Lost in modern day enthusiasm over swimbaits, trendy finesse fishing tactics and the steady flow of glitzy products are the subtle, yet critical, improvements to the age-old technique of flipping.
However, those refinements haven't been lost on the veteran flippers who are quick to point them out.
"Oh, man, if we only had the knowledge and tackle 20 years ago that we have now," says Denny Brauer, a master flipper who helped pioneer today's tactics.
Make no mistake about it, a young fella could read a Bassmaster flipping feature written in the 1980s, pull heavy-duty tackle from his granddad's closet and be successful at catching bass from cover.
But when compared to today's tackle and tactics, his efficiency rating would tumble greatly.
Indeed, the rods are still long, the line is heavy and the baits are similar. But if you closely examine the gear used by today's highly efficient flippers and how they are using it, the differences are apparent.
RODS AND LINE
Early flipping rods were heavy and broom-handle stiff, while lines of 20- to 30-pound sizes were packed on sturdy casting reels with the drag cranked down.
The theory was that when a bass bit, you wanted to bury the hook hard and jerk him away from the heavy cover.
While moving bass out of the heavy cover remains a concern today, today's rods are better balanced and much lighter in weight to reduce fatigue from a long day of making hundreds of presentations. The rods also have been refined to match modern lines and techniques.
"The older rods were for short-range combat fishing, but we didn't have enough line out to absorb the shock and we were snapping 25-pound line," says 2007 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Skeet Reese. "Once we went to high-modulus graphite rods with a parabolic bend, our hook-and-land ratio went up dramatically. You can still hook big fish in heavy cover, but the rod absorbs the shock much better."
Today's rods also are multifunctional. Whereas the true form of flipping — making short underhanded casts into tiny holes in the cover — is still utilized, pitching from a farther distance is more the norm.
Also, rod lengths were once limited to 7 1/2 feet, while today's versions are as much as 8 feet long.
"Six inches makes a big difference in a rod," Reese says. "You can pitch a little farther, and when you set the hook, the extra length takes up line faster."
The influx of braid and fluorocarbon lines on flipping reels helped lead the way to softer rod actions. Both materials have considerably less stretch than monofilament, therefore hook sets are faster; but the lines also have less forgiveness on a raging big bass, so the rod has to absorb the shock.
Today, many flippers use superlines for pitching in heavy cover, especially around grass or in stained water.
"I look at the number of tournaments lost because I broke off fish and it makes me wish I knew how effective braid was in some situations," says Brauer, who was reluctant to make the change when superlines came onto the scene. "I'd love to be able to do over that part of my career with braid as a tool."
Fluorocarbon has more stretch than braid but is not as durable, and its diameter is bigger. However, it has become the choice of pros when flipping in clear water because it is translucent and more sensitive than monofilament.
Alton Jones uses both to take advantage of the strength of braid and the clarity of fluorocarbon when flipping isolated cover in clear water. The 2007 Bassmaster Classic winner spools with 30- to 50-pound braid and ties a 3- to 4-foot leader of 20- to 25-pound fluorocarbon to the end.
Louisiana pro Greg Hackney flips with braid 99 percent of the time.
"I don't worry about fish seeing the line; I think it is more invisible in cover than monofilament since mono carries light," he explains. "And frankly, the bait gets to the fish before he even sees the line. Now, if you're dragging a jig, the line gets to the fish before the bait does, and that's a different situation where mono or fluorocarbon is better."
Perhaps the most overlooked yet equally important advancement in flipping gear has come in hooks and sinkers.
In the early years, a 4/0 hook was considered a big hook. Today's tackleboxes are filled with 5/0 and 6/0 hooks in straight shank and offset designs and made of different strengths and gaps for special needs. Many also feature additions on the shank to help hold plastics in place.
"We now have hooks designed especially for fat plastics and for flipping tubes and hooks for fishing with superlines. It's all about matching your tackle to maximize your efficiency," Brauer says.
The pros say tungsten sinkers have provided flippers with a huge advantage over lead sinkers.
"Flipping is about penetration into cover," Jones explains. "Tungsten is smaller and weighs more, therefore you can get it into tighter places. Smaller and heavier is better."
Brauer says tungsten blows through the mouth of a bass faster, and that speed enhances the hook set.
Some sinkers are designed specifically for flipping, like Brauer's signature series flipping sinker by Tru-Tungsten. It's shaped similar to traditional bullet weights except it tapers on the back side with more weight forward so the sinker falls more directly.
Brauer says the back side is shaped to fit soft plastics better and enhances their action.
LURES AND TRAILERS
Anglers have found that bass will bite a variety of soft plastic baits and jigs dropped into cover, and there are more discoveries every day.
However, the jig remains the bread-and-butter bait of flippers, and its design, colors and features have evolved, as well. They're more compact and move through cover better.
"The weedguards and skirts are improved, the paint on the heads doesn't chip as easily, and a lot more colors are offered," says Brauer. "They're made of such better quality."
Also, he adds, jig hooks are built to handle the strain of big fish being winched to the boat.
"Today's jig hooks are much sharper and don't have to be touched up as frequently," Brauer notes.
Jig trailers also have improved dramatically. Whereas pork frogs were once the staple, many anglers have moved to plastics. Pork remains a choice in cold water because it is soft and pliable, but plastic doesn't dry out and is more versatile.
Plastic frogs and craw worms became the rage for a while, and those shapes evolved into today's popular flapping style action trailers such as the NetBait Paca Chunk, Strike King Rage Craw and Berkley Chigger Chunk.