If you want to find a big school of bass this summer, get off the banks, learn to structure fish and know how your fish finder/graph works.
I love summer structure fishing. It can be feast or famine, but when you do find the fish, you’re going to load the boat with quality bass.
There’s not enough space here to explain everything you need to know about structure fishing. However, understand that bass use creeks, river channels and points as migration routes to take them from shallow spawning areas into summer hangouts. They will school on key features like points that drop into river channels, underwater islands and bends in the creeks. They use those places to ambush schooling bait that also have moved offshore.
A detailed topographic map will help you get around most of the key features, but there’s nothing like a good sonar unit to pinpoint those places. Driving over those spots and studying your graph will eliminate a lot of guesswork.
Modern-day graphs have made this easier, more interesting and exciting. They provide vivid images of the bottom beneath your boat, especially with the new color and high-resolution screens that are available today.
Humminbird has taken the technology a step further with its dual-beam processing and side-imaging technology. With these advancements, the screen will paint a picture of what is on the bottom, unlike earlier graphs that required anglers to interpret what they were seeing.
In other words, if there is a sunken boat on the bottom, you will be able to distinguish it as a boat. If there’s brush or stumps, you’ll know it, as opposed to seeing clutter on the bottom and having to guess what it is.
Side imaging allows me to go around a point from as far as 150 feet away and see what’s there without driving over the area and spooking the fish.
Regardless of the type of sonar unit you have, read the manual front to back and make sure you understand how to use every feature. Many anglers don’t do that, and it hampers their learning process.
You won’t learn it in one day, but each day spent idling over structure and examining your graph will help you understand what you’re seeing and recognize which areas hold bass and which don’t.
When idling over structure, I’m looking for balls of baitfish, cover or fish that may appear on the screen. If the spot doesn’t show fish on the screen but does offer the right cover and depth, it’s always worth fishing for a little while. The bass may be holding tight to the cover or bottom where you can’t see them on the graph.
I also watch for hard-bottom areas that are bass magnets. You recognize them by the double bottom reading that indicates the sonar signal has hit something hard and sent a strong return to the unit. Those hard areas are sweet spots that often go overlooked by anglers who don’t know how to interpret their electronics.
You may also see fish that show up larger than the balls of baitfish. If so, fish the spot, because those are game fish hanging around the bait. With side imaging, you might even see how the fish are holding on cover and around the structure and can make more accurate casts.
If you don’t have a graph with built-in GPS, consider getting one for structure fishing. With GPS, you can save the waypoint on the screen, which stores it in the memory and marks it on the screen. That makes it easier to find the next time you’re on the water.
Obviously, you don’t need fancy equipment to catch summer bass. But with a good sonar unit and an eagerness to learn, you can turn those dog days into a fascinating experience on offshore structure.