5 Subtle Things to Look for When Fly Fishing for Bass on Lakes
Updated: Apr 5
Part of what makes bass fishing so much fun to me is that there is often a complex puzzle to figure out.
Resulting from things like weather and water temperature shifts, bass will move around from mere inches of water in the backs of coves to suspended out over a hundred feet of open water. Anglers trying to locate bass will often gravitate to the most obvious forms of structure and cover, but the more subtle spots and signs are sometimes what you really need to key in on. Looking for these more low-key indicators is especially important if you fish more open, featureless places like a barren lake or man-made pond.
These tips can obviously be used however you're chasing bass, but this IS a fly fishing website, so here's 5 subtle things to look for when fly fishing for bass on lakes!
Steepness- The steepness of a shoreline is often a good sign of how deep the water will be immediately off the bank — a steep shoreline usually means deeper water, while a more gradual sloping bank typically means shallower water. Sure, sometimes the true depth of the water doesn't really match the look of the bank, but it's at least a good starting point for investigating.
This may sound like an obvious thing to look for, but you also have to look out for much more subtle variations. While a whole bank could be classified as steep, often times one part of that bank can offer a little more angle and, thus, slightly deeper water close to shore. On an overall shallow lake with gently-sloping banks, the shoreline variations will be equally subtle. Whether you intend to start deep or shallow, study the bank from a distance before making that first cast.
The Birds- Birds are a great indicator of baitfish in the area. Obviously, actively diving birds are ideally what you want to see as they indicate bait up in shallow water or bait that's getting pushed up towards the surface over deeper water. However, don't ignore birds sitting on the water or even on the shoreline, too. A group of birds resting in a particular area can mean that some bait activity already happened and may happen again. It never hurts to cast around that area, or simply wait to see if there's some activity once again.
I keep using the word "birds" which is plural, but really just one or two birds can be a tip off to some major activity. As my old striper fishing buddy Paul once said long ago "one bird can equal a thousand fish." He's right!
Stuff on Shore- Anglers often look for obvious shoreline cover and structure extending right down into the water — a big rock slide, a fallen tree, or even an old road bed or busted up launch ramp. These can all be great things to fish and are not challenging to find. However, smaller and/or more sparse shoreline features are also worth looking for and are particularly important on lakes that don't offer much cover or structure.
A great example is a lake I fish locally which is shallow with mostly just a mud or sandy bottom. On this one shallow otherwise featureless shoreline, there's a single rock that sits dry on the bank when the water is low. Some anglers might not think much of it, but the first time I saw that rock I went right to it and started casting. What I discovered is that there were other rocks scattered in the water about 10–20 feet out that I couldn't see but I could definitely feel on the retrieve. And the bass were there that day, too. That one stone on the bank marked the very edge of that lone sparse rocky area — one of only two rocky spots I have found on the lake.
No matter if it's a few stones on a barren mud bank, a handful of scattered stumps on a rocky bank, leftover man-made brush piles from when the water was high, or whatever, who's to say there aren't some down in the water, too? It might be a worthy area to probe for a few minutes.
Transitions- A transition is exactly what it sounds like; a change from one feature to another. It can come in various forms, with one example being a switch from sand to rock. The edges of these transition zones can be great places to find bass. If you notice an obvious change either visually on the bank or through your boat's electronics, it can be a very productive area.
Secondary Points- A main point is a prominent point that sticks out into the main body of the lake. On the other hand, a secondary point is one that is found off the main lake, such as just inside of a main lake point or halfway back into a long cove. Secondary points can be shallower and more subtle in appearance, sometimes looking more nub-like than long and craggy. Secondary points really shine in pre-spawn and post-spawn because bass will stop on these smaller points while gradually working their way from deep to shallow water or vice versa.