The importance of Eddies in finding "good" water
by Rich Troxler
This was a reply to a member, several years back and sometime in early spring, asking about a reference I made in a previous article about "eddies" and their importance when live-lining from shore, inside a bay. I've try to edit where relevant.
Here's my reply
I apologize for not getting back to you last night. Seeing as the there was a weather window, I went fishing. I will try to provide you with some usable information on how I find my spots, specifically good shore bound live-lining spots within my range, which is from the West End bridges to Shinnecock (Long Islands south shore bay system). Like most things fishing, I don’t think I can condense 30 years of bass fishing into a few sentences, so sit back and relax, this is going to take a while.
While identitfying "eddies" and changes in water movement is always important, this information pertains to a specific pattern of bass fishing. There are many patterns that come and go through the course of the year, and this one alone is not the end all, and be all, of bass fishing.
For instance, even if you find some shad or bunker around right now, this pattern won’t produce because the bigger fish are still up river making babies. A month from now (June in my neck of the woods), is when I will start working this pattern, and only if the conditions are right. What are the right conditions? When the baits there, and the big fish are there, it’s that simple.
When you are live-lining, you are generally targeting bigger fish, and in order to select appropriate areas for this type of fishing, a little understanding of what makes Mr. Bass tick is in order. All bass fall into three basic categories.
The first category consists of all the small schoolie bass, be it the younger fish that do not migrate in the fall and winter locally, up to about 24-26 inches (pre-breeder size) which may migrate up river for the winter, or leave early and do not participate in breeding.
Then come the intermediates, or the big fish wannabes. These generally do breed and are comprised of “keeper” size fish from 28” or so up to about 34-35 inches. The rational for the “old” keeper size limit of 36” was that those females would have usually bred 3-4 times.
The last group is the big boys, or I should say girls, because most of the really big fish are females. These are the last to breed, and the last to leave the river. These usually start making a solid appearance around the end of May and through June, again, in my neck of the woods.
The reason I point this out is because each group has it’s own feeding and behavior habits, and techniques that work for schoolie bass won’t generally work on bigger fish. As you expressed an interest in live-lining, which is big bass fishing, an understanding of the differences is in order.
It’s as easy as this. Schoolies swim around chasing small bait. They are not unlike bluefish in that regard. They are tireless, aggressive, and not especially bright. Bigger fish on the other hand are quite different. They are generally lazy, opportunistic, and smarter than the average bear. They don’t do random, and they don’t just swim around looking for something to commit suicide on, which is what makes them more predictable.
In short, they want to eat big meals, and not expend a lot of energy catching them. We all know about their penchant for swimming lazily behind bluefish schools, picking up the scraps, but when the bluefish aren’t around they still have to eat. This is where eddies come into play.
Eddies can form in lots of different places, and can be caused by many different things, both man made, and natural. Most of them are fairly obvious, some less so. Obvious examples of eddy causing structure are bridges, inlet jetties, and rock groins. They can also be caused by natural things such as bends in channels, changes in bottom contour, and on the beach where a trough meets a sand bar.
What makes a productive eddy requires some thought and observation. While any eddy may produce under the right conditions, the really consistent ones, which you can develop a pattern on, will take some time to ferret out. I have several that produce at different times of the year, and under certain conditions, and I will describe these as examples. This is what I look for when investigating a new eddy.
First and foremost, it should be near deeper water, preferably a channel edge. If it has ambush structure within it, all the better. Second, the channel should be a well used bait highway. Small bait should always be present, shad should always be on that bait, bunker flipping back and forth, up and down the channel, lots of snappers in the fall, stuff like that.
Barren water is exactly that. If the water is dead, don’t waste your time. And lastly, but not etched in stone, the closer to an inlet, the better. Aside from the many obvious reasons for this, I think the presence of cool oxygenated ocean water is important as the weather gets warmer. So much so that during the early to mid summer I start fishing the incoming in these spots, instead of the outgoing.
Here are some examples. There is an inlet near me, which comes straight in at a right angle to the ocean beach. At the backside (bayside) of this inlet, it splits into channels that run east and west. I fish mostly the west side, although there are some good spots on the east.
