Home Survival StrategiesFood & Water Shallow Water Fishing Tips

Shallow Water Fishing Tips

by Ryan Dotson

Man fishing in a river with a fishing pole
For much of my life, fishing was very hit and miss. I remember plenty of frustrating times fishing with my father and my uncle and catching nothing while they pulled in fish after fish. I never understood what I was doing wrong. Then we purchased a property with some good bass water on it. I switched up my lures and technique and was able to start getting some excellent action in the springtime. Part of this was due to the thunderstorms in the spring causing a lower barometric pressure. This allows the stomach of the fish to expand even if they have recently eaten. The other reason I had success in the spring is that these same storms would wash food sources into the water causing a feeding frenzy just afterward.

However, the summer and fall months were still a challenge. I would catch a fish every once in a while, but I never had the success that I had in the spring. I tried fishing early in the morning and late in the evening. I changed up my bait and lures. I fished from the shore and fished from a boat. I even tried night fishing with a light to draw in the fish. Nothing gave me the results that I loved from the spring months. After much frustration, I decided to do some research and figure this thing out.

In this article, we will cover tactics you can use in the summer and fall to keep reeling in those fish as you do in the springtime.

Fall Tactics

Fishing in early fall can be very productive when fishing in shallow water. The fish are found in these depths for a few different reasons. One of the main reasons is that they are hunting shad that like to spawn in shallow waters and the back of coves. When you have lower temperatures at night, the water temperature will start to drop. Fish are always active in the early hours of the morning, but with these temperatures, they will move to shallow water. The shallows are the areas that will warm up first when the sun comes up in the morning. Any time you know where you will find the fish, you have a significant advantage. Then you need to know how to fish for them.

Typically, when I fish shallow waters, I like to use crankbaits, big plastic worms, or jigs. I have good results with these lures, but by the summer and fall, the fish have seen them all. By this point, smart fish know to look for other food sources, so they don’t end up in a frying pan like their friends. Two tactics for catching fish in shallow water in the fall are the wacky rigged soft bait and the drop shot. For years the drop shot technique developed for fishing in deep water was only used in deep water. However, with a few tweaks to the rig, you can adapt this technique for shallow water. You just need to adjust the distance between the hook and the weight for shallows.

Drop Shot Rig

To rig this up, I typically use a medium-length, medium-action rod with a spinning reel. An eight-pound test fluorocarbon line is ideal. If I feel that fish are getting away because there isn’t enough sensitivity, I sometimes switch to a lightweight rod with a five-pound test line. The fluorocarbon test line is vital because it is less visible in the water. Keep in mind that fish will be able to see better in shallow water. There is more sunlight present around your line, so you don’t want to give the fish any reason to spook. For this rig, a smaller octopus hook or a wide gap hook works well. You will want to use a Palomar knot to tie the hook to your line. You only want about eight to ten inches of slack between your hook and your weight. You want to attach about a ¼ ounce weight at this point on the line.

For lures on your hook, try a Green Pumpkin sinking minnow or a PowerBait Finesse Worm. Both of these soft lures work well for a drop shot rig. Cast your lure where the fish will be hanging out. In the springtime, fish will congregate around structures like sunken logs or large rocks. They also like depth changes, so any drop-offs on the bottom are ideal. Fish like to sit in these spots to hide their location while they hunt for food. Once you have your lure in a good spot, shake the rod tip a bit. The weight will keep your lure in an ideal location, but a little shake of the rod tip will make the bait move and look alive. As you reel in your lure, move it a few feet and shake the rod tip again. Continue doing this before you give up on the spot and move on.

Wacky Rigged Soft Bait

This is another good option to target fish in shallow waters in the fall. An excellent example of a lure to use for this rig is the PowerBait Fat Dover Crawler. This rig will let you keep the lure in the ideal spot longer as it also creates more movement on the end of the line. To compare, if you rig a lure straight and twitch it one time, it will move two to three feet. This makes it very difficult to keep your lure where you want it. With the wacky rig, you have more resistance in the water. The lure will push against the water and move around much more without changing location.

