Most every bass boat comes equipped with a trolling motor for good reason – they make bass fishing much easier. However, you may want to go bass fishing in a pontoon or your trolling motor is on the fritz. No worries, you can absolutely catch bass without a trolling motor.
To bass fish without a trolling motor you have to let the water push you where you want to go naturally, focus on large areas of cover and structure, and know you won’t be able to stealthily sneak up on bass in shallow water. This sounds difficult, but can be done from any boat without a trolling motor. Follow these tips and you can still catch some beautiful, and big, bass without a trolling motor.
Why a trolling motor is needed for bass fishing
Lets start by discussing why a trolling motor is needed for bass fishing. Like many fish, a large, loud motor running is going to scare away any bass in the area. Even if it doesn’t scare them away, they won’t be biting for a long time after the unusual disturbance. So if you think you’re going to use an outboard motor to swing into a pocket and start catching bass on your first cast, you’re in for a bad time.
But even more importantly, trolling motors allow for better maneuverability than outboard motors. Oftentimes, bass are in pieces of cover, tight to the bank, or under boat docks. Places that you have to really work your way into without hitting shore. Trolling motors excel at allowing for this stealthy approach and are necessary for that kind of bass fishing.
So if a trolling motor is so great, how do I bass fish without it?
A trolling motor is great because it’s quiet enough it doesn’t scare fish and allows great maneuvering into tight places where bass often live. But bass don’t ONLY live in tight spaces. They’re all over the water. And often in places that it’s easy to get to. Places you don’t even have to work to get into, you can just let the water wash you over.
And that is the general framework you have to be thinking of when fishing without a trolling motor. You aren’t going to be able to pick apart a dock with 10 precise casts. But you can float over a long point and make several fan casts over it to find bass. Or you can let the wind blow you into a protected pocket and fan cast all over it to find a few bass cruising and searching for bait fish. You just need to change the mentality of which bass you’re targeting.
Floating into areas to fish
Anyone who has boated for awhile knows there is one main difference between driving a boat and a car. A car doesn’t move unless you hit the gas. A boat moves all the time. Wind, current, other boats creating wakes, there is a constant onslaught of things moving you in the water. Without a trolling motor though, you can use these things to your advantage.
First, get your boat into a safe spot on the water and notice which way it pulls. Is it pulling you out to the middle? Into land? Sideways? Current and wind can change but not often drastically. If you’re being pulled one way it’s likely to stay that direction at least for the several hours you’ll be fishing.
So use your outboard motor to get you into a position where you want to fish, and allow the current to blow you in the direction you want to go. Fan cast in different directions as you blow across areas that you think bass are holding. If there is a specific piece of cover, like a boat dock, then try and time your casts so you can cast around it as the wind blows you by it. Just always be careful not to hit land or a dock – use your outboard motor or a paddle if needed to avoid contact.
Unless you’re really great at prediction where the water will take you, this will not allow for you to be pinpoint accurate. So you will need to focus on large areas you want to cover, not specific targets. So now lets talk about those large areas that you should be focusing.
Many bass fisherman know to find bass you need to find cover – boat docks, submerged trees, brush piles, etc. However, fishing specific pieces of cover like that are not easily fished without a trolling motor. You will need to instead focus on cover that takes over large portions of water where you can let the wind or water blow you across all them, and fan cast across multiple pieces of cover to find fish. Here are a few examples of what you’re looking for.
One of the best areas to find good bass that you can easily float over without a trolling motor is a stump field. These aren’t always easy to find, but if you have a depth finder and see tall tree trunks standing up across a lake bottom there is sure to be some fish in the area. Without a trolling motor, you can float across them and fan cast outward with a variety of baits. I like a spinnerbait as it bounces off of stumps well. Which is usually when you’ll get a bite!
Just be extremely careful when doing this to make sure all the stumps are well below the boat. You don’t want to be floating around and hit a tree stump, denting your hull or worse. Cruising the area with an outboard a day or so before you come back and fish is best if possible to make sure the area is safe.
Another great location you can fish without a trolling motor is a grass flat. If you cast out and start pulling up nice green aquatic vegetation with your lure in a good area – there may be bass cruising looking for fish to feed on. These are great areas to float through and fan cast in different directions, as bass could be anywhere on them looking for food. A spinnerbait can work here as well, but I love using a crankbait that goes just deep enough to tick the top of the grass coming through. Just don’t go to deep in the grass or the hooks will catch everything but bass.
