Declassified: Banks Lake Prespawn – Part 1

Being a retired tournament angler, I thought it might be of some interest to begin to share a tell-all series on lessons learned from past tournaments before I get any older and memories start to fade.  

Banks Lake – Lessons Learned

Pre-Spawn events on Banks Lake are typically tough.  The fishing, the weather, the crowded areas.  Over the years, I’ve done well in some of those early April events and not so well in others.  It used to be a smallmouth only event, and 14-15 pounds was doing good.  But recently you need 20 pounds and that has been a bit of an adjustment as largemouth have come into play more in recent years.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned at Banks over the last 15 years or so is that despite the popularity of the lake and the number of tournaments that have been held there over the years, there are still areas that have not been touched and will never see a boat at the next tournament and some of these areas are very good areas.

I didn’t always believe that, and it takes a leap of faith to test that belief.  It’s difficult to branch out with such a short prefish window, especially in the early spring when bass are in such a state of transition without the metabolic need to feed a whole lot.  Throw in a week of “off limits” and you have to go into these early spring tournaments with about 2% feedback and 98% theory to go off of.

Ryan and I had been working on a way to find and catch offshore bass that were staging just outside the flats along what was left of the weedline.  It’s a tactic that we had been fine tuning through multiple seasons and decided that instead of just dabbling in it at Banks, we were going to commit to it.  A by-product would hopefully be that not many other people were doing this.

Banks is peppered with backwater sloughs and bays on its northern third.  Some big, some small, some almost hidden.  Each of these areas hold largemouth and smallmouth and each has at least one channel or drain that feeds it.

The northern section of Banks Lake. Lots of bays, cuts, and “sloughs”, big and small.

Starting a couple of years ago, we started marking each of these channels that led to these backwater areas.  We would create a track to put on the front GPS, and use the trolling motor to navigate and fish.  In doing this we were trying to key on little subtle changes either in the channel (a turn, or where a channel ran into a point) or in the vegetation.

What makes this tough is that bass in 43-45 degree water don’t need to cooperate much.  So, as it turns out, for the last 6-7 years we were doing the right thing, but didn’t stick with it enough to get results and therefore our confidence was a little off.  Fishing offshore grass and channels when you almost never see anyone else do it is a little hard on the ego. Before, we were trying to play bumper boats with other guys in some of the more popular areas and it was taking some of the enjoyment out of it.

Despite it’s exterior appearances, Banks Lake doesn’t have a ton of rocky areas out there under the surface.  Lake draw downs and Google Earth have led us to figure that out.  Sand, clay and weed lines dominate Banks.  When you can find rocky areas that intersect with the more prominent ingredients, then you have something.  But those are still just secondary, isolated features at Banks.  Rocky areas, will help you but they won’t by themselves lead you to victory.  That was one of our biggest insights at Banks over the years.

Rock piles like these are actually pretty rare on the north end of Banks Lake.

Weed/Clay Contours

Probably our most important discovery was that finding where the offshore submerged weed edge would meet with a clean clay point or line was key.  This wasn’t just a spring time discovery.  It was an all the time thing.  The problem was, while the clay didn’t change those weed edges did.  They aren’t the same in April as they are in August or September.  It takes a combination of Google Earth and side imaging to really dial this in.  Google Earth will get you very close, and side imaging will dial you in.  If you can use the two to dial in the details, then you are on the right track.  You are mostly looking for very specific areas, where an errant cast will get you no feedback.  Boat position and angles are all very important.  What was interesting is that you couldn’t just be close or in the ball park on these areas, you have to be very exact.  But it wasn’t that there were only a couple spots like this.  There were hundreds or thousands.  Occasionally, you would get lucky and make a cast to one of these by accident.  That’s when people start building theories based off of bait colors or brand because it jives with there “accidental” experiences.


Clay (white) points with weedy channels and pockets mixed in.

For example…

Last April at Banks we decided to try some specific areas we had never tried before.  Not just to say we did something new, but because we had a strong belief that some offshore weed lines on a south facing bank could produce and probably weren’t being fished much.  Our prefish goal was to just get bit or simply catch one on some of these areas and then we would be able to commit to it for the tournament.  Fortunately, we accomplished that and went into the tournament committed to learning even more about these areas during the course of the day.  We finished 2nd at that event fishing for and catching fish that neither we or anyone else had been fishing for.  A real eye-opener to be sure.

Being able to identify small drains like this one and the points, turns and weed lines associated turned out to be a big deal.

Channels, Drains and Ditches

Without understanding the whole picture, I guess I’ll confess that I didn’t always fully understand what actually happens along a lake bottom to allow backwater pockets and bays to exist.  For many years, I ignored other things I had read about “channels swings” and “channel points” and “ledge fishing” thinking that we really don’t have those things here in Washington and wishing somebody would talk about the bodies of water I fished.  Same with “offshore weed lines”.  That’s stuff for those guys down south or back east.  We have rocks for smallmouth and tulles and bullrushes for largemouth.  Ninety percent of that led me (and others) to the bank.

But my experiences fishing back in Alabama and Florida didn’t reinforce any notions that these areas are different from our lakes/rivers.  If anything, I started applying what I learned in those other places to places I had always fished and was usually pleasantly surprised how similar things in fact are.

Water that breaks the normal shoreline contours has to be fed from somewhere right?

Places I honestly didn’t even think about before now seemed like a real possibility.  Would I have time to check it all out?  Would I be okay with trying new baits on new areas or even an old bait on a new area or would I have to actually catch fish during my prefish and therefore would get caught up in the same loop as before?

Areas like the Punchbowl at Banks Lake are screaming for offshore exploration.

The Bigger Point

This little venture with Game Over Angling is intended to let us break away from the prefish/tournament cycle and explore, research, try crazy ideas without the notion that we are wasting our time.  We want our articles/videos/courses to be cutting edge, because we want to stay on the cutting edge.  Your support (membership) will help allow us to push the envelope outside of tournament restrictions (off limits, worrying about being seen, etc.)  In turn we want to share what we’ve found with you.  We get to fish how we want to fish and you get information about what’s working and what isn’t that you can apply to your own fishing, whatever style or format that may be.

Next time:  A 3 bait approach that worked for us.

Comment below, or go over to the Forums and let us hear from you.

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  1. How would you go about finding some of these features, structure and cover on a body of water that doesn’t fluctuate like Banks or Potholes? Google Earth is a great tool for looking back in time at those places when the water levels were down….but what about lakes that don’t fluctuate?

    1. This is where side imaging comes in. Other options are an aqua view or some type of underwater camera in conjunction with sonar. A good old deep diving crankbait or carolina rig would also work. That is how the real fisherman had to do it back in the day! We’ll have lots of stuff on the side imaging piece. Don’t know if I’m pulling out the carolina rig anytime soon though, at least not to search with like I use to!

  2. Awesome Don,
    After looking at the course for potholes I did the exact same thing you did here for Banks. And what you have taught me about potholes is allowing me to slowly understand different lakes and what to look for. I too observed some of these offshore drains going into spawning areas and I now am understanding how these features are identical to the creek channels and ditches which I used to fish in Texas. The light bulb is coming on.

  3. Are there key signs in the pictures above that lead one to understand where a possible grass line would have been or will be again?