Bottom fishing is the go-to method for beginner and advanced anglers fishing from piers, docks, shorelines, boats, and the surf. Bottom fishing is simple and effective in both fresh and saltwater conditions. Depending on the depth, current, baits, and targeted species, many different fishing rigs and methods are used when Bottom fishing. Most bottom fishing is done using cut bait or live bait and can result in a wide variety of species to catch. From Catfish off a dock to Snappers in the Atlantic, bottom fishing is a fun and great way to introduce new anglers to the sport.
What is Bottom Fishing
In Bottom Fishing’s simplest form, you need three things: a hook, a line, and a piece of bait. Throw that bait out, let it sink to the bottom, and wait for something to pick it up. Adding a layer of complexity, we can attach a weight to drop the bait faster or hold it in a position on the bottom in a strong current. The final layer of complexity involves adding additional hooks, swivels, or other terminal tackles to change the nature of the bait’s presentation on the Bottom.
Bottom fishing can catch almost any species that patrols the bottom looking for food. In the ocean, it’s the ideal way to catch grouper, snapper, redfish, sheepshead, hogfish, grunts, sharks, tarpon, rays, and whatever else you can think of that lives near the bottom. In freshwater, it is a great way to target catfish, sturgeon, carp, bass, trout, pike, gar, and bluegill. Billfish, mahi-mahi, jacks, and other pelagic species are rarely ever caught Bottom fishing.
Tackle for Bottom Fishing
Having a product experience bottom fishing requires having the right tackle and equipment. Luckily, you can get started bottom fishing a with a few simple pieces of gear.
Rods and Reels
Before deciding what rods and reels to use, check whether you are fishing in fresh or saltwater. Quality saltwater tackle is usually sealed to prevent internal corrosion of gears from the salt, while most freshwater tackle lacks this protection. As a rule, unsealed tackle should always be washed with clean, fresh water after exposure to saltwater.
- Spinning Rods and Reels: Generally cheaper and easier to use, spinning tackle can be used for bottom fishing in fresh and saltwater. Spinning tackle is highly effective for surf fishing and shoreline fishing, where casting distance is critical. If you plan on using spinning tackle for bottom fishing, a larger, 5000-size reel with added line capacity that can support a medium to heavy action rod is recommended.
- Conventional Rods and Reels: Fantastic options when dropping straight down off boats, piers, and other structures are conventional rods and reels, also known as lever wind reels. Conventional rods and reels provide additional line capacities and leverage to pull fish off the bottom and away from structures or reefs. Conventional reels come in many sizes, but unless fishing for sharks or in the deep sea, small to medium reel sizes, usually 20 or 30 sizes, are generally sufficient for most bottom fishing.
Rod holders are an invaluable piece of bottom fishing equipment for onshore-based applications. Holding the rod for an extended period is possible but often not ideal or comfortable. Rod holders can be made from various materials but are most commonly constructed of steel or PVC piping. Short rod holders less than 2 ft in length are used for lakes and rivers, while longer rod holders are used for surf fishing. This additional length keeps the rod holders in the loose sand and the line higher above the breaking waves.
Weights and sinkers come in a variety of sizes and applications. The conditions underwater influence how much weight to use. In calm conditions with no wind, current, or waves, a half-ounce to one-ounce weight is usually sufficient to hold the bait in place on the bottom. Changing weight shapes will also influence how well baits are positioned on the bottom. Flat shapes are less likely to roll on the bottom than egg sinkers but are more likely to get hung up on structure.
When bottom fishing, fishing lines get bumped, bruised, scraped, and scuffed. Use abrasion-resistant lines between 15 and 30 pounds to prevent break-offs. Three line types are used as mainlines for Bottom fishing: Monofilament, Fluorocarbon, and Braided lines. Any of the three lines can be used, but depending on your budget and water conditions, some line types have advantages over others.
- Monofilament Line: Monofilament lines are the cheapest option, but that does not mean they are inferior. Monofilament lines are a fantastic option for Bottom fishing due to their elasticity and abrasion resistance. However, monofilament lines float and are not great when fishing in deep water.
- Fluorocarbon Line: Fluorocarbon lines have less visibility in the water than monofilament lines and are great for clear water applications.
- Braided Line: Braided lines are extremely strong and sink the fastest of the three line types. Braided lines are rarely tied straight to the hook and are often used as the mainline, with either a fluorocarbon or monofilament leader used to attach the rigging.
