How to ‘read’ the water
Follow our expert’s advice to improve your chances of catching a bass
Find the hotspots for bass success.
Do you ever look at the water and wonder what is actually below the surface? It seems the more you know about various features, such as reefs, gullies, holes and sandbanks, the better your chances of connecting with some bass.
Yet I see anglers blasting out lures and baits with little thought about what is in front of them. So, I will do my best to help you work out what is going on under the surface.
Firstly, stand back a bit. Don’t just rush down and fish straight away. Take some time to have a look around and use the signals to tell you where the potential fish-holding and, of course, fish-moving features might be.
Good old-fashioned legwork will teach you loads about fishing spots as well, especially when so many of these shallow, rocky bass marks dry out on a larger spring tide. By all means use things like Google Earth to look for potential spots, but nothing beats getting out there on a calm day around low water on a spring tide and doing some exploring.
A good way to start your reading the water process is to be in the same location around high water. You can now see how the water is behaving as it washes over gullies, for example, or breaks over sandbars. You will be amazed how some of these seemingly insignificant features produce telltale water shapes. Remember, bass come close in to feed and weneed to find out where and when that happens.
“Note the shape of the wave and think about how a wave breaks”
SHALLOW SURF BEACH
Let’s look at a classic beach location that you might fish with a lure or bait for bass. Here, there is a gentle surf rolling in, the beach is flanked by rocky headlands, and all that tumbling water tells you so much.
The angler on the left is standing right at the start of a narrow gully running out to sea. You can tell this by the small waves breaking to the left and right of him, but not directly in front of where he is standing.
It doesn’t take much of a depth difference to see this kind of wave action, but as the small waves hit the slightly deeper water of that sandy gully, they lose power and don’t break as uniformly as they are doing over a sandbank on the left and right.
Note the shape of the wave and think about how a wave breaks. As swell moves in from deeper water and hits shallower water, it forms waves. Although not large waves, of course, they still have to behave like this. A gentle swell is rolling and breaking with a lovely uniformity, and this tells me that those waves are hitting shallower water, and with the long shape of the wave, I believe that they are breaking over a small sandbank.
The angler on the right is fishing a long and fairly wide sandy gully that runs almost from the shore just behind me, out alongside some rocks and then out to sea.
Look closely at how the waves are breaking towards the beach from where I’m taking the photo. They are far less uniform to the right of where the angler is standing. Remember, if a wave breaks down and doesn’t form when others are, there is a good chance you’re looking at some slightly deeper water - the change in depth does not need to be much for this to happen, or for bass to be in that gully.
4 Hole or gully:
There is a bit of a hole or gully that runs left to right just in front of where I am standing to shoot this photograph. As the tide floods in and forces the two anglers to come in a little shallower, I would be fishing through this subtle underwater feature.
Remember, as well, that the sand on beaches shifts and moves over time and after storms, for example.
SHALLOW To SHALLOWISH Rock MARK
I would guess that a lot of you go lure fishing for bass over this kind of ground – fairly shallow, with plenty of rocks and weed beset with deeper gullies.
Although the angler here is not wearing polarised sunglasses, I would strongly advise that you do because they help cut glare from the water surface and help you see what kind of ground is down there. I took this photo with a polarising filter on my lens.
The water is fizzing up because it is breaking over rocks that are shallower than the ground around them. That sandy, coloured rock on the right might not have the breaking water, but because you are wearing polarised sunglasses, you can see it perfectly clearly. I would be very inclined to work some lures around these bits of structure.
2 Dark water:
The darker water indicates rocks and weed under the surface; this is classic kind of bass ground.
3 Sandy channel:
These are some very obvious gullies among the darker, rocky ground. I would guess they are mostly sandy – perfect channels for bass to use for hunting. I would be looking to move around this spot and try to access all that different ground.
For now, though, there is a reason this angler is standing where he is – look at that big gully or ‘corridor’. This kind of feature should scream at you to get your lures or bait in there. Do not walk past this kind of ground.
“Never forget how comfortable bass can be almost right beneath your feet”
SHALLOWISH To Medium Depth Rock Mark
Rougher conditions here, which can make it harder to figure out what’s under the surface due to more waves and white water, but if you apply what you have learnt so far, you’ll get a good idea of what’s going on.
It may be fairly rough, but there’s the top of a rock poking out of the water and a narrow line of white water breaking over what we must assume is a bit of reef, which is that little bit shallower than the surrounding rough ground. The angler is casting towards this area.
2 White water:
While I would usually be interested in water behaving differently, the amount and shape of white water here, combined with rough conditions, would most likely stop me casting into this. Why? Because it looks too shallow – the turbulent conditions are sucking back that much water. I reckon all I would do is get my lure stuck in the rocks.
The darker-looking water behind all that turbulence, though, is very interesting. Fish it with a long casting lure and then get your rod tip up and try skipping your hard lure in and over that shallower ground.
My eyes can’t help but be drawn to this big-looking gully. Waves are breaking all over the place due to the rougher conditions, but stand back and watch closely. Reading the water is not all about big, obvious signals, and that turbulence below the angler, which then gives way to slightly smoother water, indicates that there’s some slightly deeper water running across into this bay. I want my lures in that area.
Don’t forget to turn around. Same mark, same day, but my friend Mark Quinton is very good at fishing the ground very close in to shore, rather than blasting lures to the horizon all the time.
We have all made this mistake, but never forget how comfortable bass can be almost right beneath your feet, and especially when very low light and bouncy conditions such as these give them what I believe is a greater feeling of cover and security.
Mark made the right call because he nailed a 5lb bass right in tight to the shoreline. Indeed, the fish must have hit his hard lure literally a couple of yards from those rocks you can see being swamped by the waves. Where Mark is standing, and with the water smashing around, that line would be a natural angle to work a lure along those rocks.
Reading the water takes time to really get to grips with, but the signs are there and, as you have seen, they are not hard to understand – look with fresh eyes and I bet you start catching more bass.