If both bass and bass fishermen have a magnet, it is a strategically positioned piece of wood.
That can take many forms: a fallen tree with its roots on the bank and its branches extending well underneath the surface; a stumprow situated on a deep water ledge; shoreline bushes freshly flooded by rising water; a forest of standing timber; the extensive root system of a cypress tree; a brushpile anchored in a secret spot; a dock piling; a lone log hugging the lake bottom.
Those are just a few examples of the types of wet wood that attract both angler and prey. They are features of a lake, reservoir or river where the proper approach will usually produce a strike.
Here, then, are the 10 best tips for fishing wood, from some of the country's most experienced pros and guides.
How Kevin VanDam dissects a laydown
To watch Kevin VanDam dissect a fallen tree, with jig in hand, is to see a skillful surgeon at work.
VanDam makes initial pitches to the heart of the tree, probing each individual junction formed by a major branch. His boat is positioned perfectly to enable him to methodically work each intersection of limbs along the trunk during the retrieve. If that effort goes unrewarded, the Michigan pro then drops the lure along the outer portions of the shallow, submerged tree.
"I always go right to the middle of cover, even if I have to throw over a lot of limbs and stuff, because I believe my best chances of catching the biggest fish living in that tree are with that first pitch," the three time BASS Angler of the Year says. "If you can get a bait in there real quietly and drop it on his head the very first time, your chances are a lot better (in that shallow water situation) than if you fish it from the outside and work your way in."
Joe Thomas: Fish a jig
Few lures are as universally productive around submerged wood cover as the rubber-skirted jig. That is especially true of underwater brush and shallow laydown trees.
"You would be hard-pressed to find a better bait than a jig with those types of cover," emphasizes Joe Thomas, an accomplished pro from Ohio. "Day in and day out, there's no better bait for wood."
For casting and pitching to submerged brushpiles, Thomas utilizes a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce Arkie jig, which sports a standard stand-up-style head with a loud external rattle. Black-and-blue or chartreuse are his usual color choices. The exception is in clear water, when he switches to green-pumpkinseed. His trailer is an Uncle Josh No. 1 pork chunk (when the water temperature is 55 degrees or colder) or a 4-inch plastic craw that has been reduced to about 3 inches in length. Thomas trims the jig's weedguard at a 45 degree angle, down to about 1/8 inch above the point of the hook to ensure a better hooking percentage.
"My first concern with fishing brush with a jig is trolling-motor speed and boat control," he adds. "To have total boat control, you need to try to fish into the current or wind. That way, you can actually govern your speed and you won't have the wind pushing you into the cover. The second thing I like to do is keep my trolling motor at a low, constant speed to minimize the noise and water displacement."
Troy's seasonal stumps approach
Alabama guide and CITGO Bassmaster Open competitor Troy Jens is a big fan of fishing stumps throughout the year. But his approach changes with each season:
Prespawn: Jens targets individual stumps and stumpfields located in deeper water adjacent to a spawning flat that concentrates female bass in fairly predictable places in the early spring.
Spawning season: Stumps positioned on any shallow flat that is somewhat protected from the wind provide excellent spawning cover.
Postspawn: After completing the spawn, Jens relocates bass on the same middepth stumps that served as a prespawn staging area.
Summer: Stumps positioned on or near the main river or creek channels come into play.
Fall: In early fall, Jens looks for stump bass to be relating to any type of deep channel. But as the water cools, he follows the fish into shallow stumpfields located in the backs of pockets, coves and creeks.
Winter: This is the time of year when Jens focuses on isolated stumps rather than groups of stumps.
Kelly Jordon: Bump the wood
"My best tip for fishing wood is to keep your bait in contact with the wood," advises Texan Kelly Jordon, one of the country's top young pros. "If you're flipping it, make sure your plastic hits the wood. Bang your crankbait against it and let it deflect off. If you're throwing a spinnerbait, make sure it knocks the side of the wood. That can produce a strike that you might not otherwise get without making contact with the cover.
"To do that, you need to make sure your line is strong enough for the task."
Dean Rojas: Give a flip
When it comes to fishing various types of wood, Dean Rojas' most productive tactic is flipping. The transplanted Texan and BASS record-holder believes the pinpoint accuracy inherent in this technique enables him to better probe every portion of the cover - from top to root.
