By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
A Bassmaster Classic champion and three-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Mark Davis has been there and done most everything in the sport. While he’s comfortable fishing shallow with the best of them, he’s right at home targeting largemouth living offshore during specific times of the year.
Davis keys in on deeper, off-shore structure on highland reservoirs and larger river reservoirs, like the Tennessee River during the post-spawn and late fall.
Lakes like Kentucky, Ouachita, Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend Reservoir are great off-shore fisheries. Sure they hold plenty of shallow-water fish, but it's the creek channels, humps and structure elements that draw Davis offshore.
Deep in Thought
Davis heads offshore to find big schools of fish, especially when water levels start fluctuating. Much of this he’s learned on Lake Ouachita, near his home in Mt Ida, Ark., that acts like a highland reservoir as it doesn’t hold at a consistent level.
“As the water falls, fish move and might be set up on one piece of structure,” he said. “As the water falls some spots become too shallow and they move to other areas. There are always new areas coming into play as the water gets lower and a lot of guys don’t think about that.”
If he’s on a lake that doesn’t fluctuate, such spots might be more consistent depending on the activity of the fish, especially if they are chasing bait.
As lakes age and siltation increases, Davis pointed out it’s pretty easy to narrow down where to start – the hardest bottom available.
Rock on most lakes is a great option, grass can be a bonus, but on the Tennessee River, shell beds are like gold mines.
“Shells tend to grow on the top of deep river bars and those shell beds create hard spots,” he said. “Fish use them like they would rock.”
On his Lowrance Gen 3 HDS 12 unit, he’ll run a split screen of down-imaging and 2-D sonar.
“Down imaging shows hard spots in bright white-like snow,” he said. “The brighter white the bottom is, the harder it is. Those are the areas you want to look at.”
Don’t Complicate Things
Davis figures if he’s got deep water next to key structure, be it a hump, a point, or a ledge, with hard bottom and baitfish or some type of food source nearby, or an area where shad will be migrating through, it’s a spot worth fishing.
For anglers who sink brush on their best structure thinking it will hold even more and better fish, Davis says think again. Davis has witnessed fish vanish from spots once brush was sunk on them. In addition, a crankbait, spoon and swimbait are no longer fishable and the larger, aggressive fish hit reaction baits first.
Are they Active?
On the lakes Davis fishes, when bass hug the bottom, they’ll more readily feed. Typically, inactive fish will suspend off bottom, around structure or over deeper water.
A Strike King Series 5 crankbait and its XD cousins are fished in 5 to 22 feet of water. Sexy shad in clear water, summer shad during the summer, chartreuse and shad color patterns in the South are good color guidelines to follow.
He upsizes his crankbait hooks and switches the rear hook to an EWG style treble hook with a round bend in the front. Adding an extra split ring to the rear treble to make the bait look longer, and negate any chance of the fish throwing the bait, is sound cranking logic.
All sizes work, but the 6-inch Strike King Shadalicious swimbait (green gizzard shad) rigged on a 3/4-ounce Squadron jig head with an exposed hook works also. He’ll glue the head to the body with multiple baits rigged and ready.
When he has bass pegged or when fishing deeper water down to 25 feet, the 5-inch Strike King Sexy Spoon excels. He’ll crimp a Ľ-ounce rubber core sinker onto shank of treble or wrap lead tape to increase the fall rate but some action is sacrificed.
A Carolina rig and football jig when bass are actively feeding is another option, with Davis using an upsized shaky head and dropshot rig as a last resort.
Boat positioning is key in all scenarios and Davis tries to be not too far from or close to the key area.
“I want to be able to stay as far away from the fish as I can but still be able to make a cast and fish them effectively. Fish know you are there,” he said.
Unless he’s working a spoon right on top of them, he’s almost always using a 7-foot, 11-inch rod so that he can launch his bait a long way, yet be able to take up the slack and drive the hooks home when need be.
Figuring out the cast is key upon finding bass on the sweet spot. The angle by which the bait is presented is critical when fish are picky.
“I think fish face certain ways, sometime because current makes those fish face a certain way and they all want to face that way,” he said. “There’s one casting angle that triggers those fish to bite continuously.”
> Spoon/swimbait gear: Same rod, Team Lew's LITE Speed Spool casting reel (6.4:1 ratio), same line (20-pound), 5-inch Strike King Sexy Spoon, various Strike King Shadalicious swimbait sizes in shad colors.
> Football jig gear: Same rod, same reel as spoon/swimbait, same line (15-pound), ľ-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Football Jig (summer craw), Strike King Rage Menace Grub (green-pumpkin) trailer.
> Carolina rig: Same rod, same reel as spoon/swimbait, same line (20-pound), Strike King Rage Lizard, Rage Monkey, or Rage Bug (green pumpkin, watermelon/red, red bug, and black patterns).