Different baits will attract different types of fish when bottom fishing. Some species are nearly impossible to catch in freshwater with the wrong baits. Carp, for instance, are almost never caught using cut bait or minnows but will gobble up dough, canned corn, and the occasional worm. Saltwater species are more opportunistic than freshwater species and are conditioned to eat anything they can fit into their mouths. Certain reef fish have a particular diet, but those typically aren’t good to eat or fun to catch.
The following are common baits used for bottom fishing in fresh and saltwater environments.
|Dough, bread and canned corn||Carp, Panfish, Suckers, Trout, Drum, Catfish|
|Worms, Mealworms, Insects||Carp, Panfish, Suckers, Trout, Sturgeon, Drum, Perch, Catfish|
|Minnows (shiners)||Crappie, Perch, Bass, Pike, Catfish, Walleye, Troutn|
|Cut-bait||Catfish, Drum, Bass, Trout|
|Large Live Bait||Bass, Flathead Catfish, Pike, Walleye, Salmon, Trout|
|Shrimp||Snapper, Grouper, Seatrout, Whiting, Pompano… Most saltwater species will eat shrimp, and is a solid bait of choice when trying to find out what fish are in an area.|
|Fiddler and Peeler Crabs||Fidder and peeler crabs are a highly prized bait for a variety of saltwater game fish|
|Cut-bait||Snapper, Grouper, Redfish, Black Drum, Sharks, Rays, Tarpon, and more|
|Live Bait||Grouper, Redfish, Snappers, Mackeral, Jacks, Snook, Tarpon, Sharks, Barracuda, and more|
Bottom Fishing Rigs
Below are some of the most common bottom fishing rigs for applications in fresh and saltwater, descending with increasing layers of complexity.
- Free-Lining – As the name suggests, this rig only uses the weight of the hook and bait to get to the bottom attached to the mainline. It can take longer but is perfect for calm conditions and highly pressured fish.
- Single-Weight (Knocker Rig) – This rig utilizes an egg weight that rests directly above the hook on the mainline. Add a single bead above the hook before the egg weight to add a layer of protection for your knot. When paired with a circle hook, this rigging style is suitable for rocky bottoms or fishing structures where getting the bait hung up is an issue.
- Carolina Rig (Slider Rig) – This rigging requires a swivel for the weight to rest on the mainline. A 1-3ft long leader line attaches the hook to the other end of the swivel. This rigging is perfect for dropping live baits that need to swim around.
- 3-Way Rig (Drop Rig) – Whether fishing from a boat, surf, or shoreline, the drop rig is ideal for holding live or dead baits in sandy, muddy, or pebbly bottoms. This type of rigging uses a three-way swivel with two separate sections of the leader line. The first section is tied to the bait and hook, and the second section uses a lighter line tied to the weight. The line connected to the weight is lighter than the mainline in case it gets snagged on the bottom and can break off easily.
- Double Hook Rig (Pompano Rig) – This rigging has 2-3 hooks in tandem attached to the mainline with a pyramid weight at the terminal end. This rigging is the preferred method for surf fishing and shoreline fishing in heavy currents, waves, or wind.
Bottom Fishing Techniques
Most anglers will be exposed to two types of bottom fishing during their fishing careers: Tightlining and Bottom Bouncing.
Tightlining can be done onshore or on a boat, depending on conditions. This method requires enough weight to hold the bait on the bottom while the mainline is tight. Because the mainline is tight to the weight, fish strikes are indicated by the tip of the rod bending. To increase the chances of noticing strikes, I have found attaching alarm bells, or electronic indicators drastically improves my ability to detect subtle strikes.
Fishing from a boat also offers the unique ability to bounce and drag baits along the bottom using the current, wind, or waves to float the boat over the water’s surface gently. This method is called Bottom bouncing and is ideal for covering a lot of water in rivers, beaches, and lakes with long stretches of a relatively flat bottom.
When bouncing baits off the bottom, don’t use too much weight. The line dragging behind the boat should be at about a 60-degree angle. Occasionally lift the rod to give the bait additional movement and to remove any debris that may have accumulated on the bait. Bottom bouncing is possible from shore in strong current but is limited to the amount of line you have available.
Where to Bottom Fish
Bottom fishing is an effective method for catching fish in a variety of fresh and saltwater environments. The following are the most common places for bottom fishing.
