Here’s a question I hear often… "How do I find and catch fish I can't see?"

Here’s a question I hear often…
Jay Watkins with oversized red caught deep in what seemed like the middle of nothing.

Now what I've got say here is based solely on my personal experiences and my records. I doubt there is much data available from TPWD on the staging of reds and trout in the deeper depths. Most of their work is based on shoreline survey net results. There are some deep-water sets in their data base but not as many, I am told.

Before we get too far into this; let me clarify deep. Deep for me is 5 to 8 feet. My deep-water catching experiences are based on not being able to find fish on shallow shorelines or nearby swags. Two issues back I wrote about the swags - my name for the slightly deeper zone between the shallow and deep. In that article, we talked about the obvious signs we normally see that lead us to the swag. This article looks at areas that are even deeper, areas that typically offer almost no sign of the fish that might be holding there.

My opinion only- I think the mother lode of trout and redfish stays deep most of the time. On occasion we see them surfacing or cruising the shorelines on calm, clear days. I think I have always had a deeper mindset than most, especially when it comes to big redfish. I simply catch bigger and heavier reds out deep where most people do not look for them. My deep water success has played a key role in the formulation of my 'mother lode stays deep' theory.

One of the first things I do when searching for fish holding in deep water is to locate areas that have easy access to good 'anytime feeding grounds'. 'Anytime feeding grounds' are those areas that seem to attract and hold concentrations of baitfish on a frequent or near constant basis.

Once I have located such an area, I set up long drifts and cover lots of water. My term for this is 'power drifting' and it helps us focus on the parts of this deep water zone that might be holding the most fish. Big noisy topwaters, crankbaits, spinner baits and the old standby gold and silver spoons are deployed in long casts. Remember, we're working blind here, so casting distance is critical. Longer casts let you search more water; longer casts also allow you to get your bait out there away from boat noise.

Some will claim that topwaters and other baits worked on or near the surface are not effective in deep water THIS IS MOST DEFINITELY NOT TRUE! Remember, all predators, fish included, like to reduce and crowd the strike zone. By chasing bait to the surface, they can do just that. Noisy topwaters are great fish-finding tools!

Another technique I use during power drifting is switching on the bottom recorder on my Lowrance GPS unit. By watching the recorder I can make mental notes of the contour under me and map the location of my drift. Once bites are encountered, I mark the area with a fish icon. Sometime I use the dinner fork icon if I am feeling cocky.

By mapping and marking your drifts, you can repeat them if you want. While scouting, I prefer to move left or right of the previous drifts simply to see how far the bottom contour extends in each direction and how large an area the fish are holding in. This technique will enable you to quickly discover EXACTLY what you need to know about fish you cannot see and bottom contours you could otherwise only guess at.

I have used this tactic from Baffin Bay to the Florida Panhandle with great success. I measure my success by the trueness of the pattern, and I'm here to tell you that California Hole is no different than Yarborough Pass, the north end of Trinity Bay, the deeper lakes of Chalmette, Louisiana, or the deeper flats near Pine Island in Punta Gorda, Florida. Well, the Pine Island area ran true during our pre-fishing but not on tournament day.

I like to stand on the console and watch as I am drifting and fishing. If you're really focused and hunting you can see the slight changes in water color that indicate slightly deeper depths. By casting to these areas, and using aggressive presentations, you can see the fish make their move towards the lure.

Many times the fish pull up short of the offering but still show themselves. Sometimes we see what we call a "belly roll." This is what reds and trout do when they climb to the surface and then flip, almost upside down at times, showing their belly to us. Another clue that the area is holding fish can be found in the reaction of baitfish.

What happens here is, a gamefish charges the lure and in the process of doing so, spooks bait we would not have otherwise seen. This bait suddenly explodes to the surface; and even though we might not have received a strike or hooked a fish, seeing the bait scatter behind the plug feels almost as good as the double thump on the end of the line when we are scouting.

Here is an even better clue that you're on fish you cannot see A boat runs out in front of you about 100 yards and bait begins 'short hopping' in front of the boat. Did the boat scare the bait or was it a school of big fish moving away from the disturbance that spooked them to the surface? I go with the big school of fish moving the bait 9 times out of 10, and am usually right about 9 times out of 10. I always prefer seeing the cup as half-full, not half-empty.

Commitment is the key ingredient to success in your deep-water adventures. Those that know me know that in my guide work I have historically preferred to wade, drifting very little. However, on the redfish tournament trail, the majority of the tournaments do not allow wading. Therefore, I have found myself developing drift-fishing skills and naturally some it has found its way into my guide business. Sometimes it makes me feel like I'm going back to my roots.

I recall a day in St. Charles Bay more than 10 years ago. Roger Sherman and I were working birds in the deepest part of the bay. The schools of redfish and trout, much larger fish back then, would push mullet and shad when they moved. Over a period of a few years, I defined a triangle in which I would search for these schools when the birds were not up and working, but the time of year was right. Time after time, we caught them, seemingly right out in the middle of nowhere and nothingness. My old EAGLE depth recorder, paper plotter model back then, would show me the deeper reefs and give me an idea of what the bottom contour was and then we'd go to work.
Now let's talk about the lures you want to throw. This might shock a lot of you but I very seldom throw plastic in this situation. I want to cover water and attract fish to my lure and plastics are on the subtle side for this.

The Mirrolure She Dog is a great choice. Bone/chrome, chartreuse/chrome and black/gold/orange are a few of my favorites. The bone Super Spook can be a nasty thing in the deep stuff.

Bass Assassin spinner baits with the 1/16th oz. jigs are also great tools in the deeper water. I like to use chartreuse, electric chicken, roach, morning glory, and purple canary 4" Sea Shads on these spinners. Ripping them up off the bottom and then allowing them to spin back down is a killer presentation.

In the crankbait department I like the Mann's 1-Minus anytime the fish are hitting short on top. Also in the crankbait department are any number of deeper diving versions made by a host of lure companies.

Then there is the spoon. Fish love the flash, vibration, and the action of a spoon when it hits the water on a long cast and flutters down before you crank it back up on plane. Silver, gold or black, I love them all. I got away from throwing spoons for years, don't really know why, just did.

You need to be aggressive with all of these bait when working deeper water. The aggressive presentation grabs the fish's attention and the convenience of the offering makes them eat it.

Finally, once you have located the fish, deploy your drift chute and be ready with the Power Pole. I use the biggest drift chute I can find and I like to 'Power Pole down' as soon as we hit a fish. This makes landing the fish much easier as you will fight only the fish, not the combination of fish and drift. Secondly, by stopping, you do not burn up productive water while fighting a fish. Many times we have multiple hook-ups using this strategy.

The next time you find yourself along a shoreline and nothing is happening, you might think about looking where there seems to be nothing. You're liable to find the mother lode and you will probably have them all to yourself when you do.

Remember: What looks like nothing will remain nothing, if you do nothing with it.