Solving Shore Fishing Problems

I’ve faced several shore fishing problems that I had to think my way through.

By David A. Brown
Fish Ambassador

I’m a big fan of shore fishing for several reasons. First, the walk-up access allows you to start casting immediately. Also, you may be able to find areas where fish are much less pressured than in popular boating areas.

Most of all, I enjoy the intimate connectivity of targeting fish that are often just a couple of rod lengths away. With a hat to shade your face and polarized sunglasses, you can learn a lot about aquatic environments, water dynamics and fish behavior by simply taking time to visually examine the habitat you’re fishing.

That’s always a big part of my shore fishing missions. I’ll walk out to the 8-acre lake behind my house and spend the first few minutes looking for baitfish, sportfish like bass or bluegill and any oddballs like gar or tilapia. Definitely an enjoyable scene, but not one devoid of challenges.

That’s why I believe shore fishing can play a vital role in teaching beginners and continually sharpening an experienced angler’s skills.

I can personally attest to the latter, as I’ve faced several shore fishing problems that I had to think my way through. Some of these have been physical limitations or challenges, while others were more scenario-specific, with limited mobility and/or available fishing area necessitating creative thinking. 

In all cases, the thought process and decision-making can benefit anglers in any scenario.

The Breakdown

Figuring out where to start can be tough because even a small neighborhood lake can hold features not immediately visible from a shoreline vantage point. A Google Earth review will show the general topography (points, shoreline contour, obvious depth changes), docks, seawalls, inflow/outflow canals, culverts and lily pad fields.

Reviewing satellite imagery of local lakes and ponds will lead you to the sweet spots. (Photo: David Brown)

If you think this is only beginner stuff, consider this: During my coverage work with Bassmaster Elite Series and Bassmaster Opens events, I’ve heard numerous pros report locating key areas that led to successful outcomes after studying satellite imagery. (Example: Jason Christie used this strategy to identify a key backwater creek where he won the 2021 Sabine River Elite Series event.)

Recently, such research clued me in that a small lake with mostly private shoreline backs up to a publicly accessible sidewalk not far from my house. A casual drive past this area confirmed a couple of spots where I can flip a jig or Texas rig into laydown trees without trespassing.

Tight Spaces

Fishing tackle selection is generally defined by the task. For example, a good general-duty rod is about 6 feet, 10 inches to 7 feet. Occasionally, you may need to make a long cast to clear shoreline vegetation, so stepping up to a 7-3 or 7-6 might help while also providing more leverage for separating a bass from cover.

On the flipside, I’ve fished shoreline spots where trees, bushes or fences tightened the playing field. With those midlength to longer rods, I’d snag my bait on nearly every backcast. The solution: a 6-3 to 6-6 rod. Downsizing will limit some of your bass fishing options, but for bluegill, catfish, tilapia — even those feisty “pounder” bass — this range will serve you well.

Dipping bread balls in a scented bait liquid enhances their appeal. (Photo: David Brown)

The Smell Of Success

Bread balls or homemade dough balls are usually an easy sell for panfish and shiners, but during a recent outing, I found both snubbing my bread bait. When I chummed with small pieces, I could see them disappear, but the fish just didn’t want to commit to a hooked bait. I had a jar of Berkley Gulp! Floating Trout Worms, but the bait’s extreme buoyancy kept bringing it to the surface.

Then it hit me — Gulp! baits are bottled in a scent-laden liquid that most fish find appetizing. Since the actual synthetic bait wasn’t fitting the presentation, I lightly dipped the bread balls in this scented sauce and bingo — immediate attack.

When bass chase baitfish near a shoreline, a small, single-blade spinnerbait will produce. (Photo: David Brown)

Spin Cycle

One of the most perplexing challenges of shore fishing is negotiating your way around vegetation. I faced this frustration one afternoon when I found a handful of small bass chasing baitfish amid scattered patches of stringy grass topped with summer algae. 

My go-to Texas-rigged unweighted Senko was too much for the scenario, as the fish were running from the splash. A topwater frog also proved to be overkill.

I needed something that could traverse the relatively short lanes within the vegetation and mimic the flash and dash of local baitfish. A quick dig into the tacklebag yielded just the thing: a 1/16-ounce VMC Curl-Tail Spinnerbait. 

Easily cast on my medium spinning rod, the single Colorado-style blade provided immediate flash and vibration, while the active tail motion completed the ruse. My third cast found a taker.

When current positions fish, leveraging the angles may be your best shoreline strategy. (Photo: David Brown)

All In The Angles

Boats and paddle craft allow you to adjust your positioning and angles to achieve optimal presentations. Shore-bound anglers must play the hand they’re dealt.

