Bank Fishing?s Top Five Strategies and Secrets
Part 2:
Practical Applications
 
Patrick Mills

There are few more frustrating things in angling than devoting the bulk of one?s time at the water?s edge to watching a motionless bobber. As was discussed in part 1 of this piece: ?Knowing what?s There?, such frustrations can be overcome, in part, through a greater understanding of which common species are likely to be encountered during a typical bank fishing expedition. Briefly, since prey (bluegill, shiner) and ?super veggie? (carp, buffalo) species typically outnumber sport (predator) species by a ratio of approximately 20:1 in any single angling location they must then, in turn, become the bank angler?s primary quarry.  Thus, a successful bankfishing outing will typically differ greatly, in terms of species sought and methods employed, from that experienced by boat anglers. Essentially, the specie specific methods and tactics employed by the more mobile boater angler are simply not suited to more static bank angling environment. With this basic truism in mind, our thoughts now turn to either how, for beginner anglers in particular, this can be accomplished from the perspective of a beginning from ?blank slate?; or for more experienced anglers, how a typical boat based approach can be modified in order to become more successful at angling from the bank. The good news is that we only need to apply four simple bankfishing-specific tactics in order to achieve these respective goals. Specifically, they encompass the following principles: understanding and applying the methods and tactics necessary for targeting the expected quarry species; locating where these fish are likely to be; encouraging these fish to feed; and, finally, attracting more of these species into the angler?s fishing area. The remainder of this article focuses on these four general points, which, in turn, make up checklist of practical strategies that can significantly increase any bank angler?s catches. Additionally, each of these points is reinforced through the accompanying underwater images, which were in turn captured from actual underwater video recorded in the field. Readers are both welcome and encouraged to view the original clips in their entirety at the Underwater Video and Photography Page of this website.


Equipment Needs

The good news is that most of us already possess the basic tackle, in terms of  rods and reels, required to become more successful bank anglers. Indeed, in this regard bankfishing is very similar to most other forms of fresh water angling. However, where sport and bank angling strategies diverge is in the selection and application of terminal tackle. Since the bank angler is not typically targeting a specific predator (sport) specie, a wide spectrum of baits (attractive to many species of fish) will be employed in place of artificial lures and spinners etc. Perhaps most importantly, the type terminal tackle selected must match the bait employed. As can be seen from the accompanying underwater photograph (photo 1), a grub impaled on a size 6 hook has little chance of being taken by a bluegill, as this fish?s mouth can only, at best, comfortably accommodate a hook of size 16 or less. This is by far the most common mistake anglers make when fishing for non-sporting species ? not taking into account the nature of the fish?s feeding habits and associated body design. The prey and ?super veggie? species most typically targeted by bank anglers have very small mouths in comparison to the sporting species. If we compare the feeding habits of largemouth bass and carp this becomes apparent. Bass essentially feed by first chasing down, and then ?inhaling?, their chosen prey. Clearly, a very large mouth is required to ingest, for example, a whole fish, lizard or crayfish. This means larger sized hooks may be used comfortably with these bigger baits and/or their representative lures. In contrast, carp and other non-predatory species typically feed on worms, leaches, seeds and other smaller food items. Not surprisingly, these species have evolved smaller mouths which are, in turn, better suited to feeding on these lesser items. Thus, common bankfishing baits, such as a single grain of corn or a leaf worm, must be used in conjunction with appropriately sized hooks, typically in the range of sizes 12 ? 18. The take home message is clear, anglers must use smaller baits when bank fishing and match the size of the hook used to the bait being employed.

