FLW Tour pro Larry Nixon is a big believer in fishing backwater areas for bass. Throughout his illustrious career, he’s caught hundreds of giant bass in hard-to-reach, shallow sloughs when other many competitors fell short. If there’s anyone whose brain you’d need to pick in regards to dissecting these backwater areas, he’s the man to talk to.
Fall just so happens to be an excellent time to target your local backwaters. As the water temperatures drop into the low 70 to high 60-degree range, bass gorge themselves on the abundant shad in preparation for the upcoming winter months.
According to “The General”, there are 6 important factors you need to know in order to catch more big bass out of backwater areas.
If you can fish a nearby main river area and catch 50 bass each day, committing to shallow backwaters can be tough for many anglers. Rest assured, however, that big bass frequent these areas. In many situations, they actually live there throughout the entire year. A simple hypothetical question can help put things into perspective.
When you retire, would you rather live in a crowded, crime-laden city or would you rather live in a quiet suburban house which requires very little maintenance?
Most people would choose the latter option, and bass are the exact same way. Nixon believes old bass are, indeed, lazy bass.
“An old, fat bass doesn’t want to deal with current and a bunch of smaller bass trying to steal their food,” Nixon said. “They know that, in order to survive, they have to stay in the backwaters where they’re less exposed to the elements. They can hang out in the shade, eat big bream and not have to fool with fighting strong river current.”
Most backwaters have no shortage of stumps, laydowns or standing timber, so don’t get too carried away when you find a flooded forest when beginning your search. There are 3 very important factors that backwater areas must have in order to host a quality concentration of big bass.
‘Edge’ is one of Nixon’s most sought-after characteristics when fishing backwaters. By his definition, an edge is anywhere there is a change in cover or bottom composition. Sometimes it’s as subtle as a row of 6-inch diameter pine stumps transitioning into a row of larger hardwood stumps. Backwater bass will take anything they can get.
“Bass are total edge lovers, just like deer,” Nixon said. “Whether it’s a creek channel or a simple grass line edge, it’s all the same thing to them. If you can learn to look for edges, you can catch more backwater bass.”
There are 2 key questions that Nixon asks himself when he notices an edge in shallow sloughs.
There will always be resident backwater fish that are uncatchable. Without consistent current flow, they will suspend on any cover they can find and become totally inactive.
“When resident fish suspend, you’re not going to catch them unless you drop a bait right on their nose,” Nixon said. “The odds of doing that are awful, so it’s important to find the 1 percent of a given backwater in which the bass are active. There is a lot of dead water to cover before you find the special spot.”
If you start getting bites in a specific area, don’t just shrug it off. The bass bit for a reason, and most backwaters are very spot-specific. Just because you caught a bass off certain type of stump doesn’t mean you can duplicate it elsewhere. Nixon stresses the importance of slowing down and saturating productive areas.
“It’s important to go through a process of elimination every single day,” Nixon said. “I spent over 18 hours this year on the Red River just eliminating dead water. It’s always hard work catching backwater bass.”
It’s not a particularly sexy technique, but Nixon simply ‘goes fishing’ when dissecting backwater areas. As he makes specific flips and pitches to cover, he keeps a close eye on his electronics. Finding key depth changes is often what leads him to tournament victories.
“If you make notes, or waypoints, of everywhere you catch a bass, you’ll be able to paint a picture pretty quickly,” Nixon said. “You’ve got to keep your eyes glued to your graph because you might find a small side-ditch that intersects with a primary ditch to create a point. Before you know it, you’ve ‘accidentally’ found an area that gets hit by current, holds baitfish and plays host to really big bass.”
His method is fairly simple. If there is vegetation in the area, he starts by targeting it before moving on to secondary cover such as wood or pad stems. In areas void of vegetation, he targets wood cover adjacent to break lines.
“You’ve got to fish the tar out of everything you see,” Nixon said. “Like I said, backwaters are extremely spot-specific, so you have to eliminate every piece of cover individually.”
Backwater bass aren’t always easy to access or locate, but when you spend some time looking for them, you can be rewarded in a hurry. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds of anglers this fall, find a secluded backwater, follow Nixon’s advice and you’ll have a lot of fun.
Did Nixon leave anything out? What works best for you when fishing shallow backwater areas? Let us know in the comments!