Deep Fishing (part 1)

Eric Prey

The words “The only way I’ve been catching fish is in about 60’ of water” are enough to make most bass fisherman put the boat back on the trailer and head home or worse to the bar. While it’s intimidating to leave the comfort of pitching a jig to a lay down or a bush on the shore, it is hard to argue with the success that deep fisherman have on local lakes when the guys fishing the bank are struggling. In this series of articles I hope to demystify the aspects of deep fishing and help you to be a more versatile angler. I will cover the basic topics of where to find deep bass, when are the best times for deep bass fishing, how do you dissect a specific piece of deep structure, best ways to fish deep for bass (tackle & techniques), selecting and using your marine electronics more effectively and even let you in on a few tricks that even some of the best deep fisherman don’t know about. In this first article I will go over some of the basics of deep fishing and where to look for deep fish.


One of the most important factors about deep fishing for bass is where it can be done. More than just which structure in the lake will hold fish does the lake support a deep bite period.

1) As a general rule the lake should have threadfin shad as large part of its forage base, lakes with gizzard shad as the primary forage tend to be less productive deep fisheries. For the most part the Missouri / Arkansas border is the most northern range of threadfin shad, above that line the water will freeze in the winter and the threadfin will die off.

2) The other major factor is the water’s clarity. While it is not necessary for the water to be crystal clear like Table Rock or Bull Shoals, the water can be stained but not muddy, visibility of at least 3 feet is critical. The fish need to be able to see the bait in order to react to it.

If your lake meets these criteria there is a good chance there is a deep bite on it somewhere. So now what, where are the fish going to be?

Just like all other techniques, deep fishing is very seasonally oriented; the fish will be on different structure and cover as the year progresses. The easiest way to break this down is to look at each seasonal pattern individually:

Winter: Typically winter is one of the best times to go deep fishing. The bass will move to the much more stable temperatures of deeper water in late fall and stay there until they start to move up to spawn. They will tend to school deep and feed similar to a pack, once one starts the others in the school will feed as well. Locations will vary with each lake, but as a general rule the fish will move out on to main lake structure like channel swings, bluff ends, points and deep humps. The fish will be relating to shad and the annual shad kill that takes place when water temperatures drop, therefore finding shad is critical this time of year to be successful. The easiest way to find the shad is to look for birds, just like saltwater off shore fisherman use birds to locate bait so should you. Wherever the bait intersects with a deep structure is a great place to look for fish.

Spring: While not typically thought of as a deep fishing time of year, spring can be one of the most effective times to find and catch some very large bass. This is the only time of year deep fish are not keying on shad exclusively, they have other things on their mind. Bass will use points, ledges channel swings and breaks to move from deep water to shallow spawning areas. Often times they will stop and use submerged trees or other cover on their way shallow water, or a front may push them back out deeper and they will suspend. In addition the water clarity can be clear enough that Kentucky or Smallmouth may spawn 20’ deep or even deeper. Finally, after the spawn most fish will suspend in the deepest water close to their spawning location. Regardless, of which phase of the spawn the fish are in, there will be some deep fish available moving in or out of shallow spawning locations.

Summer: Just like in the winter, summer is a very productive time of year for deep fishing. Bass have completed their spawn and will move out on off shore structure to spend the entire summer on the main lake. Best spots to look for fish are at the end of points dropping into deep water, off shore humps, channel swings close to shallow water or ledges and saddles between islands and the shore. In the summer time cover becomes more important than in the winter, the angle of the sun is much greater and there is more light penetration moving fish into trees, rock piles and onto deep ledges. Much like in the winter the presence of shad is crucial to finding feeding fish, look for birds to show you where the bait intersects with a piece of cover on the right structure and you will find the fish.

Fall: This is my favorite time to fish deep, it is the most overlooked and under fished time of the year. Most anglers are beating the banks with crankbaits, spinnerbaits and jigs missing the absolute feeding frenzy that is taking place behind them. Just like the rest of the year, find the shad and you will find the fish. During the fall shad move into the creek arms and head toward the backs of the creeks, the bass will follow them all the way from the main lake into the very back of the creek. Let the birds show you where to fish, seagulls will show you the location of shad and in turn the location of the fish. Cover is not as important this time of year; the fish will actually use the schools of shad as cover and go into a feeding frenzy whenever a shad moves too far away from the rest of the school. Find the bait = find the fish.

In this article I have covered some of the basics on deep fish location, while every day on every lake can present differing conditions these general locations hold true throughout the seasons. In upcoming articles I will cover the best tactics and techniques for fishing deep, how to breakdown a specific piece of deep structure, choosing and utilizing your electronics and a few tricks and techniques to trigger fish into biting. Hopefully, once you read all of the articles in this series you will gain the confidence you need to move out from the bank and start catching a few fish deep.

Eric Prey is sponsored by: Ranger Boats, Bill’s Marine, Jewel Bait Co. and Anglers’ Tackle Box as well as the owner of Focused Fishing guide service.

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