I have vivid memories from when I was a kid of catching big summer smallmouths while trolling with downriggers off my great uncle’s salmon charter boat on Lake Ontario. The salmon spoons were typically running at 60 feet in 300 feet of water, and this would happen several miles from the nearest land. Every time we’d catch one, I remember wondering why these bass were out in the middle of nowhere. The truth, which I found out over time as I started my tourney career, is that it’s not so uncommon to find bass in 60+ feet of water. Targeting and catching them that deep with any consistency, however, is another story.
We all want to take a risk in the hopes of locating an untapped resource. It’s the curse of the curious summer fisherman. But there are two main problems with targeting bass in really deep water. One, there are very few clues that tip you off to their exact location. Two, there is little long-term consistency with that location. In other words, a loner bass or rogue school that ventures out really deep and aimlessly suspends to wait for roving bait schools on Tuesday is barely worth the effort of targeting again on Wednesday…at least most of the time.
The easiest way I’ve found to get a bead on deep fish is to see them aggressively surface feeding on baitfish. Over the years, I’ve come up with a few ways to catch these fish once they go down, which is inevitable. They may stay up for ten minutes or ten seconds, but when they dive, a minnow-colored bucktail jig or blade bait are good choices because they have action on the fall, and that’s when they’ll get hit. Whenever I encounter this situation, my hope is to find the school on the surface more than once throughout the summer, and to that end I’ll keep checking. Sometimes—but rarely—you can luck into a deep spot that produces with some level of consistency. What keeps them there could be any number of things from deep structure that touches the thermocline to a remote deep current, but if you find repeat action, there is something attracting them. Since it’s often hard to pinpoint whether or not the fish you found are just passing through a deep area or will set up there again and again, catch as many as you can when you find them. Deep water often produces heavyweights.