"I throw right at the heart, right where I think there might be a fish," he says. "A lot of times, in dirty water you can't always see what's down there. So, I like to throw into the heart of it. That way, if the fish are sitting underneath the root system, I'm going to get bit right away."
Ken Cook: Think horizontal
"Focus on wood that lies horizontally in the water, especially if there's a limited amount of horizontal cover in the area," past Bassmaster Classic winner and former fisheries biologist Ken Cook points out. "If you've got a standing tree with one horizontal limb on it, key in on that limb. Bass want to orient to the horizontal part of the cover. It gives them better camouflage.
"I've seen that when scuba diving. When you go under a boat dock, if there's a horizontal support, that's where the fish are going to be.
"It's crucial that you make the right presentation the first time when fishing a horizontal piece of cover. There was a Classic on the Arkansas River when I was fishing a backwater area that had a lot of laydown logs. I knew the fish were around those logs. I was fishing a spinnerbait, and I soon noticed that I never caught a fish if I made a presentation that crossed the log. The first cast had to be made along the shady side of the log, or I wouldn't get a strike."
Tommy Biffle's brushpile game plan
BASS winner Tommy Biffle has planted countless brushpiles in Oklahoma lakes during his lifetime. In the process, he has become an expert at exploiting these bass condominiums.
Biffle's basic game plan depends on the time of year. In the summer, when the bass are more active and likely to be moving around the brushpile (instead of holding tight, as they tend to do during their sluggish winter mode), he stays away from the wood and casts to it. In the colder months, Biffle positions his boat over deep brush and utilizes a more methodical, vertical presentation.
Bill Dance: Not all stumps are created equal
"Some types of stumps are just better than others," says Bill Dance, longtime television fishing host and three-time BASS Angler of the Year. "You can catch bass around any stump, but to save time and quickly cover more water, you should concentrate on fishing stumps that are positioned on or near dropoffs. These stumps will usually produce better year-round than shallow water stumps.
"A stump situated on a point should always be fished. Often, a point stump is your best bet for a big bass. You can fish an entire cluster of stumps and not get a single strike until you fish the outer one. If you catch a fish or two off of a point stump, leave it for an hour or so and then try it again. It will usually replenish itself with another bass or two.
"Also, keep in mind that the fewer the stumps, the more concentrated the bass should be. If you begin catching fish in a small section of stumps and snag your lure, don't go after it. Let it lie, and use another rig until you've worked the area thoroughly. Invariably, stump bass spook easily."
Roland Martin: Understanding flooded brush
The flooded brush lining the shoreline of Kerr Reservoir (Buggs Island) is a classic American bass scenario that even the most hardened pros eagerly anticipate each spring.
When the water rises enough to cover the shoreline bushes, the bass move into this freshly inundated cover, where they are accessible and aggressive.
"Depth is a key consideration for fishing flooded brush," all-time BASS winner Roland Martin notes. "If you locate fish in 2 to 3 feet of water, for example, most of the active bass in that area or on that flat will be at the same depth. But, be aware that bass may move to various depths throughout the day, especially with changing weather conditions. Bass have a tendency to migrate heavily toward flooded bushes early in the morning and late in the afternoon.
"It's been my experience that the fish won't be in tight to the brush during the midday hours, when the sun is at its brightest. They will usually move out a little deeper to take advantage of any shade that's available. Another thing to remember is that it's not uncommon to find all of the bass positioned on one side - the same side - of the bushes. The fish may stray a few feet from the main section of the brush, but this movement is usually restricted to the low light hours, as well as cloudy conditions. Those are the times when the shade line extends farther out from the brush."
Harold Allen: Reading standing timber
"Most people are intimidated by the sight of a huge stand of timber," says Texas pro Harold Allen, who has spent most of his life fishing the timbered reservoirs of Texas and Mississippi. "Intimidation will make them start running and gunning rather than setting up a game plan. And to be honest with you, fishing a timbered lake is quite a challenge. If you can catch bass in timber, you can catch them anywhere."
There is an art to reading flooded timber, which Allen associates with an entirely different sport.
"My ability to fish timber is based on my ability to read it," he explains. "I love deer hunting. I grew up in east Texas, where I was hunting a lot of contour. In walking through those hills and hollows, I learned that certain kinds of trees grow in certain kinds of places. Knowing the kind and size of trees that are located along places like ditches and creek banks allows you to zero in on the places where bass live."