In concert with smaller hooks and baits, more subtle lines and bite indicators (bobbers / floats) must also be employed when bank fishing. If we again compare the feeding habits of bass and carp, the reasons for such selections become apparent. Simply stated, predators are required to react both quickly and aggressively with regard to securing a prey item. Such behaviors typically translate to strong, almost unmistakable, indications as experienced by angler ? such as rod tips pulling around or large bobbers dragging under. This is not the case for the non-predatory species, which typically have greater amounts of time in which they can investigate food items. Briefly, wary pan fish, as well as carp and other larger species, typically examine their food through ?sucking and blowing? these items in and out of their mouths several times before taking them ? this less aggressive behavior is converted to those frustrating dinks and dings we often see at the bobber or rod tip. Often times, if the bait is not presented in a natural manner the fish will reject the offering altogether. Why is this? As shown in the accompanying underwater photographs (photos 1 and 2), baits behave unnaturally when either weighed down by a hook that is too large; when attached to a thick, visible line; or when connected to a bobber that is too buoyant. In such cases the bait will act in an unnatural way and, in turn, ?spook? the fish. The consequences to the angler are obvious, with such dinks and dings rarely evolving into positive takes. Clearly, in order to transform these timid indications into more discernible takes the bait must behave more naturally. This goal is accomplished, in addition to the use of appropriately sized hooks, though the use of lighter lines, typically of less than 6 lb test (which allow the bait to fall / flutter naturally through the water column); and replacing bulky bobbers with lighter and more hydrodynamic ?Thill? style floats, which then present much less resistance to a biting fish. The preferred smaller hooks, lighter lines and more sensitive floats are available in most tackle stores, most often through the trout section. Indeed, a good maxim when browsing tackle stores for items suitable for bankfishing would be to ?think trout, not bass? with regard to the appropriateness of such purchases. The application of this philosophy is detailed below.

 
Photo 1: A bluegill battles with grub impaled on a size 6 hook, but is unable to swallow the larger hook. See the video clip here   Photo 2: A bluegill examines a poorly presented bait before swimming away. See the video clip here.

Setting up Shop

Fish are creatures of habit, a fact any angler can use to his or her advantage when deciding where to cast a lure, float or sinker. Indeed, as boat anglers know only too well, fish gravitate towards classic structure, such as submerged vegetation, rock piles, bridge pilings etc. While it would also be in any bank angler?s interest to cast towards such inviting structure, more often than not local retention ponds, lakes and rivers are largely devoid of such fish holding real-estate close to shore. However, it must also be remembered that the bank itself makes for an outstanding feature, to which the bank angler will always have easy access. Specifically, within any body of fresh water there will be a constant shallow marginal area adjacent to the bank, which will then drop way to deeper water from anywhere from 12 ? 40 feet from the shore. Thus, there will always be an underwater shelf within easy casting distance of the bank angler?s location. This is important to know, as the bank fisher?s primary quarry, namely carp and bluegill, are strongly attracted to the marginal shelf. Taking bluegill first, these and other pan fish typically patrol the top of the marginal drop-off (which, in turn is typically on the order of ~1 ? 3 feet in depth) in search of terrestrials or other invertebrates living among the bank side vegetation, while immediate access to deeper water affords some degree of projection from birds or other land based predators. Thus, in order to be successful when angling for pan fish, the angler need only employ a strategy which, in turn, exploits the target species? natural feeding behaviors. This is best and most easily accomplished through the use of a short pole (sold as crappie or wonder poles for ~$10 in most stores), a light Thill style float (?shy bite? style is best) coupled with 4 lb test line and a size 16 trout hook. The rig is constructed with the bulk of the shot under the float, with only two or three light #8 shot pinched down the line ? this allows the hook bait (typically some kind of grub or worm) to fall slowly ( i.e. naturally) through the water column. Rigs such as this are both simple and efficient. Indeed, the current US bankfishing record of 511 fish in 4 hours was accomplished using such a set up!

