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’m hoping 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 decent at it. I never found many articles along the way that were helpful, though. If you are having a similar experience, I’m hopeful this is the one you are looking for. I’m hopeful how I learned can help you learn.

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, or 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. It doesn’t matter too much though. This is about learning, so don’t put too much thought into whether or not it looks good. 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 brushpile, 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 50 five-pounders. 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. Now not every lake is the same, so you can’t necessarily extrapolate that to your lake. Some lakes don’t have any rock at all, but most have some type of primary cover that you can identify on your graph, and when you find cover on top of structure, you’ve found something that will most likely hold bass at some point.

Left: Brushpile on the sidescan Right: Roadbed on the downscan

Step 3: Go fishing

Now it’s time to start going through the things that you marked. 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. 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.

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.

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.

About the author 

Alec Lower

I like bass fishing and I like writing, so this was the natural meeting point of those two pursuits. My name is Alec Lower. I'm from Raleigh, North Carolina, and I fish a lot. Hopefully, you enjoy the things I have to say. If not, that's fine too I suppose.

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