Water covered with a thick carpet of vegetation represents bass fishing's ultimate approach/avoidance conflict.
You're drawn to the matted cover because you just know big bass are lurking beneath it. Yet once you actually start fishing it, your frustration escalates as your lure tangles or slimes up on every retrieve. Then, just about the time you're fed up and ready to split for open water, a lunker largemouth detonates a hole in the mat, but misses your bait. It's times like this that make you wish you'd taken up golf!Slop fishin' can be frustrating, yet incredibly exciting if you know how to do it right. Whether your local lake is clogged with matted hydrilla or milfoil, fields of lily pads or great green gobs of slimy pond scum, we've got a trio of experts on hand who'll show you how to score big bass from this thick surface cover.
Froggin' With The Master
Legendary Jackson, Miss., B.A.S.S. pro Alfred Williams earned the nickname "The Frog Master" through his uncanny ability to catch monster bass from lily pads and surface slop on rubber croakers. The two time Classic qualifier has boated largemouth exceeding 9 pounds, and he has won a host of local and regional tournaments by targeting the most impenetrable surface cover in hot weather."If I'm on a lake with any type of surface mat, whether I'm fishing competitively or for fun, I'll reach for a frog," Williams says.Frog fishin' demands stout tackle, he stresses. "Because of the extreme density of this cover and the size of the bass you're likely to encounter in it, you need a long, heavy rod to control the fish. I use a 7 1/2-foot graphite flipping stick; the extra length allows long casts and reduces tangles by keeping the line off the mat during the retrieve. I pair this with an Ambassadeur 5500 reel; this has heavy-duty pinion gears and a 4.7:1 retrieve ratio for maximum winching power. High speed reels lack the guts to get a lunker bass out of this slop once you've hooked it. Spool up with heavy line — I recommend 20- to 25-pound mono or 50-pound Berkley FireLine for froggin'."Williams' favorite slop lure is the Snag Proof Tournament Frog, a hollow soft plastic critter with rubber skirts in place of legs, built-in rattle and weight insert for maximum castability."This frog is totally weedless in everything from pond scum to pads, and it has twin upswept hooks that won't straighten when you're reeling in a big bass and a pile of vegetation at the same time," he says.
Targeting high percentage places is mandatory when you're faced with large expanses of surface vegetation, Williams insists. "Tournament anglers often bypass surface mats because they feel they're too time-consuming to fish, but by eliminating unproductive areas, you can get on bass in a hurry in this thick carpet."He mentions the following as potential hot spots:Creek channels and ditches — "In tournament practice, I look for places where a shallow channel or ditch swings in close to a lily pad field or is covered up with floating pond scum. Bass use these as migration routes when moving back into the shallows to feed. Often, the roots of waterlilies are anchored along the edge of the channel, then the pads fan out over the drop-off, providing perfect concealment for suspending bass. Some of the best frog fishing I've ever experienced has been in areas where pads rooted in 4 feet of water are spread across a 15-foot channel drop."
Wood cover — "When you spot a laydown log, stump or brushpile in a pad or slop field, be sure to fish it. Some of my biggest slop bass have been associated with wood."
Points and pockets — "The edge of a field of matted vegetation is seldom even; bass gravitate to little points and indentations in the grass that butt up against open water."
Boat lanes, holes — "Any open water within a pad field or moss mat is a potential bass magnet. Bass will hold under the surface cover and dart out into open water to grab prey. If there are no boat lanes inside the mat, make your own by driving your boat through. Use a rake to clear a hole in floating pond scum or water hyacinths."
Slop bassin' demands a weedless trolling motor, but Williams also carries two push poles in his boat and uses these to maneuver into the nether-reaches of the most impenetrable pads, grass and scum."I use the poles to follow those ditches and channels way back into the cove where the fish haven't been pressured," he notes.Williams uses several retrieves when froggin'. "In pond scum, I move the frog with a short hopping motion. A live frog can't swim over the top of this stuff because of its squishy consistency, but it will hop across it. In lily pads, try a stop-and-go retrieve in early summer. Mimic the way a live mouse scoots along, then stops, and you've got it right. As it gets hotter, switch to a steady, moderate speed retrieve, just winding the frog across the pads with the rod held steady at 10 o'clock. This produces a lot of reaction strikes; when a bass explodes on the lure but misses it, stop reeling and shake the rod tip so the frog quivers in place. Usually the fish will come back and eat it."What should you do then? "That's the question thousands of bass fishermen have asked me about frog fishin'," Williams says with a laugh. "Once I see the frog disappear, I raise my rod to 12 o'clock, and the bass is usually hooked. That's the advantage of a flipping stick; it moves a lot of line when you lift it. Some frog fishermen tell you to wait until you feel the fish pull before setting the hook, or to count to three, or 10, or whatever. I just rear back and set the hook."