When I found a flowing drain pipe pushing a distinct current seam past a small dock and into the adjacent lily pad field, I witnessed bass busting the various baitfish, insects and other forage tumbling with the flow. My only access positioned me perpendicular to the current, where I found my Texas-rigged Senko blowing downstream too quickly for anything more than a few seconds of awkwardly random appearance.

Occasionally, a bass would spot my bait and make an effort to grab it, but the current speed resulted in more misses than connections. I tried casting right to the edge of the pads, but this yielded an even shorter window of opportunity.

I finally dialed in a productive presentation by casting closer to the pipe, in front of a stand of arrowheads. This emergent plant has a stout stem, so I kept my bail open, controlled the line and let the current carry my bait downstream about 6 feet. Closing my reel, I let my bait hang in the current at a 90-degree angle until a good-size bass grabbed it and easily pulled the line through the arrowheads.

When clear conditions have the fish spooky, a lighter insect pattern may be the best fly fishing option. (Photo: David Brown)

Shy On The Fly

During a recent lunch break, I decided to use my fly rod to target the bluegill that live on my lakeshore. I could see evidence of feeding, but clear, still conditions had the panfish superwary. I attracted attention almost immediately, but they were only boiling under my popper without committing well enough to get hooked.

I switched to a foam-body spider with simple rubber legs and found several takers that simply rose topside and sucked in the vulnerable meal. I’m pretty sure the evening feed would have found more aggressive fish willing to eat a popper, as opposed to the foam fly’s much softer presentation. 

I simply let the faux insect settle just like a winged insect falling to the water or a water spider pausing during its surface hopping course and occasionally gave it the slightest tug — just enough to flare those legs and mimic a struggling insect. 

For small openings in vegetation, try using your fly rod like a cane pole to drop a fly on the target. (Photo: David Brown)

Sit Still

I typically fish bluegill baits — bread balls or earthworms — under a float. When the fish are aggressively feeding, bites usually happen within a few seconds. I’m not a fan of waiting for panfish, unless they’re obviously in a lethargic to negative mood.

Bright, clear conditions with no wind could find them wary; there could be large predators like bass lurking close, or they might be between feeding periods. (Moon phase, water temperature and barometric pressure have a lot to do with this.) If I can see a bunch of bluegill darting in and out of shadows, maybe holding near a dock, I’ll remove the float, keep a small split shot and let my bait sink to the bottom and lie still.

This “deadsticking” technique requires patience, as success depends on tickling a fish’s curiosity — or leveraging the appeal of an easy bite. Because bluegill and other panfish typically travel in groups, all it takes is one fish nibbling the bait to trigger the feeding competition that causes someone to make a mistake.

The key is finding a spot where the bait remains visible and accessible. Natural lakes and ponds have a lot of dead organic material called detritus on their bottoms, but sandy spots — sometimes in front of drain pipes or breaks in grassbeds — are good options.

I’ll let my bait sit for a couple of minutes as long as I’m seeing fish activity. If several start nosing down toward the bait, I’ll keep it perfectly still, but if they seem disinterested, I’ll give it a couple of short tugs just to make sure someone sees it. (Fish are often attracted to the slightest motion.)

The Long Reach

Learning to effectively present a fly is a skill worth learning. I often enjoy whipping a little bug back and forth until I generate enough momentum to make a halfway decent cast to my lake’s bluegill. However, after an afternoon session, I decided to take a peek into a little opening in an area of overgrown aquatic weeds.

Spotting several bluegill and a couple of small bass, I knew my moderate skills were insufficient to skillfully cast a fly into this tight space. Undeterred, I stripped off enough fly line to swing my short and decidedly nontechnical leader toward the opening. My floating spider landed, made a few spins and quickly caught the eye of a small bass that rose and slurped in my fly.

Not fancy, but a catch is a catch.

When the bluegill don’t cooperate, big golden shiners put up a respectable fight. (Photo: David Brown)

Take What You Can Get

In 1970, Stephen Stills released the single “Love The One You’re With,” which told us: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Maybe not the best advice from a relationship standpoint, but when it comes to fishing — the man has a point.

I’ve found that certain times of the year, golden shiners up to 10 inches long will share habitat with bluegill. While I prefer the latter, the former put up a respectable fight. Mix in the occasional juvenile bass drawn to the commotion and you have the makings of a mixed-bag blast.

Put it this way: I’ve caught giant pike in Canada and arm-stretching bass in Mexico, but regardless of what bites, watching a little red and white bobber tip, tip, tip, plunge never gets old.

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