There’s a whole lot of content on the internet trying to teach people how to fish offshore. Most of it is not very good.
Successfully approaching an offshore bite is challenging, and there is an attention to detail and a certain level of patience required that is often misunderstood. It’s something that requires a ton of repetition and hours on the water to master. I can’t change that, but if you’re someone that is still struggling to catch offshore bass, I can jumpstart that process.
I used to be embarrassingly terrible at fishing offshore.
If you’re reading this and thinking “I’m not very good at this”, I promise you are better than I was. I used to get up at 4AM to catch the morning topwater bite in the summertime, because I simply could not catch fish any other way.
But through nothing but hours and hours of trying, I became unhorrible at it, and then I became okay at it, and now I’d dare to even say I’m pretty good at it. I’ve gone from being excited to catch one fish from deep water to catching about 20 pounds a day during the summertime on my home lake.
I never found many articles along the way that were helpful, though. How to do something and how to learn to do something are two different tasks and I’m hopeful this article will help you with the latter. I’m hopeful how I learned can help you learn.
I’m not going to lie to you though, following this process once is not going to turn you into an elite offshore angler immediately. Becoming that is a long process without many shortcuts, but this three-step method is an excellent starting point that will help you become more proficient at reading maps, finding offshore areas with your electronics, making accurate casts to them, having confidence that your bait is in the right place, and finally catching bass.
Step 1: The Topo Map
When you open a topo map to look for offshore spots, one of two things usually happen.
- You get sensory overload from all the lines everywhere and have no clue where to begin.
- Your eyes immediately go to the biggest juiciest looking point, hump, ledge, or collection of squiggly lines in the viewing pane.
Both of these are bad, the former for obvious reasons, and the latter because 367 people have fished that awesome looking point just since Tuesday.
Instead of looking for individual pieces of structure that may hold fish, cut out 95% of the water immediately. Select one small area of the lake as your target zone. I usually opt for a medium to large creek arm that has some structure out in front if I can find it. I fish in the south where most lakes are man-made reservoirs with numerous creek arms. The areas around the entrances to these usually have a good amount of enticing offshore structure.
If you’re fishing some natural lake up north that doesn’t have any creek arms, just select an area that has a decent amount of offshore structure. The point is to simplify by taking a large lake and shrinking it down to an area you can dissect in a few hours. Select an area that you can scan in no more than three hours and consider that your target zone for the day.
Below are a couple examples of areas you should start in. I like these areas because they have significant structure on the main lake and heading into the creek. All of those places are areas where schools could form early in the summer when the fish first migrate out of the spawning creeks.
Step 2: Scan it
As much as it sucks that $1000 electronics play a significant role in this, they do. If you don’t have quality electronics in your boat, you’re at a disadvantage.
Don’t stop reading though.
I learned how to fish offshore with subpar electronics. You can too.
Start at one end of your target zone and scan everything all the way to the other end. If there is a point, scan the entirety of it. If there is an area with a slow sloping bank that looks like the lamest spot ever, scan the whole thing.
Scan everything. You’ll be surprised at how much stuff you find.
You’re looking for cover or anything else out of the ordinary on the bottom, whether it be a roadbed, a brush pile, some scattered rock, or anything else. Put a waypoint on it.
You’re not really explicitly looking for fish here. I’ve found that, when in the learning phase, if you’re focused on trying to find only schools of fish, you’ll end up ignoring a lot of other good signs that your fishfinder will present to you. If you happen to find fish, all the better, but don’t abandon what you’re doing just because you haven’t come across a big school.
Do take note of any places where you see fish or bait though.
Bass love a hard bottom, so I would spend a lot of time on my home lakes scanning and noting anywhere where I found rock. Structure that has rock is very appealing to bass, and if you find some that has only a little bit of rock on it, you can bet that’s where fish prefer to be when they show up on that piece of structure.
