably should be available. A study of a good topographical map is essential in this step.
LOCATE. Once we have completed the first two steps and actually are on the water, locating the structure is a logical progression of events. If we have done our research adequately and have a working knowledge of the use of a depth sounder or graph, structure depicted on the map should be fairly easy to locate.
DEFINE. Once our target structure is pinpointed, it is very important that we define it in terms of shape, ledges/drop-offs, deep-water locations, hard/soft bottom compositions and available cover features.
EVALUATE. Now that we have defined the structure, we must evaluate just how it should be fished. This involves the proper lure types, the exact locations which hold the most potential, where we should position the boat, and how best to present the chosen lures. All these factors are intended to maximize our initial effectiveness, without first spooking the bass.
EXPLOIT. This is nothing more than combining all the above factors to catch the maximum number of fish off the selected structure feature.
RETAIN. The final step is to adequately mark our map so that we can later return to this same location and, once again, successfully exploit it. A bit more should be involved than drawing a big circle on the map. The recorded information should indicate enough of the valid evaluation data to tell us where on the structure to fish, from which direction, what depth and what lures apply.
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