When some anglers say they're catching fish shallow, they might mean less than 10 feet. Others could be talking about 4 or 5 feet. Still others could be going skinny in the 2-foot zone.
But when Denny Brauer talks ultra-shallow bass, the measurements are made in inches.
"I remember a tournament we had years ago on the Ohio River that was super tough and the fishing pressure was tremendous, especially in the backwater areas," he recalls. "That was the only area where I could get a bite. I got into one creek where I could hardly move my boat around; it was that shallow. The water was maybe 4 to 6 inches deep, but when I threw to a piece of wood, my line would take off. Where those fish came from, I don't know."
Brauer finished third and believes that if he had identified the ultra-shallow pattern earlier, he could have won the tournament. "Those bass were untouched because they were positioned so shallow that the other competitors weren't even fishing close to them," he says.
With the rising popularity of deep-water finesse tactics, GPS and side-imaging sonar units, there's progressively less pressure on bass that make their home in skinny water haunts.
"Ultimately, the super-shallow bass are underfished; it's almost like virgin water," Brauer says. "A lot of times that's why it's so good. The majority of the fish may not be that shallow, but the ones that are up there are willing to bite, and they're not being pounded to death."
He says that even though deep-water techniques may be tough to learn, they're often favored by fishermen who are afraid to get up close and mix it up with their prey.
"I think that the mindset a lot of anglers get into is that they don't want to hurt their trolling motor. They don't want to knock their transducer off or hit the shaft or scrape the bottom of the boat," he says. "Or they worry about getting stuck."
You'll want to take care of your equipment, of course, but Brauer says you must not be afraid to take chances in extreme situations.
Brauer always devotes some practice time to searching for an ultra-shallow pattern. "It can almost be any season," he says. "You don't really want to rule it out. Obviously, the least productive season to go super shallow is winter, unless you're in Florida, but otherwise it can be spring, summer and fall."
The legendary pro says that one key feature he looks for when scouting skinny water is the presence of cover. "Very seldom will I find fish in an ultra-shallow situation where the bass don't have any cover to relate to," Brauer explains. "It can be vegetation or a piece of wood. On tidal water we do it all the time. Those fish are going to gravitate to anything they can get underneath."
To access shallow-water bass, it's necessary to take some equipment precautions, particularly when it comes to your boat. "The lighter you can make your rig, the more efficient you're going to be," he says. "If you're not making a long run, why have the tanks loaded with gas? Why have all that tackle in there? Be prepared. Have you're trolling motor shaft raised. Have your hydraulic lift raised up where you can still move around a little bit with your big motor. And carry a push pole."
While he concludes that "it's a huge mistake for anglers to bypass that zone," he doesn't say it too loudly. After all, Brauer is perfectly content with his competitors thinking that the shallows are no-fish zones.