River Fish Off Shore


Old habits are hard to break, but for bass fishermen looking for river fish in the late summer breaking with conventional wisdom could help improve catch rates. 

Any bass angler knows largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass will relate to cover. Therefore, you’ll see bass boats slow trolling within casting distance of the bank on the Ohio, Monongahela, and Kanawha Rivers.  Anglers will drop bait after bait into every nook and cranny of a rip rapped shore line, skip them deep under docks and overhanging branches, and probe each and every limb of a downed tree lying partially submerged.

Conventional wisdom tells us bass should be there.   During the spring and summer, you would be correct.  However, they aren’t there right now.

"They move out of the tail waters and the more shallow spots and into deeper water," said DNR Biologist Frank Jernejcic. 

Jernejcic, on a recent edition of West Virginia Outdoors, said he recently went shocking for bass on the Mon River in the Point Marion Pool, along the banks of Morgantown.  During several hours of shocking, he struggled to find enough bass to complete a fish research survey.     Shocking the same water in May, he found the banks loaded with bass, some of them of increased size.

"Where did they go?  They’re limited in where they can go if they’re going to move off into deeper water," Jernejcic opines. 

The answer, at least in his estimation, is secondary banks of the navigable rivers.  Since the construction of the locks and dams on the state’s three big waterways, the banks have changed.  The dams widen the rivers and flood areas which previously served as shoreline.  Those areas are now in many cases no more than "shallow flats."  The secondary bank provides the deeper drop-offs bass prefer in heated conditions.

"What I see most of us do, we fish what was successful the last time out," he said. "We’ll go down one bank with a bait and then move to another bank or, we’ll beat that same bank with different bait."

Jernejcic suggests moving the boat off shore another 10 to 20 feet and fishing deeper.   It sounds like a simple formula, but for hard-line bass fishing fanatics, it’s nearly impossible to troll past such beautiful cover.

"You’ve got to convince yourself the fish are still there," said Jernejcic.  "We’ve (DNR) been criticized during times of poor fishing by fishermen that something happened to the fish.  People perceive those fish died and none of us realized it."

Jernejcic has heard the arguments during his last 20 plus years with the DNR.   He laughs at times, believing in most cases, it’s more frustration than any problem with the fish or the fishery.

"Golly guys, if it was that major of a catastrophic event to affect the fish, I would hope somebody would notice it," he laughed. 

The proof in Jernejcic’s mind is nobody making the accusations comes up with piles of dead bass floating somewhere.  He further rationalizes the following spring, when big fish are being caught routinely–those fish MUST have been alive last summer when everybody swore they were all dead.

Changing tactics in the late summer and targeting the off shore drops and deepwater humps may locate those missing fish for you–if you can break the old fishing habit for one single trip.


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