A bass emerges from the water at the end of a fishing line.

Beginner tips for catching bass from the shoreline

By Danny Garrett/WDFW

rowing up fishing for bass on a small pond in North Carolina, I learned early on that my success from the shore varied greatly from day to day. One day the bass were tight to the shoreline and eager to bite; the next day they were nowhere to be found.

I frequented a stretch of shoreline with a big, shallow flat — the easiest part of the shoreline to walk and cast from. Since there was very little cover and no deep water, the bass would use this flat to spawn and occasionally feed, but would not spend all their time there. Consequently, my results catching bass were largely dependent on the behavior of the bass and the available habitat rather than my lure selection.

Although lures and presentations are covered here, you should begin your shore bass fishing with these two initial steps:

1. Identify cover (vegetation) and/or structures (docks) that can be fished from a shoreline that allows public access.

2. Learn to cast precisely along the edges of cover and structure where bass live.

Shore fishing: Getting started

As a shore angler, access to the shoreline is your first order of business. After all, public access to the shoreline can be very limited, especially in urban areas.

In many lakes in Western Washington, you’ll want to look for public docks and piers, water access sites, and state, county, or city parks with shoreline access.

In Eastern Washington, you’ll find more options with public shoreline owned by the state Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the National Forest Service, and the National Park Service.

Check the lowland lakes page

Once you’ve located a few options in the area you want to fish, now it’s time to dig a little deeper. If you’re unsure whether the lake has bass, check the WDFW lowland lakes webpage where you can find your lake and learn what’s in the water and when it’s biting.

Next, download the easy to use Fish Washington mobile app for your cellphone and check the regulations for that body of water. Even if you intend to release your catch, there could be gear restrictions that you need to follow. (For example, see “Selective Gear Rules” under “Glossary” in the Fish Washington app). While most lakes in Washington have no gear restrictions, you still want to make sure you’re following the rules.

What to look for

Next, pull up an aerial image of the access point (I use Google Maps or Google Earth) and look at the features of the site and the shoreline. Ask yourself: How much shoreline can I access legally and safely? Is there a dock or platform to fish from? Based off the color change in the water, how deep is the water off the shoreline? Are there bushes or other vegetation that will prevent me from casting? Is there any room to fish around the boat ramp?

Here are some key features to look for:

1. Docks and piers: These structures attract bass and allow the angler to fish a variety of depths.

2. Access to shoreline: Find more options for locating bass.

3. Shoreline vegetation: It can make the shoreline difficult to access, but bass will use this for cover.

4. Slope of shoreline: Access sites with deep water nearby will hold fish more often in general.

5. Rock: Rocky shorelines provide excellent habitat for prey that bass eat, such as crawfish and sculpin.

After you’ve located a spot that provides some features that bass like (structure and cover), you might want to check online fishing reports — like http://northwestfishingreports.com, for example — to see if others have had success catching bass there. The boat angling reports might not indicate what the shoreline access is like, but they will give you a general idea of how good the fishing is.

Lures and tactics to try

When choosing a lure, many anglers get hung up on the idea that bass want to eat a certain lure because it “looks just like their prey” or “has the right action or color.” While these factors will certainly come into play, they can mislead you from the most important factors: the location of the bass and presentation.

In preparing for your trip, think about the two extremes of bass location: shallow and deep.

In the shallows

If the fish are shallow, you will generally want to cast a lure with less weight so that the bait falls gently on the surface and doesn’t spook the fish. (There are exceptions when more weight is required for precise pitches to cover.)

The №1 bass lure in this category is the 5-inch, salt-impregnated stickworm rigged on a 4/O offset hook with no weight. The most renowned brand is the Yamamoto Senko, but many companies make this bait.

What’s more important than brand or even color (I like green pumpkin) is the cast. Generally, bass will be positioned tight to shoreline cover or underneath a dock, and you will need to make a precise cast to the edge of this cover. If bass are more aggressive, they may travel several feet to grab the lure, but this is not often the case.

Drop deeper

If the fish are deeper or under a dock, a drop shot rig works quite well because it’s designed to be worked vertically on the bottom. The drop shot rig consists of a small plastic worm on a small hook, tied 8–24 inches above a small weight, which sits on the bottom. This rig allows you to fish the small worm just up from the bottom, right where the fish are often hovering. Even when bass are positioned tight to overhead structure like docks, they are generally oriented to the bottom because that’s where most of their prey lives.

In water deeper than 5 feet, a weightless stickworm will also work, but this requires more time for the lure to sink down to the bottom (or you can add a sliding bullet weight above the hook, AKA the Texas Rig).

At times, bass will suspend underneath the dock and will attack any lure that comes by. As bass become more aggressive, your lure options increase.

Additional considerations

I recommend soft plastic baits to beginners (worms, creature baits, dropshot worms) because they are proven to entice a strike more often than hard baits such as spinnerbaits and crankbaits.

When the sun is high in the sky and there is little to no wind, bass can become spooky, lure-shy, and might not be actively feeding. This is when subtle, realistic baits like the weightless stickworm or the dropshot rig catch more fish. These baits are also called “do-nothing baits” because you can catch fish imparting no action to the lure.

Nevertheless, hard baits will find their place in your tackle box as you fish under different conditions, such as windy days or low light conditions, when hard baits look more realistic to the fish.

After you do you catch your first bass, make a mental note of where that bass was, your best guess as to why the bass was there, and how you presented the lure. With repeated success, you will develop confidence and fish better with more patience.

Best of luck to you this year, and make sure to buy your fishing license before venturing out.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.