Herring Lakes

How To Fish Herring Lakes For Bass

by Phillip Gentry

Upstate Outdoors
March 11, 2020 - 11:04 pm

If you spend much time around professional bass fishing tournaments, you’ll often hear an angler who is really good at catching largemouth or smallmouth bass in other parts of the country throw up his hands in disdain for bass fishing lakes with blueback herring in them.

Herring lakes throw a lot of bass anglers off their game because herring live a nomadic lifestyle. Pro Bass angler Cliff Pace, a Mississippi angler who’s made no bones about his disdain for herring lakes, once made the adept analogy that it’s like moving the refrigerator around in your house. “One day the refrigerator is in the kitchen, the next day it’s in the living room and then the next day it’s in the guest bedroom closet,” said Pace.

South Carolina angler Jayme Rampey, who prefers fishing herring lakes, said chasing the baitfish can be frustrating. The key to catching largemouth bass, spotted bass, or any predator that regularly preys on herring, is to understand how the fish relate to the bait.

“A lot of bass anglers that don’t regularly fish herring lakes try to pattern the herring to find the fish,” said Rampey. “That might work to a degree, but your bigger fish are going to lay in wait on some wood on a point or hump and let the herring come to them.”

Rampey said he employs one of three tactics for catching bass that are relating to herring. The first is a topwater bite, which typically occurs early and late in the day but may also possibly happen in the middle of the day.

“I think spotted bass have better eyesight than largemouth, so this tends to work better for spots” he said. “They might be sitting in 30 feet of water, but they can see the surface commotion of a topwater bait and they’ll come up and check it out.”

His topwater rod will be a 6 – 7 foot baitcast rod spooled with straight 40 pound braid. He’s not overly concerned with spotted bass seeing the braid since the majority of the line is out of the water and he’s walking the dog with a chrome colored Zara Spook. The chrome might be changed to a bone or white on a cloudy day, but he sticks with light colors.

Rampey’s second tactic for targeting herring-eating bass is to throw a weighted or unweighted fluke as a subsurface lure. He said if the fish are shy about coming all the way to the surface, the fluke is a better enticement than a topwater bait.

On his sub surface rod, he’ll spool a similar 6 – 7 baitcast or spinning rod with 15 pound monofilament line and tie on a Zoom Baits white fluke or pearl. He finds that bass that would hit the topwater bait an hour ago then quit will still eat the fluke fished in a jerky manner just below the surface or if allowed to fall 5 – 6 feet on the retrieve.

If either the topwater or subsurface tactics don’t work, then he will position his boat right over the top of the fish and structure and use a drop shot rig with 6-pound monofilament line.

The drop shot rig is going to be the finesse tactic. He spools a 6 – 7 foot light to medium action spinning rod with 6 pound test mono. A tungsten drop shot weight anchors the rig and a dropshot/mosquito hook is tied inline 2 feet above the weight.

“I’ll fish the drop shot right into any wood cover,” he said. “I think the light line is necessary because you’re putting your bait right on the fish and both largemouth and spotted bass do have pretty good eyesight, especially in clear lakes.”

“Bass in herring lakes are not that hard to catch,” he said. “Probably the hardest part is finding them, not getting them to bite.”


Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on 106.3 WORD FM, 101.5 in Anderson, and recently added 95.1 FM in Seneca and Pickens.

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