Cabela's Bargain Cave
By William D. Anderson
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Fishing Shoreline Structure

By William D. Anderson

Shoreline fishing can provide an angler with a variety of fishing opportunities. There is a limitless amount of structure near most shorelines, and knowing how to fish it correctly can mean the difference between a great day, and a not so great day. This article will deal with two types of shorelines and explain what I have found from experience to be productive under most conditions.

The two most common types of shoreline structure that I fish consist of rip-rap or weed lined shores. Both can present challenges but lets start with rip-rap. Rip-rap can come in all shapes and sizes, but the most common is limestone boulders. This type of structure is a fish magnet. First, the smaller creatures that the bigger fish prey upon will move into the rocks for shelter and protection. This draws in the bigger creatures because they know that eventually a meal will come out. Second, where these boulders meet the bottom often creates good cover for the bigger fish.

When approaching an area that consists of rocks and boulders, try to be as quiet as possible. Rocks will transmit sound from one to another and this sound will carry a great distance into the water. Start fan casting  and concentrate on the areas directly parallel to the shore. Because the fish are more likely to be hunting right up in the rocks, or sitting in the rocks near the bottom, most of the effort should be concentrated directly on the rocks themselves. Spinners and diving crank baits seem to work best although I've seen other anglers catch fish on a variety of other lures including jigs and plastic baits. Whatever type of lure you use, start out slow and work up in speed gradually. Try to cover as much of the rocks as possible because some fish wedge themselves in-between two rocks and won't move until an unsuspecting meal swims right past their nose.

One problem with fishing rocks is that you will likely snag a lot of lures. If you use a high quality rod, you'll quickly learn the difference between a snag and the strike of a fish. Once you become snagged, do not crank back on the pole. The harder you pull back on the line, the less likely you are to get your lure back. Point the tip of your rod straight up and lightly dip it towards the snagged lure. Lightly snap the rod back a couple times. If you were retrieving the lure at a reasonable speed, more often than not this will dislodge the lure. If you were bringing the lure back at a higher rate of speed, it's more than likely wedged in pretty good. Try to move to the opposite side of the lure and snap the rod back a few times. Remember not to snap with a lot of force because I have seen people break the tips off their rods. If the lure doesn't come free with a couple light tugs, pulling harder isn't going to help any more. Once you've decided that the lure is really stuck, point the tip of your rod directly at the lure and walk straight back. Never pull up on the rod. Keep the stress on the reel. Go back until you either break your line or the lure comes free. In either case, check your line for nicks and fraying before tying on another. If you were using a lure that floats, watch and see if it floats up. Sometimes you can tie on a spinner or a topwater and snag it if it floats up.

One other thing worth mentioning about rocky shorelines is that they can be dangerous. Sure footing and ankle support is required to navigate over rocks and boulders. Also, wet rocks should be avoided as they can be deceptively slippery. In short, be careful. I've seen adults bring children to fish areas that are rip rapped with giant boulders, and a couple of those children went away in ambulances.

Weedy shorelines require a different type of fishing, but they can provide just as much structure. When walking a weedy shoreline, it's a good idea to carry two poles. One should have a weedless topwater at the end of the line, and the other should have something like a Carolina rigged lizard, or anything else that can swim through the weeds without bringing half of them back with the lure. Often times as you walk a shoreline you'll see fish 15 or 20 feet ahead of you scurry out from within inches of the shoreline. Keeping this in mind, always cast the area within 12 inches of shore first. If you can approach a fish with out spooking it, then cast far enough beyond it, you'll almost always get it to hit.

Tossing the topwater directly into the weeds can be productive too. I'm always amazed when I see a Largemouth Bass break through the weeds to grab something swimming over the top. I'll use a rod with a little more backbone and heavier line so that I can muscle a fish quickly over the weeds. Once Mr. Bucketmouth buries himself, you either have to pull until he breaks off, or go in and get him. I prefer to get him out before he has chance to get in deeper. Once again, I'll fan cast an area using the appropriate lure for the amount of weeds present. If there is a break between the weeds and the shore, I'll often run a spinner in this area. It's amazing to see the panfish come out after the lure, only to be followed by a lurking Bass. If the fish scatter quickly enough, the bass will hit the lure because it's the easiest meal.

Once again, you're more likely than not to snag every now and then in weeds. There will be logs, tires, or any other of a number of types of things that you can hang up on. Just remember that the goal is to wiggle the lure first and not drive it deeper into what ever it's hung up on. Lures will get wedged in rocky areas, but in weedy areas it's usually the hooks that get caught. Only pull back as a last resort and always put the stress on the reel and not the rod. Save the rod for fighting the fish.

No matter what type of shoreline conditions you find, just remember that all shoreline can be considered structure. Even sandy beaches will hold fish at times. Cast the areas closest to the shore first, then fan cast the rest of the area before moving on. You'll find that most of your hits will come right next to shore.

One last thing I'd like to mention about shoreline fishing is this - During the spring months, you are likely to catch fish that are either sitting on nests, guarding nests, or full of eggs. These fish should be released as quickly as possible. There is no sport or skill in taking a fish off a nest. Anyone can do it. By doing so you not only kill the fish you caught, but you kill hundreds of others. An unguarded nest won't last more than a few minutes because either the other fish, crayfish, salamanders, or whatever other creatures live in the lake, will quickly move in and devour any eggs or new hatchlings. Nesting or pregnant fish should never be targeted, and they should always be released where they are caught. I've seen pictures of Gobies that have surrounded a nest guarded by a Smallmouth in Lake Michigan. If someone were to catch that fish you can be sure that even if it were quickly released, there would be no eggs left for it to return to.



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