To set up this rig, I use the same rod and reel as listed above. However, I will sometimes step up to a 10-pound test line. For your hook, there is a specific wacky rig hook you will want. It is a short shank, wide gap hook with a rounded bend. You can use this rig with live bait as well. To weigh it down, you will want to use nail weights if you can find them. You can even use finish nails to weight it down if you can’t find nail weights.

Summer Tactics

One of the toughest times of the year to catch fish is in the heat of the summer. You can gain a slight advantage by fishing early in the morning, but you still have to change your tactics. You will find early morning fish in the shallows if you get there right as the sun is coming up. A tactic mentioned above is the drop shot technique. However, you are best to change this up a little for the summer months. Many people will use this technique in moving water or thick vegetation during the summer months. This modification is called Hog Shotting.

Hog Shot Technique

I read a story at some point in a fishing magazine that talked about a journalist riding along in a fishing tournament on the Potomac River. The fisherman was working a standard Texas-rigged plastic worm but was not having much success. He then pulled out a rig that the writer had never seen before. There was a soft bait on the end of a four-foot leader with a weight attached at the same point. The angler dropped the lure on the upstream side of a sunken log and let it drift over the log to the downstream side where fish like to hide. He set the hook and reeled in a monster on the very first cast. This was the first time the writer had ever seen a drop shot like this.

One effective application is targeting thick vegetation where fish will hide before or during a storm. What you will find is that cold front fish will often stay suspended a few feet off of the cold bottom. If you use a standard straight Texas rig, it will pass right by the fish and sit on the bottom a few feet below. The hog shot technique drops the weight to the bottom but leaves the lure floating above where the fish are located. You will also notice that fish move to thick vegetation when you have heavy boat traffic. In the early summer months, popular fishing spots get beat up pretty good. You can use this tactic in hyacinths, hydrilla, Kissimmee grass, and milfoil.

To set up the rig, you will want to use a one to two-ounce bullet weight and tie it point down so it will push through the thick vegetation. You can use the same hooks and soft lures you would use with traditional flipping, but a heavier test weight line. The length of the leader you attach will depend on the depth of the water. You will want the bait to be moving right below the surface of the water. Drop your weight to the bottom and then lift it slowly. This movement will attract the fish to your lure.

Wiggle Rig Technique

Another good way to fish in thick vegetation in the summer months is by using the Wiggle Rig made by Mojo. The rig has a 3/8 ounce weight as well as wire extensions. You will want to bend the wire out and throw the weight near a hole in the vegetation. The wire extensions will keep the weight sitting in the vegetation, while the lure will be free to fall into the hole. This rig has an elastic section that creates a very lifelike movement on your lure. It allows you to keep the lure in one location while still making it wiggle all over the place. Fish cannot resist it. You can use this rig for casting and vertical fishing.

Other Tips

While these rigs are great for inexperienced or frustrated anglers, you do need to be attentive to a few other points. It is difficult to mess up the movement with these rigs because they stay put even while creating a lifelike action on the lure. Try out these additional tips for maximum success:

  • Pick your color based on the clarity of the water. If you are fishing in murky water, you will need to use a dark colored lure that is more visible. A black plastic worm is an excellent choice for murky water. If there is good clarity in the water, you want to use something that will sparkle in the sun. A light blue worm is an excellent choice for clear water.
  • Avoid the splash. Especially in shallow waters, a lure smacking the surface can potentially scare away fish. If you cast overhand, you will likely create a splash. Stick to a sidearm cast and slightly pull back just as the lure reaches the water. You should also pick lighter weight lures that will have less momentum. You should have plenty of momentum from the weight you attach to the line, and the weight is small enough to avoid a splash.
  • Be careful with boat movement. Shallow water fish spook easily. If you power through prime areas, you will likely scare them away. Use only your trolling motor when you can. Even better would be to drift once you have some momentum. Also, avoid any electronics on the boat that will make noise.

As we have detailed, you have lots of new options to try out in shallow water. No matter what the season, these tactics can help you score fish with a presentation that they have never seen before. Fish get used to seeing the same thing over and over. A change is always good.

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