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How to Get the Best Bass Fishing from Public Lakes in Urban Areas

Jacob Hudgens

These tips for fishing urban lakes for bass can help improve your chances in the city limits.

Public access is not only limited, but often you have to share the same space with other anglers of all skill levels. Popular fisheries are also some of the most challenging, with increased fishing pressure and unconventional structure. Learning to think outside the box will improve your productivity.

Brad Hole
Brad Hole, author at Kayak Fishing Washington shows off a smallmouth caught in the heart of the metro area

1. Make sure there’s fish in it and it’s legal to fish there.

FishingReport

This might sound ridiculous, but what’s more ridiculous is finding out that you’re fishing in a wastewater plant or a goldfish pond. Do some research, find out the name of the lake and look up fishing reports online. Most of those online fishing reports will be on a variety of species, which will also give you some clues about forage fish like crappie, bluegill, or trout that you can mimic in your presentations.

Your state’s fish and wildlife website should offer information about recreational fishing opportunities and reports on what species are biting on, when, and where.

2. Change your approach and look for the “spot on the spot.”

Ke'mari Cooper proves that even less experienced anglers can unlock the keys to successful patterns with a little dedication
Young angler Ke’mari Cooper proves that even less experienced anglers can unlock the keys to successful patterns with a little dedication

Often times in public lakes, there’s lots of approach trails on the bank that give away the obvious locations where people are returning to catch fish. The resident fish in these areas have probably seen it all, and likely saw you coming. Take your time walking into these areas, avoid casting shadows into the water. If the water is clear, be like a bass sniper and try to see them before they see you.

Polarized lenses will help you a great deal when it comes to sight fishing. When fish that hold tight to cover get harassed all day, they’ll often cruise around the edges of that cover and stick close by, even if they’re not directly on it. If you’re fishing a log, make sure you’re also casting along the edges of the bank that lead up to it, where the fish might be cruising back and fourth from it’s home base.

3. Work over the hotspots

Angler Hunter Francis followed the path to this popular bass hotspot in a little patch of open water.
Angler Hunter Francis followed the path to this popular bass hotspot in a little patch of open water.

Beyond looking for the spot on the spot, make sure you’re casting at that spot from multiple angles, and take your time doing it. Give the fish an opportunity to chase your bait and leave it in the water during the final moments of your retrieve. When fish are highly pressured, they take more time to check out their targets, so they might follow it all the way to the bank and strike right there at your feet.

Those resident fish that are cruising around might take a while to return. Don’t be afraid to move on, but then come back to the same spot again later in the day. You don’t have to stay in the same spot to work it over. Staying on the move and recirculating through those hotspots can be productive when things are slow.

4. Use a little finesse

WFODropshot
Ryan Sparks displays a spotted bass that fell victim to a Western Fishing Operations worm rigged on a drop shot.

Patience is a virtue. Some of these fish, especially resident fish that are spawning, will look you dead in the eye, glance at your bait, and scoff at the idea of being caught. Keep trying! Don’t drop your lure straight on top of their heads. Cast beyond the fish and slowly work the bait into the strike zone, keeping it there as long as possible.

Use a light rated monofilament or flourocarbon line that is less likely to be seen by the fish. A drop shot or neko rig is a good way to slow your presentation down. Neko rigging a creature bait is a good crawfish imitation as well.

5. Fish when it’s not crowded

Brad Hole is all business in his flip flops, and not afraid to get his feet wet. This bass was caught between condos and a Wal-Mart.
Brad Hole is all business in his flip flops, and not afraid to get his feet wet. This bass was caught between condos and a Wal-Mart.

This might be difficult for the Monday through Friday nine-to-fivers, but if you can make it to the water before the five o’clock crowd or weekend warriors show up, you’ll have a much better chance against less fishing pressure.

6. Develop an understanding for urban structure

Just because a spot is easy to reach doesn't mean you should pass it up. This spot paid off for angler Jace Bullington
Just because a spot is easy to reach doesn’t mean you should pass it up. This spot paid off for angler Jace Bullington

If you’re fishing in the city limits, there might not be an abundance of natural cover. However, there may be docks, pilings, or rockpiles. Don’t rule out anything that might seem unusual. A fountain or a culvert dumping water into the lake might create an area with higher oxygen levels that are desirable to baitfish species, and where those baitfish are, the bass will be nearby.

Often times a spillway that funnels some current into open water will feed disoriented baitfish into the lake where predators are laying in wait for an easy meal. Capitalizing on these types of urban structure can be highly productive.

7. Go where other the anglers aren’t

Angler Harlan Wolff knows sometimes you've got to get balls deep in the water to get to the fish other people can't reach.
Angler Harlan Wolff dressed for the occasion. Sometimes you’ve got to get balls deep in the water to get to the fish other people can’t reach.

Don’t be afraid to put on some waders and get into some areas where the other anglers don’t want to get their feet wet. Be aware when you’re bushwhacking during the summer months that you may come into contact with poison oak and poison ivy while they’re in full foliage.

Using a float tube, canoe or kayak can get you away from the bank and allow you to fish shoreline that might be blocked from pedestrian access. Fish will often take refuge in these areas of public lakes with higher fishing pressure.

8. Give the other anglers some space

Caroline Bouche found this lunker smallmouth hiding near a series of docks near the city
Caroline Bouche found this lunker smallmouth hiding under a series of docks inside the city limits

This may sound a little redundant, but it’s a point that needs to be driven home. If you’re sharing public water with other anglers, the quality of your experience and theirs will greatly increase with a little mutual respect. If you’d like to try making friends by fishing next to someone else, start with a simple greeting before you decide to ask them questions about if they’ve caught anything, where, how deep, on what lure and what color, so on and so fourth.

If at anytime they’re hesitant to answer, just move on. If they’re willing to freely share information about their experience fishing the same piece of water, you can learn a great deal by simply listening, even if you don’t make a cast in their spot.

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How to Get the Best Bass Fishing from Public Lakes in Urban Areas