Bank Fishing Revisited
Patrick Mills

The bobber dipped and then slid under - somewhere beneath the mist covered surface of that early morning mill pond a young boy’s dreams were about to become reality. A hasty strike set the hook, prompting the youngster’s rod to tug and then arch over as his unseen quarry made a spirited bid for freedom. With a pounding heart, the boy held fast and was soon able to steer his prize toward the confines of the waiting net, proudly tended by his father. This fish was special, as it was the boy’s first. The folds of the landing net revealed his prize, a brightly colored perch of around a pound in weight. To him the fish was an unforgettable giant – a spark that would ignite an obsession for a sport he would pursue with passion only fellow anglers can truly understand.

I was a tender seven years of age at the time I caught that first fish. Even though it was more than 30 years ago, I can still recall the rough feel of the perch’s scales and see its vibrant colors in my mind’s eye, so ingrained these memories are. Most anglers can probably recant a similar tale – we never really forget our first fish, regardless of our current angling interests. While we may now classify ourselves as either bass, catfish, fly, musky or walleye anglers, those magical memories from our childhood bank fishing experiences live on within us all. We can, of course, relive these formative experiences through our children. Indeed, in common with so many other anglers of my generation, we have come to see our angling lives turn full circle. Like so many others with their own memories, I now too understand and appreciate the pride my father, net in hand, radiated at the mill pond better than 30 years ago.

While fishing from the bank is most often considered the easiest way to introduce new anglers to our great sport, have you ever considered what would happen if we revisited this branch of angling, but, while doing so, applied the same level of sophistication we typically reserve for the pursuit of our chosen sport species? The results of such an approach are, quite frankly, amazing. Proficient bank anglers regularly capture single fish in excess of 20 pounds and season best fish of better than 40 pounds, while four hour catches in excess of 400 pan fish or total bag weights of greater than100 pounds are common. Perhaps more startling is the fact that such mammoth catches are usually taken from small, unmanaged, urban waters. How is this possible? Addressing and ultimately attempting to answer this question is what I have devoted the latter part of my angling career to, and have arrived at a number of simple conclusions. Becoming a successful bank angler is pretty straightforward. Basically, it comes down to being able to recognize, adapt and then learn to capitalize upon the basic dissimilarities between sport and bank fishing.  What follows is a basic overview of this subject, along with some tips that will not only immediately increase any bank anglers catch rate, but may also help rekindle that youthful excitement we all likely experienced in childhood.

Basic Philosophy:  Sport anglers typically use boats to search out, and then angle for, their chosen species. The technology utilized reflects this, with the necessary mobility and fish finding capabilities provided via speedy boats and fish finding electronics, respectively. By contrast, the bank angler adopts a much simpler, less mobile approach, most often restricting his or herself to a specific position on the bank. Thus, a bank angler must attract fish to their chosen fishing location, whereas a sport fisher must actively search out fish from a variety of locations. This is the most fundamental difference between the two angling styles. Top tip: by employing a strategy that relies on attracting fish to a single location, the bank angler must employ chum or some other attractant to be effective. Thus, the application of chum (or groundbait) becomes a key component within any successful bank angling strategy.

Species: When one examines DNR (or other) statistics pertaining to fish populations, some starting information becomes apparent with regard to which species dominate our most familiar bodies of water. Based solely on numbers, sunfish are by far the most dominant species found in retention ponds, lakes and reservoirs; while carp, by far, comprise the greatest biomass (total live weight) of fish in similar locations, as well as within lowland rivers. Thus, for bank anglers restricted to fishing for ‘what’s there’, ‘gills and carp essentially guarantee prolific sport, irregardless of from where the bank angler chooses to fish. In contrast, this fact is of little relevance for boat anglers, as they are necessarily required to search out members of their chosen sport species, say largemouth bass, which typically make up less than 5% of any unmanaged fishery’s population. Top tip: bank anglers, who tailor their approach to sunfish and/or carp, almost guarantee spectacular catches. This is not so say that bank anglers don’t catch sport species (they do), but their catches are most often dominated by these most prolific species. Indeed, a competent bank angler will typically catch in excess of ~ 30 pounds of sunfish, carp and/or catfish, over a typical four hour session, from pretty much any unmanaged water!

When one realizes that managed fisheries often operate strict size and bag limits for the sporting species, most boat anglers typically find themselves returning the majority of the fish they catch. Thus, in these modern times where practicing catch and release, rather than fishing for food, is the norm, it should come as no surprise that bank fishing is experiencing an upsurge in popularity. With this fact in mind, the Joliet Junior College Anglers Club (JJCAC) runs a series of free events throughout the year dedicated to providing access to relevant bank fishing seminars, fish-ins and other educational / social events. See the calendar page at this site for more details on specific Club activities.