Bass and brush

The reward for patiently fishing a brush pile.

Study on Missouri’s table rock offers guidance for placing and fishing brush.

Bass like woody structure. It provides cover and attracts forage fish. A lot of bass fishing in Mississippi and throughout the Southeast takes place in reservoirs. Woody structure, abundant in these reservoirs after impoundment, is lost over time due to decomposition and sedimentation as these systems age. 

Some fisheries agencies have started programs to add woody structure, and many anglers also install brush piles to create “secret” honey holes — which aren’t secret for long. A Missouri study provided insight for effective placement of woody structure. Their results also provide hints for fishing brush piles.

The study

Table Rock Lake is a 60-year-old, 43,000-acre impoundment of the White River in southwestern Missouri. The lake is steep-sided, has numerous boat docks and abundant rocky structure but lacks aquatic vegetation. Woody structure is sparse.

From 2007 to 2013, fisheries biologists with the Missouri Department of Conservation installed 2,000 woody habitat structures (bundles of trees) in Table Rock Lake with the specific intent of increasing angler catch rate. After installation, 1 1/2- to 7 1/2-pound largemouth bass were tracked by radio telemetry for 12 months to evaluate their use of the structures and identify habitat characteristics of the best-used structures.

The results

Bass were most frequently located near or under docks, but they were also frequently located around wood. The tracked bass used the added structure as much as they used natural, complex woody structure and twice as much as they used natural, simple woody structure. Simple woody structure is a single tree trunk with little branching. Complex woody structure is wood with branching and a lot of cavities in the brush. The added woody structure was complex woody structure.

Habitat choices were analyzed separately for day and night periods. The bass’ location around boat docks was the same day and night. Bass used the installed woody structure more at night than during the day, but they used the natural, complex woody structure more during the day than at night.

The bass were closer to shore and in shallower water at night. The average depth bass were found was about 18 feet during the day and 10 feet at night.


The most-important finding was that added complex woody structure attracts bass. Whether placed by a fisheries or water management agency or by an angler, complex woody structure attracts bass. Don’t waste your time with single logs. 

A down-scan screenshot from a Garmin sonar unit showing two brush piles and a group of shad to the left. The bright white marks near the tall trees and in the brush pile are probably bass.
A down-scan screenshot from a Garmin sonar unit showing two brush piles and a group of shad to the left. The bright white marks near the tall trees and in the brush pile are probably bass.

But also important is where the woody structures are placed. Brush piles placed shallower than 18 feet and within 150 feet from shore will be most used.

The study was well done, but extending the results to other lakes requires recognizing a couple of limitations. First, Table Rock lacks vegetation. The value of complex woody structure in lakes with vegetation is not known. Also, the depth and distance-offshore preferences of bass are likely to change in a lake with vegetation. 

Second, Table Rock is a steep-sided lake. I would expect average depth of bass to be shallower and the distance offshore possibly greater in a lake with gradually sloping shorelines.

And last, the limited number of detections of the radio-tagged fish precluded analysis of seasonal differences in habitat use. An evaluation of complex woody structure use by largemouth bass in a Texas reservoir found greater use of the structures in summer and fall.

Despite a few limitations in extending the Table Rock research to other lakes, the study provides good guidelines for the efficient placement of woody structure in reservoirs lacking natural cover. The same information can be used by anglers to direct their fishing effort to those brush piles that are most likely to concentrate bass.

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About Hal Schramm 158 Articles
Hal Schramm is an avid angler and veteran fisheries biologist.

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