I fish baits at all depths, not just the bottom, in wide-open water. I always set up and fish deep lake structures. Besides an understanding of the contours on the bottom of the lake, being mobile and being able to read your fish locator are the keys. The tools I use are 8-foot heavy action rods, circle hooks, cut and live shad, balloons and the all-important fish locator. I use 30-pound line, large capacity reels, 8-foot heavy action rods, 2 oz. Egg sinkers, barrel swivels and #7/0 circle hooks.
Basically a Carolina Rig, I have a hook with an 18-inch leader tied to your barrel swivel, which is connected to your main line, which is where your egg sinker is attached. My boat is equipped with steel rod holders, a hand-controlled trolling motor, two fish locators, a big dip net and marker buoys. My equipment is not the most expensive but it is practical. The main thing to remember is to keep whatever equipment you use in good condition. Many know all too well about the disasters that can be caused by old line and improperly maintained fishing equipment and big Blues will test everything from your knots to your rod holders. If there is a weak link, they will expose it.
Find the Big Fish
You need to know how to tell the difference between larger fish and bait fish while using your fish locator.
There are two main structures that I catch Blue Cats on: ledges and humps. Blue Cats are creatures of edges and they seem to congregate on the brake lines of ledges and humps. The one-two punch comes when you find these structures with both bait fish and big fish mixed together on your locator. There are very few spots that I will stop and fish where I don’t see either big fish or bait fish on my locator. The ledges that I primarily fish are old river channels edges. The fish can be scattered up and down the edge but the best fishing occurs when they are on the top.
Typically, when I set up to fish these ledges, I run my boat over them and throw out my marker buoy where I see the fish. A little trick to using your marker buoys is to throw your marker upwind of where you are going to fish. If you drop the marker right on top of the fish, you will be bumping it and will eventually move it while the wind is pushing you around. If you throw it upwind of the fish, you can run your trolling motor right up to it without the wind pushing you over it.
Next I bait my rods, staggering them at the depth I see the fish. If the fish are up high, above 10 feet, I use a balloon and live shad on two rods. The other four rods will have half live and half cut shad, which I will suspend over the fish, continuously moving around the marker until the first strike occurs. In the warmer months the bite will usually occur on live shad. The colder the water, the better that cut bait seems to work.
Keep moving the depth of your baits up and down according to what your locator is telling you. An easy way to determine the depth of your bait is to measure the distance between the first guide and your rod’s reel. My rods are two feet from reel to the first guide so when I pull out twenty sections of line between my reel and the first guide, my bait will be approximately 40 feet deep. Stagger the depth of your bait so that you know how deep each is. When you get your first strike, move your other rods to that depth. If no strikes occur within 30 minutes move to another structure. I have set on the same ledge for many hours and caught fish, but I will usually have to move after catching 5 to 10 active fish. If you do not have a trolling motor you can use anchors, but it requires many sessions of heaving up heavy anchors and can soon kill the fun of ledge fishing. When water is at its coldest, the anchor method will work better due to the inactivity of the fish below.
In other words, the warmer the water the faster the fish will spook out from under your boat. The colder the water the less chance the fish will want to move away due to their comfort zone in the water column.
Make sure to read Part 3 of this article to learn about Capt. Jeff's second non-typical technique!
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Jeff Williams runs a Truman Lake Hybrid Bass and Lake of the Ozarks Catfish Fishing Guide Service offering lodging and guided trips in Missouri. To book a trip, learn more tips, or find out how Capt. Jeff would fish your own local waters, call 1-866-HOOKSET or visit http://www.ozark-lodges-fishing-trips.com today!