Many bass anglers lump submerged aquatic vegetation like milfoil, coontail and hydrilla under the generic heading of "grass." For some, the term also covers lily pads and even floating plants like hyacinths. Many successful tournament pros speak of grass because they want to be vague about how and where they're catching bass to keep the competition guessing.Because aquatic grasses are continuously changing organisms, the time of year dictates which species of grass holds bass and how you should fish it. This is most evident at the extremes of winter and summer
MATTED WINTER GRASS
When Bassmaster veteran Shaw Grigsby fishes his home state of Florida during the cold months, he usually concentrates on mats of hyacinths. This is the thickest cover available to bass at this time because submerged grass, such as hydrilla, dies down in cold water."In the wintertime, bass love to get under heavy mats of hyacinth," Grigsby says. "It holds heat, and the bass can bury in it when cold fronts hit."Grigsby prefers hyacinth mats that float over 4 to 7 feet of water. In shallower water, Florida bass are too adversely affected by cold fronts. Along with depth, Grigsby looks for hyacinths that have blown into lily pads, bulrushes or some other rooted vegetation that holds the mat in place.
The most effective method for fishing a dense hyacinth mat is to punch through it with a heavy weight. Grigsby builds his system around a 1- to 1 1/2-ounce tungsten Penetrater bullet weight and a 4/0 High Performance Hook. He ties the hook to 65-pound Stren Super Braid, which he matches to an 8-foot Quantum PT Gary Klein flippin' rod and a Quantum baitcasting reel. A 3 1/2-inch Shaw Grigsby Baby Beaver adorns the hook."A small bait goes through grass mats easier than a bigger one," Grigsby says. "And, since most of the crawfish you find in Florida are not real big, it looks natural."
Grigsby prefers dark colors like black with blue flake, black with red flake and green pumpkin. They contrast against the lighter grass and are highly visible to bass.To give the heavy sinker the momentum needed to penetrate dense grass, Grigsby stops the bait a few feet above the mat when he's flippin' and pitchin'. This allows the bait to free-fall straight down and punch through the grass.After the bait drops into the open water beneath the mat, Grigsby lets it sink to the bottom. Then he lifts it, shakes it a few times and lets it drop back to the bottom. He repeats this two or three times before pulling the bait out and punching it through the grass elsewhere. When a cold front hits, this lift-jiggle-drop technique is done in slow motion.Grigsby learned the importance of slowing down several winters ago while fishing a one-day draw tournament on the Kissimmee chain of lakes. A severe cold front had driven the air temperature into the low 30s."I would punch my bait through the hyacinths and lift and shake it three or four times before pulling it out," Grigsby says. "Then my partner would drop his bait in the exact same spot and whack a good bass."After this happened several times, Grigsby soaked his bait a little longer before moving it and started catching bass. His partner won the tournament, but Grigsby wasn't upset. He had learned a valuable lesson and finished in third place.
"The colder the conditions, the longer you have to work the bait in one place," Grigsby says. "A bass may come from 20 feet away to take the bait, but he's not sprinting over there. You have to give him plenty of time."
MATTED SUMMER GRASS
Of course, matted grass also yields heavyweight bass in the summertime. This approach often pays off for Virginia's John Crews, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro. If he has a choice between hydrilla and milfoil, Crews prefers milfoil.
"Milfoil is easier to punch through and it caverns better underneath," Crews says. "And, milfoil has a tendency to clump on the outside edge. I do really well pitching to the clumps."Crews explains that a clump of milfoil is a stalk that grows up from the bottom and lies over on the surface. He pictures the bass lying under the clump and facing the stalk.
