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by Jim Porter

The graph hummed along, painting a vivid picture of what lay beneath our boat. The bottom at 40 feet was obviously mucky and soft, as indicated by the heavy black trace of the printout. Suddenly, a sharp incline was indicated and the depth rose quickly to 15 feet, held for a moment, and then gradually sloped back to 25. The graph’s trace of this protruding structure had a very significant ‘gray-line’, which meant that the composition was very hard, such as packed sand or rock. Our topographical map had shown an old roadbed in this area and, with the help of the sonar device, we had now pinpointed it.

Reversing direction, we zig-zagged back and forth across the feature, laying a series of marker buoys along its course. Once approximately 50 yards of the roadbed were laid off, we circled out and away to open water and observed our efforts. The first four of the seven floats lay in a straight line, with the last three peeling away to the right and indicating a curve. Consulting the map again, we noted that an old bridge once existed in that curve of the submerged road. With the floats providing an excellent reference, it only took two passes further out on the structure feature to spot the remains of the bridge pilings lying in a gap in the road way. Floats were duly placed there, also.

Finally, with all our homework done, we were ready to fish. My partner, Jim Farrish, let fly with a jig and pig and I cast out a reliable plastic worm. The short trip to the bottom indicated both lures were high on the structure and, before I could even pull the worm once, Farrish was onto a small buck bass. Watching him play his fish, I picked up the worm gently. At first, the resistance felt like a bottom snag. But, then, the ‘snag’ gently tugged on the line. Quickly taking up the slack, I set the hook and was fast to a bass of my own. Eventually, that half-football field length of structure yielded 28 fish.

Man-made reservoirs contain numerous types of man-made structure features, such as old building foundations, drainage ditches, and road and railway beds. The latter two, usually being well defined and predominate in nature, are ideal holding and feeding areas for bass. The majority of bass anglers concentrate their efforts on cover features that they can see above the surface. Road beds, not being obvious except to the seasoned, knowledgeable anglers, are rarely fished, often resulting in a bassin’ bonanza for the one who puts forth the effort to locate them.

Locating these fine bassin’ locations is really quite simple, when approached in a logical manner. While a readily available topographical map may indicate some of them, the ideal source of accurate and detailed information lies in the dark and musty archives of the Government bureaucracy. Before each man-made body of water was flooded, the law required that a ‘drainage study’ be completed. This involved an evaluation of the intended water level of the reservoir against the surrounding terrain to determine what areas would actually be inundated by the lake. This was normally done by taking aerial and existing topographical maps of the area, tracing in the elevation line to which the water level would rise, and insuring that unintended flooding did not occur. These little gems of historical data show precisely all the terrain features and man-made construction. Drainage study maps can usually be found in the appropriate County government files, those of the local Water Control District, or the area Corps of Engineers office. Even if you have to dig them out of the file drawers yourself, they are invaluable. Once a thorough map analysis is done, it’s time to hit the water. The map will get you to the general area of the structure you are seeking, but the graph or depth finder will now be your best ‘friend’. With it, the angler can home right in on the old roadway. Once it has been located, however, the detailed work really begins.

Just locating a road bed does not guarantee results; it must be fully evaluated and defined. Its trace should be examined thoroughly on numerous passes with the sonar device, dropping a series of marker buoys to reference its contours. Then, a heavily weighted worm rig should be applied to ‘feel’ the shape and composition of the feature. If the bass are moving along the structure, we may happen onto them at virtually any location on it. However, what we really need to ascertain are the sub-structure features; i.e., the stumps, rip-rap, rockpiles and other desirable elements which constitute potential holding locations. THESE are the places which hold the greatest promise and which are continually productive, especially when the bass are not active. Treat this process as you would if you were fishing a visible island top. Obviously, we would attempt to find the best cover and holding locations around that island. The evaluation of an underwater feature is treated no differently.

(If you are reading this closely, you should now begin to realize the effort and attention to detail that results in a constantly successful ‘Pro’. While fishing is fun, being continually and ‘predictably’ in the money requires a good bit of work!)

Highway and railroad beds share some common features which can be especially productive. For example, when the terrain contours of the topographical maps indicate that the road bed is crossing a low area, we can expect to find some sort of drainage system in the immediate vicinity, either a creek or a ditch. The results of the presence of either of these features will be a bridge, or a culvert passing under the road. Further, we can expect to find some rip-rap, especially around the bridge. (One of the best of these type locations that I know of is in the lower portion of Kentucky Lake, a regular stop on the Pro tournament circuit. It is a couple of miles North of the Sportsman’s Marina and on the East side of the lake in a big cove. The current maps of the lake show a portion of it as what appears to be a simple, short bar coming off a point of land. What it DOESN’T show is that at the end of that ‘bar’ are the remains of an old bridge and that the road bed resumes and runs on out towards the main channel.

Good heavens, I’ve exposed an extremely well kept secret! Good luck.

Another factor to consider is current, or moving water. This can have a profound effect on where the bass will be found on a road bed. Take note of the location of the main river channel, a flowing creek, or the usually direction of the prevailing winds. All of these have the potential to determine holding and feeding locations. IF that moving water intersects with your sub-surface structure, you may well have the ‘honey hole of the lake’! Remember, bass will key to the moving water and take up feeding locations in an area where the current flow breaks over or around something, always facing INTO the current flow. This would, then, indicate that they should be found just behind the drop of the down-current side of the road bed. The lure should be cast against the flow of the water and retrieved ‘downstream’, so that it is approaching the field of view of the bass. It works and is one of those ‘attention to detail’ items which makes some Pro’s a bit more successful than others.

The types of lures to be used on roadbeds are selected by the depth of the structure being fished. If the depth is 12 feet, or less, a crank plug will, obviously, take the more active fish quickly. Then, go to a worm (during the colder months make that a jig and pig). Here, let me give you a bit of personal advice, from one who fishes and guides an awful lot. Anytime you are fishing open water structure which is basically void of brush tops, always use a Carolina-rigged worm and a heavy slip sinker. It is easier to fish, is great for ‘feeling’ out the structure, and will actually out-fish a Texas rig two or three to one. I know it that statement may be argumentative, but I can give you the names and addresses of a multitude of my fishing partners who will tell you it is absolutely true.

Try it. Remember—no guts, no air medal (or fish either!!).


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