Carp and other large bottom dwelling species, such as catfish, buffalo and drum, present a different challenge, as they exhibit highly dissimilar feeding behaviors to those of pan fish. Typically, these species patrol the bottom of the marginal shelf, which for most bodies of water is usually located between 12 - 40 feet from shore, with its base typically submerged to a depth of between 4 - 12 feet. Why can these species be found at the base of the marginal shelf? There are two main reasons: First, food items either too big for, or missed by, pan fish at the top of the drop off typically roll to its base and collect there. This in itself will attract larger species. Second, the base of the shelf offers a feature along which species such as carp and catfish tend to patrol. In many ways the base of the marginal shelf may be considered as something as an aquatic ?super highway? for these fish, with the occasional food caches uncovered there being in many ways analogous to hungry humans discovering sporadic diners and fast food joints along the roadside! In order to be successful when angling for these larger specimens, the angler (as with the pan fish case) need only employ a strategy which, in turn, exploits the target species natural feeding behaviors. This is best and most easily accomplished through the use of either float or sinkers set ups that, in turn, allow the angler?s bait to be presented at the base of the marginal shelf. However, before a hook can be baited, the location of the shelf?s base must first be determined. This is most easily done with either a wireless fish finder or a simple weight attached to the hook of an under-shotted float rig. This process, called pluming, allows the exact depth of water to be established, with the shelf location being defined as where the bottom becomes flat after dropping away from the margins. The rigs employed will typically be matched with a slightly longer rod than normal ? a 10 to 12 ft crappie rod is fine, although a steel head float rod or dedicated Euro style match rod is somewhat better. Slightly longer rods allow for more distant casts with lighter than normal terminal tackle, although rods of 8 ft or less may be used for shorter casts. A light Thill style float (?TG waggler? or ?Stealth? styles are best) coupled with a 4 - 6 lb test line and a size 14 - 16 trout hook work well. The rig is usually constructed with ~2/3 of the required shot pinched under the float (to aid with casing), with the remainder bulked at around 18 inches from the hook, with a single  #8 shot positioned ~6 inches from the hook. With the float set so the bait either just touches bottom or is just over-depth, the bait will quickly reach the required depth, but then also flutter slowly through the last foot or so of the water column before coming to rest on the bottom. Rigs such as this are simple and easy to fish, with catches of carp in excess of 100 pounds possible over a 4 hour spell!
 

Setting the Table

Having assembled the correct rigs and located the top (in the case of pan fish) or bottom (in the case of the larger species) of the marginal shelf, how do we then go about catching good numbers of fish from these natural hotspots? Sure, we could just bait a hook, cast out and wait - after all, our hook bait is now residing in some prime fish-holding real estate! Significantly, and this is probably one of the greatest mistakes bank anglers often make, it is also important to actively draw fish into the fishing area after any initial residents have been captured. In this way the angler is actively taking charge of the situation, as rather than having to wait for fish to find their bait, they are instead actively attracting more fish towards it. When catching bluegill or other pan fish from the margins, this goal can be best accomplished through emulating these species? natural feeding behaviors ? in this case, by regularly introducing samples of bait to the fishing area by hand. This strategy, known as lose feeding, both quickly draws fish to the angler?s fishing area and promotes a competitive feeding response among the quarry species. Excellent lose feed baits are particulate in nature and include maggots, meal worms, or even corn. ?Little and often? is a phrase worth remembering, as introducing free offerings in such a manner is by far the best way to ensure the desired effect of a bite a cast - which is commonly the case if undertaken correctly! Alternatively, the angler may choose to introduce a bed of feed. Known as chumming or groundbaiting, such a strategy involves introducing a carpet of food items in and around the anglers fishing area. Groundbait (chum) can be anything from wetted bread crumbs through to chopped worm, with anglers often coming up with their own unique recipes. Although introducing chopped worm is highly effective for bluegill, groundbaiting is most closely associated with fishing for bottom feeders such as carp, catfish or drum. In such cases, a sweet flavored groundbait laced with corn seems to work best. A good basic recipe would be a 50/50 mix of white bread crumb and cornmeal wetted with cream of corn. This is not dough bait! When mixing the groundbait, it should contain just enough liquid so it holds together when squeezed in to a ball, but then rapidly disintegrates (to form a carpet of feed on the bottom) after being introduced to the fishing area. Typing ?groundbait? into an internet search engine will typically yield greater than 50,000 hits, with everything from the preparation of simple home made concoctions through to the effectiveness of high end commercial mixes being detailed. The novice bank angler is advised to try something more straightforward to begin with, such as the basic recipe listed above, before branching out into more species and/or conditions specific mixes. Interested readers are also encouraged to review a more detailed dedicated piece on the design and preparation of groundbait at the ?Pat?s Patch? section of this website. Details on how a typical ground baiting strategy is undertaken at the water?s edge are discussed in the following section.
 