A 1- to 1 1/2-ounce tungsten bullet sinker with a 3-inch Gambler BB Cricket is Crews' favorite grass-punching bait. Though he isn't fanatical about color, he prefers something dark.Crews claims that he improves his strike-to-catch ratio by rigging the BB Cricket on a straight shank Gamakatsu Super Line hook with a Tru-Turn HitchHiker. The HitchHiker screws into the head of the BB Cricket and connects to the eye of the hook. The hook's point is then buried in the body of the bait to make it snagless. When Crews sets the hook, there is nothing to slide down the hook's shank and impede penetration. A 7 1/2-foot flippin' rod and 50- or 65-pound SpiderWire Stealth braided line also help."The biggest difference between fishing grass mats in the summertime versus the wintertime is that you can fish a lot faster," Crews says. "You can pitch it in there, pump it two or three times and pitch it to the next spot. They grab it right when it pops through or when it hits the mat coming back up."However, if the mats are getting much fishing pressure, Crews says that you have to slow down and work the bait as slowly as when winter fishing. Whatever mood the bass are in, Crews concentrates on points of matted grass, especially points close to creek or river channels.
SUBMERGED WINTER GRASS
Troy Jens, a full-time bass guide from Scottsboro, Ala., puts his clients on trophy winter bass by fishing submerged, dying hydrilla on Lake Guntersville."A common bass fishing myth is that dying grass reduces the oxygen and the bass won't hang around it," Jens says. "That's definitely not true. My clients catch a lot of their biggest bass of the year from dying grassbeds in the wintertime."Jens scores big on dying grass from November through January. He concentrates on main lake grassbeds in water 5 to 9 feet deep on the edges of dropoffs. Sometimes he can see the top of the grass beneath the surface, but he usually has to keep track of it with a depthfinder."I look for open water humps," Jens says. "The bass hold just off the edge of the grass on the deep sides of the humps."The most productive humps are some distance from the main river channel, often in the mouths of bays. These structures receive less current flow, which makes them more attractive to sluggish winter bass.Jens catches huge bass from dead grass with the 5/8-ounce Xcalibur Rattle Bait in the Oxbow color and the 3/4-ounce Cordell Super Spot in Royal Shad. Jens uses a moderately slow retrieve and maintains a steady cadence. He wants the bait barely ticking the top of the grass. When the bait grabs the grass, he slowly pulls through it. Winter bass don't respond well to snapping the bait through the grass or working it with a fast, herky-jerky retrieve."Surprisingly, even when our water temperature is in the low 40s, the fish can be very active," Jens says.Jens casts rattling baits on a Pflueger 7-foot medium action rod and a Pflueger Trion reel filled with 17-pound-test Silver Thread. If the bass aren't belting rattling baits, Jens steps up to a medium-heavy 7-foot rod and slow rolls a 3/4- or 1-ounce spinnerbait over the grass. He does well with a tandem Colorado and willowleaf configuration in chartreuse and white.
SUBMERGED SUMMER GRASS
"A misconception people have when they fish grass in the summertime is that they have to flip the thick, heavy hydrilla mats," Alabama guide Troy Jens explains. "But most of the big bass we catch in summer are in submerged grass out off the mats."Jens relies on a 7-foot medium-heavy rod when he fishes submerged grass in the summertime, but he fills the reel with 50-pound braided line. His most productive lure during the hot months is a 1-ounce black and blue Booyah Jig dressed with a 3 1/2-inch green pumpkin Yum Chunk.Sometimes Jens can see the top of the submerged grass, but it's usually down out of sight. The most productive grass grows in 8 to 13 feet of water and stands vertically without laying over, creating openings where the jig can drop straight down to the bottom.Jens makes a short pitch and lets the jig free-fall into the grass on a semi-slack line. "You don't want to impair the jig's fall," Jens says. "That fast drop is what triggers the bite. The big fish usually hit the bait before it gets halfway down."
SPRING ARROWHEAD PADSWhen bass are spawning in the spring, John Crews targets arrowhead pads in sheltered water. He claims that arrowhead pads grow on firm bottoms in shallow water, and that bass love to spawn around the stalks. He does well with this pattern in many natural lakes and in rivers like the Potomac and the James. "You don't catch many bass in arrowhead pads at other times, but you can load the boat with them when the spawn is on," Crews says. Though the bass are spawning, the water is usually too murky for sight fishing. Crews plucks bass from the pads with a Senko or a Texas rigged Gambler Little Otter fished with a 1/8- or 3/16-ounce sinker on 17-pound Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon. "I work the bait right up to the base of the stalk and let it sit there for a moment," Crews says. "Then I hit the stalk with my bait. That triggers the bite.