As the temperature begins to rise and the season changes to summer, bass fishing fans begin to hear a lot of Elite anglers talking about shellbeds and how the hard bottom they create is often critical to an angler's final position on the leaderboard. However, many weekend anglers are hazy at best when it comes to finding and fishing these bass magnets.
Elite Series pro Matt Reed points out that, when given the option, he will always fish a shellbed because of the winning potential they afford. He explains that as the shallows get warmer during summer, bass are drawn to the deeper shellbeds as a result of the cooler water temperatures and harder bottoms found near them.
"When the fish move offshore, they really like to set up around a hard bottom," he explains. "A lot of lakes, especially along the Tennessee River system, have shellbeds. The fish will really concentrate on them, particularly if there's grass along the same areas."
As Reed explains, the only things that will make an area littered with mussel shells any better is a little grass. "The shellbeds will usually be in the clean areas just inside the grassline," he points out. "This gives them an edge to relate to, along with the hard bottom that the shells create."
The trick, Reed points out, is to find where to look for shellbeds amid a sea of grass — such as the Decatur Flats area of Wheeler Lake. "Usually, if you see an open area in the grass, it might be a shellbed because grass won't grow on that hard bottom," he explains.
"Whereas on a lake like Kentucky Lake, where most of the lake doesn't have grass, you're looking for the type of ridges that have a little indentation or point where the mussels gather."
Most anglers could fish a lifetime in, through, and around shellbeds and likely never realize that they were around shellbeds because of their difficulty in being found. Reed points out that freshwater mussels are attracted to areas of the lake that have a hard bottom. While shellbeds won't be easy to spot on electronics, the firmness of the lake's bottom will be readily apparent.
"When you're around an area that has a hard bottom, you need to automatically be trained to throw something out that drags the bottom to see if there are any shells there," Reed explains. "I've actually drug a rope with a piece of metal on it as I'm idling across flats just so that I can feel that sort of stuff."
While shellbeds might not be the easiest of things to find, Reed explains that as a result of their general size, the payoff is most often worth the effort. "A really good shellbed might run for 25 to 50 yards long," he explains. "The best ones tend to be the smaller ones, and they're always going to be more challenging to find. What happens with these is that they really tend to concentrate the fish so that you can make the same cast over and over and keep getting bit."
Once the right shellbed has been found, Reed cautions that boat positioning becomes a critical factor in overall success. "The bass tend to want the bait coming from one direction," he says. "Anytime you're fishing offshore structure and you get a bite, you need to mark in your mind the exact cast that you just made.
"You'll immediately want to line up with something on the bank so that you can repeat that same angle because that's the line the fish are going to react to."
Baits can run the gamut, from crankbaits and plastic worms to football jigs and Carolina rigs, but whatever you throw, Reed cautions not to spend too much time in an area those lures aren't getting bit or don't seem to offer the right potential. "If you make a few casts and you don't feel the rough bottom, you need to move," he says.
"You can't allow yourself to get bogged down while you're looking for them or you'll get discouraged real quick."