Anglers and fish are attracted to underwater structures. Fish search out aquatic vegetation, wood, rocks, drops, points and hills to hide from predators, avoid swift current or ambush prey.
Anglers look for underwater structure to find fish.
Losing Lures and Catching Fish on the Rocks
I’ve always been a salad guy. The fish I chase lurk in the thick grassy slop of shallow, muddy ponds. I like fishing vegetation because grass and weeds are more forgiving than rocks and boulders. If my lure snags a plant, the plant usually breaks before my line snaps. In the worst-case scenario, I reel in a wad of vegetation the size of a cob salad.
Rocks, on the other hand, are unforgiving, unbreakable and intimidating. Rocks have been around a lot longer than I have. And they will be around, snagging lures and busting pedal drive boats, for eons after I’m gone.
Learn to Love Boulders
Recently, I relocated to an area with moving water and huge rocks. Before I make a cast, I say a prayer in hopes I won’t snag a rock. I don’t think the rock says a prayer for me. We don’t always see eye to eye, but I’ve gained a greater appreciation for rocks.
Part of my learning curve involved asking the experts. Bass Fishing Hall of Fame angler Tommy Biffle has won over $3 million in tournaments. His winning strategy: “The first thing I do is find me a big ol’ rock.”
According to Biffle, big rocks mean big fish. “Rocks affect the species I target and influence my lure choice,” he explains. For example, when Biffle is fishing around rocks, he uses a lure with treble hooks since he isn’t worried about snagging a wad of vegetation.
Biffle recommends crashing a lipped crankbait into rocks. “Don’t be afraid to get hung up,” he prompts. Easy for him to say, he’s trying to sell fishing lures. Crunch all you want, we’ll make more.
Experience has taught me to find the rocks before the rocks find me. Split-second reactions can mean the difference between tapping a rock just hard enough to entice a strike or losing the lure forever. For example, I found the steelhead strike zone when I retrieve my spoon just slow enough to occasionally hook a rock.
When I snag a rock, I don’t get upset. In fact, when I feel my lure stop, my first reaction is to set the hook. Many times, a rock turns into a big fish.
My 20-year-old son Luke laughs at me when I set the hook on a big rock. After whaling back with the rod and pausing for a big run, I stand there with the rod high over my head and the lure stuck firmly in a boulder. The kid thinks this is hilarious.
Even when I snag a rock, all is not lost. I have caught heavy walleye and smallmouth bass just as my swimbait pops free from a rock.
Rocks Can Help You Find Fish
My struggle with immovable objects comes to a climax on my favorite local river. There’s a swift chute through a rock gauntlet that always holds a couple of nice smallmouth. Catching one is a game of Russian roulette. Land my lure in the sweet spot and I’m in the zone. Miss the mark and snag the rock and I’m sure to lose the lure as my kayak bounces downstream.
On a recent trip, I followed my son through this obstacle course. His first cast landed perfectly in the sweet spot and was immediately answered with a hard strike and blistering run.
True to its nature, the green and gold smallmouth would not give up the fight. The crafty brute pulled, darted and jumped while Luke used his feet as bumpers to bounce between the huge boulders.
At the bottom of the chute, Luke entered calm water, slid his kayak onto a sandy bank and landed a trophy 20-inch smallie. Out of breath with excitement and relief, he told me, “If you hadn’t taught me to set the hook when I feel a rock, I would have never caught that fish.”
There was a time when I thought the only good rock was a skipping rock. But now, I find rocks captivating. Boulders, pebbles, stones and gravel help me find fish. Sometimes rocks take my lure, but I still love them. Then again, maybe I obsess over rocks for their sedimental value.
Boulders can have you fishing between a rock and a hard place. | Feature illustration: Lorenzo Del Bianco