Three Degrees of Structure
by Ron Presley
Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard may not be as bare as it seems.
Did you ever feel like you were fishing in Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard? The fishing hole just seemed to be bare? You had great expectation of finding a fish but reality set in and it was only a wish. Actually, you may have been in the right area, just not the right spot.
We’ve all been there. You know, that experience where you’re sitting there fishing and the guy in a boat 20 yards away is catching fish and you’re not getting a bite. The bite can be pretty location specific?
B’n’M prostaff angler Ty Konkle has spent years developing a successful approach to catching big catfish. Not surprisingly, it is related to location, but it is a little more than that.
“I like to drift and I like to anchor,” Konkle said. “Drifting is a good way to cover a lot of water. But when I’m sitting on an anchor, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I would’ve moved over a little before throwing out the anchor or spot-locking. There is a lot of water to cover and a few feet can make a difference.”
Early in his guiding career, Konkle fished what he called two degrees of structure with success. He would head out on the river, find a deep hole, then find a ledge or drop off to fish. Over time he refined his search for big fish to include a third degree of structure. Once he added that third element to his method, he witnessed an increase in his catch rate.
“Too many people focus on the first degree of structure and nothing more,” Konkle said. “Then they wonder why their catch rates are so low. Simply finding a hole in a river is a good start, but if you’re fishing the wrong side of the hole it can mean the difference between success or failure.”
His formula for successfully boating trophy catfish depends on finding three different pieces to the puzzle. It is not always the exact same three, but a combination that has resulted in many trophy catfish for him and his clients. He explains his system as a process of finding three degrees of structure. He explains it step by step.
The First Degree
Step one is finding the first degree of structure. This is the most easily found element of his formula. In a river, for example, it is typically a hole or a deeper stretch of river. In a lake it might be the dam.
“The first step is the easiest and sometimes the only one used by anglers,” advised Konkle. “It is simply locating a deeper hole, a dam or maybe a nuclear plant. Anything that provides a major collection point for fish.”
“Too many people spend too much time on one spot in one hole,” explained Konkle. “There will be a place in the hole that is deeper than the rest. If the fish are in that deeper part and you are off a little bit you are going to miss them.”
He goes on to explain that the next spot may be on the other side of the river, or the other end of the dam. It may just be the other side of the current.
“When fishing an individual hole there will be some place in that hole where the fish are staging,” advised Konkle. “There is more to finding fish than just finding a hole.
With that in mind, Konkle moves on to explain the importance of finding that second degree of structure.
The Second Degree
Step two is finding the second degree of structure. This would be like a drop-off or a ridge in that hole or that gives the fish something to travel up and down or alongside.
“The second degree of structure could be thought of as highways that fish move along as they navigate one point to another,” Konkle said.
Lake and river maps that show contours can be a help in finding these catfish highways. Today’s modern sonar can help anglers scout and map out any area of interest. In fact, sonar can be a major part of a long-term plan to find this second degree of structure as well as the third.
The Third Degree
Step three is finding that third degree of structure. The third degree of structure is an object of some kind that gives fish protection and furnishes them with an ambush spot for feeding on unsuspecting forage. Konkle’s list of third-degree structure includes many different things. In his experience, this is where the biggest fish are usually sitting.
“The third degree structure could be a hump or anything that breaks up the secondary structure,” advised Konkle. “It could be a sharp change in elevation. For instance, I’ve seen a drop-off along the ledge that fits the bill perfectly.”
“It might be rock piles, sunken timber, big boulders, or maybe even a sunken boat along the ridge or drop off,” offered Konkle. “It might even be an old tire in a smaller river, but objects that small go unnoticed in the bigger rivers like the Tennessee.
“Literally, it’s like third time’s a charm,” suggested Konkle. “Typically, the best precision anchoring locations are going to be that third degree of structure.”
The Long-term Plan
Konkle likes to spend a little time on each trip looking at new water, something that he has not investigated before. His goal is to add to his inventory of potential three degrees of structure spots.
An accumulation of recorded spots over time is part of his success. Once any angler has accumulated enough waypoints it becomes simpler to make most every fishing trip a successful one.
There are a lot of variables involved, but when you find a combination that includes Konkle’s three degrees of structure you have found a winning combination for catching trophy cats.
Fishing the Bite Window
In addition to applying his Three Degrees of Structure theory, Konkle fishes a very narrow bite window. His bite window is based on experience with active and aggressive fish. Using this strategy requires moving often and having plenty of waypoints.
“In the guide world, you have to do things efficiently,” explained Konkle. “Clients do not want to wait for hours to get a fish, especially on half-day trips. The idea is to get your baits quickly in the vicinity of fish. If you are successful you will minimize waiting time, and usually maximize the catch rate.”
“In the real world, my experience has shown that the majority of bites occur between that 7- to 12-minute mark. You have to give the fish enough time to find your bait. Once you go beyond that bite window, the chances of catching fish go down dramatically. You can still catch fish on the hole, especially if the active fish are further away from your baits then you intended them to be.”
Combining these two concepts—Three Degrees of Structure and the Bite Window— Konkle successfully puts trophy cats in the boat on a regular basis.
Editor’s Note: For a full explanation of Konkle’s Bite Window go to catfishnow.com and read the full explanation in the May, 2019 issue. Konkle can be contacted through his website at FV-Catfish.com. View his videos on his YouTube channel of the same name.