As soon as the water rounds the back corner in the west channel, there is an indented cove in the rocks that line the back side jetty. On both tides, a portion of the current splits off and goes round, and round in this cove. It is always loaded with bay anchovies, spearing, whatever small bait is prevalent at the time, as they take a break from the current.
And right up the food chain, there are usually shad (snappers in the fall) around looking to bushwhack the small bait as it leaves, or other baits like bergals. If bunker are around, even better. The big bass, that prefer the cooler ocean waters just love to hang around in the eddy watching what comes and goes. A “wounded” shad or bunker in the middle of this doesn’t stand a chance.
The nice thing about this spot is that the bait will just swim around in circles in the eddy, so much so you can almost dead stick this spot. I don’t, but you could. It’s never hot and heavy, but sooner or later a big fish stops in for a rest.
A little further down to the west is an area that my buddy and I discovered several years ago. It wasn’t obvious to most that a bar had formed at the outlet of a large flat that dropped into that main west channel, which broke north forming an elbow. This place was a great fall producer for years, until we were spotted one night. Basically, the brew crew moved in and that was the end of that spot.
Where the eddy comes up in this example is that about 80-100 feet east of that bar and elbow was an eddy, created by the end of the aforementioned backside rock wall, where the channel cut very close to shore. It was just a narrow section of clam featureless water spun off from the main channel.
I went to fish the bar one weekday afternoon in late Oct. a few years ago, but three of the brew crew were already there. As there was bait all over, and shad everywhere, I got my shad rod from my truck, jacked a livie, put him on the big dog and lobbed him out into the eddy I just described.
I had never fished this eddy before, but the conditions looked right. I remember hearing the snickers from brew crew while I was standing there swimming my shad. They weren’t laughing so loud at the 37 lb fish I pulled after about 15 minutes. Not at the 26 lber I pulled about ½ hour later either.
My last example is at a well known set of piers that see a lot of fishing pressure. What is interesting is that it is a lesson in everthing you need to be careful about when learning an area. This area is good for a lot of reasons. It’s close to an inlet, loaded with bait all the time, structure galore in the form of the piers and big bridges pylons, which are within casting range, and usually a lot of fish.
Problem is everybody is locked into this sort of obvious fishing pattern of fishing the shadow line of the big bridge, on the south pier, on the incoming. I was talking to a guy one night while I was waiting for the tide to turn. He was wrapping it up for the evening and I asked him why he never fished the outgoing. He replied, “because I have my best LUCK on the incoming”. Habit, and trusting to luck, is the worst enemy a fisherman can have. Granted you can catch fish there on the incoming, but you limit yourself in so many ways.
Most people just line up on the pier, lobbing at the shadow line, and catching just enough to keep them from exploring the other better opportunities that exist there. My pattern for this area is primary an early June one. It usually commences around the second week in June and lasts through that set of outgoing night tides, sometimes longer.
I won’t tell you which pier and the exact location, but if you take into account where the channels run, where the eddies form, where the shad (sometimes bunker) are and where they go when the outgoing tide dies, how bass relate to points, etc. you can probably figure it out.
(Editors Note: this spot has been subsequently nuked and totally overrun with illegals, so hold the spot burning wisecracks LOL)
Anyway, when they show up in June, they will set up every night in the same eddy, packed gill to gill, not a fish under 20 lbs, waiting for the shad (or bunker more recently) to come through at the end of the tide. They are right where they are supposed to be, floating in the eddy, on the bar at the edge of the channel, watching the world go by.
Take a livey, and lob it 15 feet away into this eddy and let him swim, just don’t let him swim back under the pilings. I’ve had as many as 11 “good” fish in the last ½ of the tide there. Needless to say, I fish mostly the late night tides in order to try and avoid the crowds.
Anyway, this has gotten longer then I wanted, so I will leave you with this. Try to think whats going on under the water. Learn bass habits. Most of these are things are fairly simple, the most important being bait. You will almost never have fish around without it. If there is bait socked in an area for a while, the fish won’t be far away. Period.
What you need to do is develop the ability to recognize the right combination of conditions. Like I said, this is just one kind of fishing. When you recognize that all the components of this pattern are in place, then that is the time to do it. When the fish are on rooting patterns, or other baits/patterns, then different techniques are needed. I hope this helps you in you search for a productive eddy. -Rich