Pretty much every lake has some kind of rock or hard bottom. It’s not a requirement for there to be bass but it definitely adds a level of appeal for the fish. Hard bottom produces a stronger return on your fishfinder, meaning the bottom is typically a lighter, more filled-in color and the coloration extends farther below the actual bottom on your downscan screen. Note these things, because hard bottom is a big key to offshore fishing.
Another thing about rock is that fish around it can often be hard to distinguish from the bottom on your fishfinder. A lot of times, when they get down around rocky bottom, they’ll blend in on your screen as the return fails to separate the fish from the bottom. That’s why it’s important to not look exclusively for fish.
Left: Brush pile on the sidescan Right: Roadbed on the downscan
Step 3: Go fishing
Now it’s time to start working through the things that you left waypoints on.
Start anywhere you noted fish or bait, but make your way through everything you put a waypoint on. This is where it’s helpful to put your crankbait away. That deep cranking rod you brought because you have to have one to fish offshore?
Stuff it back in the rod locker.
Crankbaits are awesome offshore tools that can catch a ton of fish in a hurry, but they have some drawbacks that slow the learning process. Once you have a good grasp of casting angles, accuracy, and the other functional aspects of offshore fishing, that’s when you want to introduce the crankbait.
Instead, opt for something you can drag. Carolina rigs, shaky heads, and football jigs are all applicable options. You want something you can drag very slowly, because it’s important to feel the bottom.
If you’re fishing rock on a point, you have to know where your bait is in relation to the structure. Making accurate casts to targets you cannot see is challenging. Being able to slowly comb over an area with a sensitive rod and feel the rock on a point will let you know your bait is in the right place. Then you’ll be able to build some confidence with your casting and boat positioning.
Take your bait and drag it as slow as you possibly can over whatever you’re fishing. If you’re hitting rock, you want to be able to count the rocks you’re hitting.
Move it that slow and really soak that bait.
This is a good time to employ the “slow but fast” strategy. Keep your retrieve slow, but don’t make too many repeated casts. Be sure to continue covering water. Dragging a bait over enough rocky structure will eventually start putting fish in the boat. I committed to fishing this way for the sake of learning and caught three fish over five pounds the first day of trying. This was after months of incompetently bumbling around looking for schools on my graph.
Even if you’re not catching a ton of fish right away, this process will still help you develop a better understanding of boat positioning, accurately targeting cover and structure that you can’t see, and understanding where your bait is in relation to it, all of which will help you get to that point where you are catching more bass.
And that’s the process. Slow down, make your way through your target zone, and then duplicate the process at other places on the lake. You might get lucky and catch fish immediately. It might take a while. But you eventually will find fish, and then you can start identifying more specific variables like depth and type of structure and really narrow your search.
Once you have a good grasp on how to do all this and you’re catching some fish, then you can focus on developing the more detailed areas of the offshore fishing skillset being confident that you’ve eliminated a lot of human error. Confidence is a big part of catching offshore bass, and if you’re not confident in what you’re doing, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes and spend a lot of time questioning yourself. By using this process to develop a better understanding of what kind of areas fish inhabit in your lake and the actual process of casting to them, you’re making it much easier on yourself to learn the harder parts of the craft that follow.
Questions you may have had from that
What kind of electronics do I need?
You don’t need a 20-inch flatscreen TV to be effective at scanning. I learned how to do this with a Elite-7ti from Lowrance and a hook-7 that weren’t even networked together. Now that’s kind of the bare minimum that you can have, but you don’t need the best stuff to be successful. You do need a unit with StructureScan or a competitor’s equivalent. You need to be able to see down and to the sides to really be effective at identifying things like rock and timber.
Connecting your units via an NMEA network and adding a heading compass, such as a Lowrance Point-1, to that network will be a worthwhile investment. For anyone who may not know, this little tool allows the arrow that represents your boat on your unit to reflect the actual heading of your boat, even if you aren’t moving. Without it, the arrow just kind of does whatever it wants unless your boat is in motion.
Knowing which way your boat is pointing when it isn’t moving will help with casting accuracy and the ability to hit smaller targets like brush piles.