Last year, I had the great fortune to meet one of my fishing heroes, John Hope. John is the author of “Trackin’ Trophies,” a book which outlines the findings from more than 15 years of detailed observations on giant bass in Texas. One of John’s key finds was the strategy of fishing funnel points for big fish. Before we deep dive into what exactly a funnel point is and how to find them, let’s go over some useful background.
In the late 1980’s John Hope was a fishing guide at Houston County Lake, a 1,500-acre lake in East Texas. As an accomplished big bass angler, much like Doug Hannon, Hope became increasingly interested in the behaviors of big bass. After learning about electronic tracking methods used to track other animals, Hope got the idea to attempt tracking big bass. Initially, it began half out of curiosity and half as a marketing ploy to drum up business for his guide service. Over the better part of a decade, Hope completed a variety of tracking studies, predominantly in Texas, that focused on the movement and habits of trophy-sized bass. Over the years, dozens of fish were tracked ranging in size from a few pounds to true lunkers upwards of 15lbs. The bodies of water Hope tracked fish in ranged from a few hundred acres all the way up to the behemoth Sam Rayburn Reservoir at 114,000 acres. Hope completed the study with astounding persistence. At some points staying on the water for days at a time through rain or shine, sleeping in his boat to ensure all movements of the fish were captured. He stayed with the studies through all seasons and water temperatures ranging from the low 40s to well into the 90s.
In 1986, one of the first bass Hope studied closely was a 10lber on Houston County Lake nicknamed “Wanda,” after his wife. (A full two years before the hit comedy that shared the name.) Hope tracked the fish for over a year, catching her multiple times before she was ultimately caught and mounted by another angler. One of the key findings of the study was that the fish had a small home range, rarely straying more than a few hundred yards to feed. Hope completed similar studies dozens of times with large fish from all over the state and was ultimately able to establish some principals that forever changed his approach to chasing trophy fish.
- Big fish have preferred depth ranges. Ranges were labeled as shallow (0-8 feet), mid-layer (8-12 feet), and deep layer (12+ feet). No fish in the study had a feeding range that varied by more than 10 feet. Mid-range and deep water fish only ventured to shallower waters when biology dictated they do so during the spawn.
- Big fish have small ranges. Once a fish reaches 7lbs or so, it establishes a home range and a preferred depth. Outside of the spawn big fish rarely leave their preferred range and depth layer. Hope stated big fish had ranges that were typically located close to their spawning flats and rarely exceeded more than a few hundred yards in size.
- Big fish were highly predictable in that they precisely followed a daily routine.
- All large bass Hope studied, fed periodically during the day but they were predominately nocturnal feeders.
- Large fish are difficult to catch, not because they reside in ultra-secretive hard to reach spots, but because they are suspended and are inactive for large portions of the day when most anglers are fishing.
- Hope said, “Fishing pressure eliminates trophy bass in shallow water. Anglers do not allow very many of them to get to be trophy size. In my opinion, if a fish lives in shallow water and manages to reach six or seven pounds, the fishing pressure and boating pressure alone make it move out and become a mid-layer bass.”
Perhaps John’s greatest discovery was his realization of the importance of funnel points. John believed that one of the best approaches to catching big bass was to target them at so-called "funnel points" during high probability feeding times. As part of his studies, Hope had been marking the location of his biggest catches on topographical maps for years. Eventually, an observation jumped out at him; most of his biggest catches were coming off structure that shared a common trait... they were funnel points. That is to say, “areas of the lake where troughs, ditches, or draws natural to the contour of the lake created what amounted to an underwater highway.” Particularly attractive funnels narrowed to pinch points only a few yards wide ending in cover such as grass or timber. Hope hypothesized funnel points corralled big fish into tight areas as they moved around the lake from offshore resting spots to shallow water hunting grounds. Over the years, Hope refined this approach to focus on fishing these funnel points during high percentage times around dawn and dusk, noting that if an angler did this consistently, it would not take him long to land a trophy.
When I met with John, I was able to pick his brain in greater detail about funnel points. John told me that the best funnel points are extremely narrow at the termination point. Ideally John said, “no wider than a door way in your house.” John told me one of the best funnels he had ever come across was an old sunken pond wall that existed on Lake Fork. Prior to the impoundment of Lake Fork the pond had been drained by a backhoe knocking a hole in the wall that was exactly the width of excavator bucket. Big fish, John said, would suspend out in open water during the day. As dusk approached the fish would follow the pond wall in to shallower water and finally move into their primary feeding area by passing through the cut out in the pond wall. This choke point amounted to a 21 lane highway being narrowed down to a single tollbooth lane! John would stealthily position his boat a short cast from the funnel and keep saturating the area cast after cast. The methodology improved his odds of getting his lure in front of a big fish astronomically!
To the left is a classic example of a funnel from Lake Sam Rayburn. Big fish will suspend 8-12 feet down out in open water during the day and then follow the funnel into their shallow water feeding grounds at night. Funnels can take some practice to locate on topographical maps. I was fortune to be able to pour over maps with John for hours. We reviewed a half dozen lakes with John coaching me on the best funnels in each body of water. It’s also important to remember not all funnels are created equal. Generally speaking, the narrower the funnel the better. Additionally, the best funnels terminate in areas that contain structure and cover that create a feeding ground for big bass. John also emphasized big bass are creatures of habit. They will move from their daytime bedrooms (off shore suspension) to their nighttime kitchens (shallower water feeding grounds) at a cadence you could set your watch to! Find funnels on your local lake and your odds of an encounter with a giant will increase exponentially!