Ringing the Dinner Bell

Once prepared, several balls of groundbait are typically introduced to the angler?s fishing area in order to create a ?catching zone?. Clearly, since the target species will be attracted to this groundbaited area, it then becomes imperative that the bank angler then present his or her hook bait over this feed. A good analogy would be that of Thanksgiving dinner, the family (fish) seat themselves around the dining room table (catching zone) in order to consume their dinner (groundbait). It is unlikely, aside from maybe that drunken Uncle laid out on the living room couch (?!), that anyone else (other fish) would be found away from the dining room table (catching zone) during dinner (the fishing session). Thus, to reiterate, it becomes clear that once groundbait is introduced, the angler?s hook bait must be presented over, or in close proximity to, this attractive bed of feed. A typical initial bombardment of 3 or 4 orange sized balls or groundbait creates a catching zone approximately the size of an average coffee table. Thus, the bank angler need only then present their bait within this area to ensure a steady stream of takes from the aquatic diners attracted to this underwater equivalent of a holiday feast!

Most often, anglers experience an initial flurry of bites after the initial introduction of groundbait. This is almost always due to the presence of bluegill or other inquisitive pan fish. As shown in picture 3 (as well as in actual video footage of this event at the Underwater Video and Photography Page of Bankfisher.com), bluegill just seem to appear from nowhere as soon as the first groundbait ball in introduced! While the angler may be content with catching bluegill and / or other pan fish initially, an important sequence of events will begin unravel underwater which will, in turn, require the angler to make some important decisions with regard the direction of their subsequent feeding strategy. When takes from pan fish begin to taper off, this normally implies that one of two events is likely taking place underwater. First, it may be that fish numbers within the catching zone have been significantly reduced, either through being captured by the angler or becoming spooked by, for example, a clumsy foot fall or lost fish. In such instances, the fish must be attracted back into the catching zone through the introduction of additional groundbait, with a single ball most often being enough to reignite the action. Second, if bites from pan fish seem to either stop abruptly or become very timid, this is a sure sign that larger species have appeared over the baited area. As shown in picture 4, bigger species such as carp and catfish, or even predators such as bass or walleye, will ?bump? prey species from the catching zone. If carp or catfish are thought to be present, quickly switching to a larger hook bait and heavier gear can often bring instant and exciting results. Similarly, when sport species are a possibility, tossing out a plug or spinner often results in the capture of a much prized sport fish. For most unmanaged bodies of water, carp will likely be the first of the larger species to show ? in such instances groundbait and/or lose feed should be introduced after the capture of every one or two of these fish, since such leviathans typically possess appetites in proportion to their size! In many respects, bankfishing is not so much about using the right gear and bait, but more about getting the feeding right ? only in this way can impressive bags or fish be captured over an entire session. Indeed, in many ways, the art of bank fishing should really be considered the art feeding?.

 
Photo 3: A shoal of inquisitive bluegill is immediately attracted to a ball of chum. See the video clip here.   Photo 4: Carp and other larger species ?bump? smaller pan fish out of the chummed area.

Summary of Top Tips

Think ?trout not bass? when selecting gear suitable for bankfishing. Remember the majority of fish that swim in freshwater have relatively small mouths and delicate feeding behaviors ? small hooks, light line and sensitive floats are a must.

Locate the top and bottom of the marginal shelf when fishing from the bank ? these are natural fish holding hotspots. Pan fish can be captured from the top of the shelf, with larger species from its base.

Create a ?catching zone? through the introduction of groundbait to the chosen fishing area. Be sure to fish hook baits directly over this attractive bed of feed.

Ensure a steady stream of fish by gauging what is happening underwater, in terms of how many and which kinds of fish are feeding, and then reacting accordingly with regard to further introduction of groundbait.

Please practice catch and release, as the strategies discussed here, if implemented correctly, will significantly improve any angler?s catches from the bank.