Story by Russ Bassdozer
Everything you need to know to equip yourself with the basic tools of offshore angling
Much of the time, PAA pro Randy Haynes talks about the Tennessee River fisheries because that’s where Randy’s from and he grew up fishing and winning many amateur events on the Tennessee River.
In 2013, his rookie year as an FLW Tour pro, Haynes of Counce, Tennessee achieved his first pro level win by fishing offshore at Lake Eufaula, AL in May 2013. Haynes also double-qualified for the 2013 and 2014 Toyota Texas Bass Classic world championships by finishing 10th overall in the 2013 PAA Tournament Series Angler of the Year standings.
In Tennessee River tournaments, pro or amateur, Haynes is feared and respected for fishing deep offshore structure. Whether it’s a lake he grew up on or one away from home that he’s seeing for the first time on the PAA Tournament Series or FLW Tour, Haynes has a starter kit of offshore tools he’ll try one after the other – or as the situation dictates. There’s really no preconceived notion as to what may work. Any day on the water at home or abroad, anything can happen offshore. Yet his basic tools don’t vary, like the Carolina rig, crankbaits, football jigs for bass on or near the bottom plus swimbaits and flutter spoons for suspended bass.
Haynes’ three favorite tools to start with offshore are:
Carolina Rig – If the bass are off the bottom a little, you can use anywhere from a ½ to 1 oz sinker and soft plastics like lizards, Zoom Brush Hogs, many kinds of creature baits and stuff like that. A 10-inch worm would work too.
- Football Jigs – If the bass are right on the bottom, these haven’t been used traditionally in some areas but have really caught on the last few years. Like the Carolina rig, Haynes recommends ½ to 1 oz sizes. He uses the ¾ oz size a lot. You always need a soft plastic trailer on a football jig. Haynes likes the Strike King Rage Twin Tail Menace Grub or something like that.
- Crankbaits – If the bass are really active, offshore fishing isn’t always done in deep water. There can be shoals, sand bars, rock piles, extended underwater points, saddles, humps and expansive flats offshore. You’ll want several different types of crankbaits that dive anywhere from 6 feet to 20 feet deep to handle any depth you encounter offshore. Haynes mentions some examples: the Rapala DT series (DT-6, DT-10, DT-16), Strike King Series 4, 5, 6 and the deeper 5XD and 6XD. Nowadays there are massive crankbaits as big and meaty as pork chops that delve 25 feet deep too (such as the Strike King 10XD).
A couple of other different tools Haynes uses when bass are suspended offshore are:
- Swimbaits – Haynes uses the 5” to 6” Strike King Shadalicious a lot with anywhere from a ¼ oz to ¾ oz jighead to reach different depths to work it up in the water column above the bottom.
- Flutter Spoons – This is a big spoon you actually rip off the bottom and it flutters back down. It seesaws back and forth. It comes up and it just flutters down and really gets the attention of those suspended fish. Sometimes suspended bass will follow the flutter spoon down as it falls past them on the initial descent. The rest of the tools like the football jig, Carolina rig and even crankbaits are going under suspended bass. The flutter spoon is designed to come up each time you pull it up of bottom, it gets their attention, and as it starts fluttering back down like a dead shad seesawing down, they’ll come after it.
Those are your basic offshore tools. When you get a bite on one, then you can vary your colors if necessary to fine-tune that tool. Especially with the swimbaits and crankbaits, vendors offer about 40 colors of them.
“It seems every region we visit on tour, offshore anglers have their regional favorite colors. On the Tennessee River where I’m from, we like the citrus colors, natural shad colors and chartreuse blues. The citrus and shad colors are the two patterns I throw the most, and then you can fine tune it even further within those color patterns since there are many close color variations.”
“Say a fish is not getting it good…If a fish is hooked outside the mouth or atop the head with a crankbait, you might change your color to a different hue until you start getting both hooks in the mouth.”
With the soft plastics used for Carolina rigs and jig trailers, you can play with colors and sizes and shapes from different manufacturers too. “Everything doesn’t all run the same; you just have to tweak your tools based on what the fish tell you they want.”
Offshore Rods and Reels
When prefishing or practicing for a tournament, Haynes may have anywhere from 12 to 15 rods on the front deck just going through a bunch of different stuff.
For an angler who just wants to get started at this, you really only need a couple of outfits:
- Crankbaits – A crankbait rod and reel is its own little deal. Haynes uses a 5:1 Lew's BB1 Pro Speed Spool with anywhere from 10 to 15 lb Toray fluorocarbon line and a medium-heavy Kistler cranking stick. It makes long casts and has enough backbone to set the hook in deep water along with a forgiving tip for when you're fighting a fish. It has just enough give in the tip that it won't rip the plug out of a fish's mouth.
- Football Jigs, Carolina Rigs, Swimbaits – For these offshore tools, Haynes uses heavy line from 15 to 20 lb test and heavy action rods ranging between 7'3" to 7'6". It needs to be a pretty good size rod and a high-speed 7:1 Lew's Tournament Pro Speed Spool reel here because you'll have so much line out most of the time and you have to be able to take up all the slack when you first set the hook and throughout the fight if the fish rockets toward the surface or runs at you.
- Flutter Spoons – This is a specialized outfit. It's an extra-heavy 7' 11" Kistler rod with a lot of backbone to set the hook because you've always got so much semi-slack line out with spoons. Haynes uses a high-speed 7:1 Lew's Tournament Pro Speed Spool reel here too.
If you want to get started offshore, that's most of what you may need to equip yourself with the baits, rods, reels, line. That's the basic stuff.
Of course the other important factor to offshore angling is using and understanding your electronics, but that's a different and much more complicated story.
"The thing there is that electronics are highly vendor-specific. They all perform similar things to some degree, but you have to commit to the vendor's technology, terminology, proprietary menu systems, features and functions," explains Haynes. "I could get worn out trying to tell someone all about offshore electronics – and a lot of it would be specific to the electronic tools I use but not to other brands."
"All the pros are putting 3 or 4 depthfinders on their boats nowadays, and it is such a big investment. Retail, just one of the units I have right now runs $3,500. So if you're putting 3 or 4 of them on your boat like a lot of pros are doing (or even if you just want 1 or 2 for starters) and spending anywhere from $2K to $3.5K a piece for them (depending on model), you better really research them first before you buy them," advises Haynes. "This technology is advancing rapidly too, and each new model year brings brand new capabilities that pros need to keep up with to stay competitive when angling offshore."