Lilypads/Algae/Etc. on top of the water
If you can find a large area with vegetation on top of the water like lilypads or algae, this also can hold bass. Use something like a frog to cover large areas of vegetation and fan cast in all directions. The lilypads or similar can also help you keep a boat in a ceratin location instead of going wherever the wind or current decides to take you.
Be very careful when exiting a field of vegetation like this. In almost all cases you will need to paddle yourself out of the area before turning on your outboard motor or else you will suck up vegetation and potentially ruin your motor.
Rocky banks, points, or rip-rap
A final type of cover you can fish without a trolling motor is rocky areas like banks, points, and rip rap. Again, be careful to not hit any rocks as they can be very damaging to your boat. But if you find rocky structures that come out far into the lake where you can safely float over and fish them, they can hold active bass throughout much of the year. Again, a crankbait bouncing against the tops of rocks is a great way to entice bass into biting. I’ve also had good success with swimbaits in these areas as well.
Looking for structure that holds bass is also a great way to catch fish without a trolling motor. Below are a few structure types you can look for.
The number one type of structure I would look for if fishing without a trolling motor is points. Pictured above, this is where land comes out in the water, creating shallow areas with two sides where the land drops off and water gets deeper. For bass, these points are ideal feeding locations. Often, they sit on one side of the point, chasing bait up them to feed in shallower water.
Luckily, points often come out well into the water and bass can be located on many areas of them. So allowing the current or wind to move you slowly over a point while you fan cast across it can create great fishing opportunities. My favorite technique for this is a carolina rig – which you can drag across the points and catch fish sitting on any side of it.
If you can find a point with any type of cover on it mentioned above like grass, rock, or stumps – you might have found a goldmine.
Many people call channels the “highways” underwater, which means fish use them to travel up and down lakes. If you find the areas where these channels “swing” or move irregularly under the water there may be bass sitting on them. Particularly in the middle of summer or dead of winter.
Because channels are naturally deep water and generally occur well off the bank, this is a great area you can float across and fish to find some bass sitting in deep water. My favorite choice here is a heavy jig that can get into the channels and drag across it slowly.
Finally, you can look for humps in the water and focus fishing these areas without a trolling motor. Much like points, humps are areas where the land is higher than what is around it and makes for good chasing spots for bass to feed on bait fish. Humps just exist in the middle of water and don’t come out to land, they are just shallow spots in the middle of lakes.
If you can fish a dropshot on top of humps as you float over them you could be in a great position to catch feeding bass. Cruising over humps is more challenging than points and channels as they are often smaller, but if you find an area with many humps you can float from hump to hump and fish each.
Use your outboard more liberally on this offshore structure
Maybe the best part of this type of offshore structure is you can use your outboard motor more liberally. Oftentimes you may be in as much as 30 feet of water when fishing humps, or even deeper in channel swings. So once you have passed the area you want to fish, you can fire up your outboard and get into position again or change locations. A bass 30 feet below you is much less likely to get spooked than a bass in 5 feet of water when you fire up your outboard in a pocket.
Using an anchor
If you do reach an area with a shallow enough bottom, you can let out an anchor which will allow you to really pick it apart with casts. I don’t recommend doing this until after you have caught a few fish. Sometimes bass will group on specific areas and if you stumble across one, anchoring down and making many casts to get them all is worth it. But trying to force it into existence by anchoring in a spot first will take too much time when you should be covering more water.
Also do remember that throwing an anchor out does make a noticeable disturbance in the water. Maybe not like an outboard motor turning on, but it is noticeable. So don’t anchor down right on top of an area you are fishing. Try to be a good casting distance away from where you want to cast so you don’t spook the bass.
If you cannot use a trolling motor, use the tips above to find fish and I”m sure you can catch several bass on your next trip. If you can find anywhere that has both the structure and cover mentioned, and you get the wind to blow you across them just right, you could have such a great fishing trip you’ll never even notice your trolling motor is missing. Again, do be safe without a trolling motor and remember to fire up the outboard motor if needed to avoid danger. The fish may be spooked for a while, but if you come back several hours later they will be back to normal and you can try again.
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