Bottom Fishing on a Boat
Tips for Bottom Fishing from a Boat
- Proper anchoring will keep the boat from drifting and moving around too much
- Use rods less than 7 ft in length
- Fish down current
- Carolina Rigs, Drop Rigs, and Freelining
- Use chum to attract fish off reefs and structure
- Keep weights a foot off the Bottom when reef fishing in saltwater
- Let weights rest on the bottom when fishing freshwater
Bottom fishing from a boat is more complicated than on land, especially in the ocean or large rivers where wind, current, and waves changes can drastically affect the angler’s ability to fish. Proper anchoring and drift techniques are essential when fishing from a boat. When bottom fishing from a boat, it’s necessary to understand when it’s ok to let your bait rest on the bottom and when it’s not.
When saltwater fishing over reefs or structures, it’s common practice to let the bait hit the bottom and reel up about a foot off the bottom. This is done primarily to prevent hang-ups and to make your bait easier to find for predators. In freshwater, it’s more important to have the bait resting on the bottom regardless of the structure.
Shorter, stiff rods are ideal for hanging over the side of the gunnel of a boat when fishing the bottom. This rod type provides more power and leverage to pull fish out of the structure when standing. The Carolina rig or the drop rig are two of the most common riggings from a boat when fishing on the Bottom.
How to Anchor on Structure for Bottom Fishing
Anchoring a vessel is an essential skill to fish a piece of structure properly. Mark the structure on the map or with a small marker buoy when you feel you are directly above that piece of structure. Motor or paddle up a couple of dozen yards up current or upstream and throw the anchor. Allow enough line for the anchor to properly dig into the substrate and leave you a few dozen yards upstream or up the current of the structure you want to fish.
If dead or alive, the bait will emit scents and vibrations into the water, attracting predatory fish to the bait residing in that structure. This is important because when big fish such as snapper, grouper, and catfish are hooked, they will try to retreat into the structure to hide and break off the line. Luring them further away from their home will reduce the chances of the fish getting the upper hand on the angler.
Bottom Fishing from the Surf
Tips for Surf Fishing on the Bottom
- Use 4 + ft long rod holders to place in loose sand
- Keep Baits Past the Second Sandbar or down current from structures
- Use sufficient weight to hold baits in place
- Use long surf rods typically 8-12 ft in length
- Braided lines will provide additional casting distance
- Pompano Rigs and Carolina Rigs are recommended
Fishing from the surf on a sandy beach doesn’t require careful positioning over structure. Sandy beaches offer limited cover and habitat for larger fish species; therefore, the fish constantly move up and down the surf in search of food and to stay away from predators.
Long surf rods, sometimes 10 + feet in length, are used on beaches to cast significantly farther and to keep the line above the waves breaking near the shoreline. When fishing from shore, longer rods will provide more leverage allowing for further casts. When fishing from the shore, get the baits out past the second sandbar, where larger predatory fish will patrol throughout the day.
Properly weighting baits is a vital skill to develop when fishing in the surf. Too much weight can cause bites to go unnoticed, but too little weight will not hold in the sandy substrate and will constantly need recasting. Every day is different; conditions can change throughout the day depending on the tides, wind, currents, and waves. Adaptability to these changes and adjustments throughout the day is essential. Three-ounce pyramid weights are the standard for fishing from the surf, even on calm days.
The Carolina and pompano rigs are two of the most commonly used rigging types when fishing from the beach. Pair the pompano rig with dead baits, and pair the Carolina rig with live baits. The additional slack will let the live bait swim freely under the surface, keeping it alive longer.
Bottom Fishing from a Fixed Platform
Tips for Fixed Platform Fishing
- Keep baits close to the structure
- Try to fish down-current
- Use a minimal weight of 1 to 3 ounces
- 6-8ft medium heavy action fishing rods
- Medium to Large Reels
- Most Rigging types will work from Piers
Fishing from a fixed platform is unique because you are fishing on top of the structure that the fish are living on. Fishing on these structures can be difficult in strong currents or tides, especially when the fish are gathering up current of the structure instead of down currents. A common mistake beginner anglers make is throwing as far away from the structure the fish are gathering on. Think of it this way: if the jetty or pier is the only structure within hundreds of yards, it’s likely where all the fish will gather.
It’s crucial in these scenarios to use your judgment and be adaptable when Bottom fishing on these structures. Some tips for fishing off structures include fishing parallel with the current, using as minimal weight as possible to keep the line tight, and keeping the bait near the structure.