Right now — today — is when you should be fishing the mats. The mats themselves are starting to get right, the bass are under them, they’re feeding on shad and bluegill, and the fall weather is great. Here’s how I go about it.
First, you need to find the right mat. No matter where you fish, you should try to find one that looks old, looks dead, looks burnt. The best ones are greenish-yellow or greenish-brown. Avoid those that are still green. That means the vegetation under them is still too alive. And, whenever possible, you want one with a hole in it.
That hole matters a lot. It means a big bass has broken through the mat to slam a shad or a bluegill. If she’s done it once, she’ll do it again. The big mats, say something around the size of your house, will normally produce several good sized bass. Smaller ones, maybe as big as a table, will normally only produce one bass but it’ll often be a really big one.
The best way to fish a mat is to throw a frog out 50 yards or so, as hard as you can, and then bring it back pop — pop — pop until it’s off the mat. You want a frog that’s just the right size and one that sits perfectly level in the water. My choice is my signature Guntersville Frog made by Snag Proof. It was designed for just this type of fishing.
Don’t get real excited about color. Most of that is in the angler’s mind. If they’re feeding on shad, I’ll fish with a light color. If they’re feeding on bluegill, I’ll fish with a dark color. I don’t worry about color much beyond that. A mat bite is a pure reaction bite.
Mat fishing is at its best when the sun is out and bright. If it’s dark and overcast, you’ll probably do better fishing a Cain Toad on the outside edges of the mat.
Make sure you have the right tackle. Pulling a 5-pound plus bass out of heavy vegetation is no easy thing to do. You need tough stuff to get the job done. I use 50-pound-test Stren braided line, a Revo reel (6.3:1 gear ratio), and a heavy-action 7-foot, 4-inch All Star rod.
A word of warning is in order about this kind of fishing, though. Be careful if you’re timid, shy, or have a heart problem. When a big bass breaks through a mat from underneath it’s truly frightening. The explosion happens without warning. Bass are vicious. They show their prey no mercy.
And another thing: Don’t be embarrassed if you pull the frog away from the first couple of bass that blowup on it. It happens to me, too, and I’ve been fishing that way for years. I’ll give you the standard advice that everyone else does — wait a couple of seconds after she grabs it before you set the hook. I’ll also tell you that’s hard to do, for all of us.