A bass hooked beneath matted vegetation can be hard to land. "Try to get the fish moving toward you quickly so it doesn't bury up in the pads or moss. If it does, it's often better to go to the fish — putting too much pressure on it may rip out the hooks," Williams warns.Creeping crud"In many bass waters nationwide, anglers who have never fished surface vegetation before are having to learn to do so as this cover becomes more prevalent," says Bill Schutts of Innovative Sport Group (ISG), a Wisconsin lure manufacturer specializing in slop baits. "In some areas, lakes that were low for a couple of years due to drought conditions have filled, covering thick grass fields. In others, environmental pressures have halted weed spraying, leading to a proliferation of milfoil, hydrilla and pond scum. This coincides with steadily increasing sales of our scum bait lineup, including our Mississippi Swamp Rat, Boss Hog and Slop Hog II."
Unlike many scum crawlers, ISG's weedless lures are made of solid soft plastic. "Compared to hollow plastic frogs and rats, our baits are heavier for longer casts and have a totally natural feel when mouthed by a bass. When a bass rushes a hollow scum bait, it may push a wake that moves this light, buoyant lure forward slightly — one reason you get so many missed strikes with hollow baits. Our lures also feature a single weedless hook for fewer hang-ups and surer hook-ups."Schutts, like Williams, says matted surface cover is no place for light tackle. "I use a 7-foot medium heavy graphite baitcasting rod and a 5.1:1 reel spooled with 17-pound mono. I've tried braided lines, but they tend to dig into the spool under pressure."The Wisconsin angler begins by fishing the outer perimeter of the mat. "Sometimes bass aren't totally committed to hanging under the mat, but will instead move in and out of it. That's when a scum bait fished over the edge into open water is truly deadly. I'll cast one a few feet onto the mat, crawl it to the edge, then hop it into open water and stop reeling. ISG's lures sink slowly at rest rather than float; this triggers savage strikes at the edge of the grass."Schutts loves to fish surface mats during high-sky conditions.
"Surface vegetation creates tremendous shade; as a result, water beneath the mat can be 5 degrees cooler than open water a few yards away," he says. "Plankton and sediment attaches to matted surface moss, causing the water beneath to be considerably clearer than in the rest of the lake. No wonder bass will spot a lure moving across the top of the slop from great distances."Use a slow, steady retrieve across slop mats, the lure maker advises. "This helps the fish home in on the lure. You can use a stop-and-go retrieve as well, but try to keep the tempo consistent so the fish gets used to it. Avoid highly erratic retrieves; these work great in open water but usually result in missed strikes in surface moss."When a bass engulfs the lure, Schutts recommends setting the hook immediately, if not sooner. "Just like when worm fishing, haul off and hammer the fish as soon as it takes the scum crawler. I try to get the fish up on top of the mat quickly, then skate it toward the boat. If I can't move it, I put moderate pressure on the fish with my rod while moving toward it with my trolling motor."Decades of sloppin'Veteran bass guide Dan Thurmond has decades of slop fishin' experience under his belt. He learned his craft on Florida's weed-choked natural lakes, then moved to Conroe, Texas, where he fine-tuned his approach on the Lone Star State's grassy reservoirs.
"Big bass love matted vegetation," he claims. "I've jumped into clear lakes and rivers and looked under floating mats of hyacinths, duckweed and 'slobber moss.' Some of the bass I've seen suspended under this stuff would absolutely scare you."
Thurmond also believes sunlight drives bass beneath surface mats for shade and groceries. "I've found slop fishin' is best from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.," he says. "When the sun is high, bass move under the mat, where they find plenty of forage. Depending on where you fish it, surface vegetation can attract bluegill, shiners, snakes, frogs and more. Lily pads and hyacinths have fragrant blossoms that open in midmorning to attract insects and jump-start the food chain. When you hear bluegill slurping bugs on top, bass are probably in the area."
The guide uses a variety of approaches when fishing surface slop. "For fast action on bass as big as 6 pounds, fish rubber frogs and rats over the top of the mat. I use a 7-foot graphite rod and a baitcaster spooled with 14-pound mono for scum baits," he said. "When lure casting, I prefer to target holes, boat lanes and open water at the edge of the mat rather than the grass itself," he adds.Thurmond casts his frog/rat onto the grass and uses a rapid retrieve he calls "speed weedin'.""Reel the frog as fast as you can right up to the edge of open water, then kill it as soon as it leaves the grass. You'll hook up far more bass where they can get a clean swipe at the bait than where they have to slap at it blindly. I also use a floating worm or surface popper in open water adjacent to the mat."
For monster bass, nothing tops a wild shiner fished beneath surface mats, Thurmond declares. "This approach works in any unrooted vegetation, as opposed to lily pads or towers of junk grass," he explains. "It's ideal where water hyacinths have drifted into a cove or river bend to form a mat."
The guide impales a big shiner above its vent with a weedless hook, then releases it — it usually heads straight under the mat. "A big bass will blow a hole as big as a washtub in the cover trying to get the shiner," Thurmond says. "I've caught largemouth topping 15 pounds with this method. Use a stout 7- to 8-foot baitcasting rod and a minimum of 20-pound mono."For more information