Charley Hartley doesn't claim to be psychic.
But he may be a little clairvoyant when it comes to finding bass.
It was on a vast expanse of open water on Texas' Lake Amistad that the veteran Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Ohio displayed his extrasensory skills on a blistering cold January day. As he maneuvered his boat with the trolling motor, Hartley seemed to be following an undetectable, yet precise pattern while heeding some unseen road map. All of the water in the area looked identical to the uneducated, but this was a professional at work.
With a Texas rigged plastic lizard in hand, Hartley had been studying silently the liquid-crystal depthfinder on the bow of his boat when he suddenly pitched the lure overboard. Less than a minute later, he set the hook with a force that would have pleased a well driller and quickly winched a 9-pound largemouth up from a weedy depth of 22 feet.
"That was a spot where a bass ought to be," he explains. "That's a textbook spot."
A veteran of Great Lakes fishing, Hartley demonstrated a skill that separates the most accomplished bass pros from the rest — fishing large fields of deep, submerged vegetation.
"Is that fun or what!" exclaimed perhaps the most vivacious pro on the Elite Series. "Big bass love that deep grass.
"It depends on the body of water, but lakes like Murray and Amistad have grass that grows as deep as 30 feet. I first experienced that on Lake Murray years ago. I had never seen a lake where the grass grew so deep, but it has to do with the clear water and the light penetration."
Pam Martin-Wells, a top performer on the Women's Bassmaster Tour, guides on Lake Seminole, where she often pinpoints largemouth holding in vegetation growing in 18 to 20 feet of water in Spring Creek.
"It's a little bit more challenging because you have to rely on your electronics a lot more to find the points, the pockets and that kind of thing in the deep grassbeds," she says. "But when you find that one special spot, my gosh, one small grassbed in deep water can hold a ton of fish."
Matt Reed knows this is true from years of targeting bass in the deepest hydrilla flats in Rayburn and Toledo Bend.
"One of my favorite things to do is fish deep grass, especially in the summertime," says the Elite Series pro from Texas. "I love flipping a jig in that deep grass.
"That's as good as it gets. Take a flipping stick with 60- or 80-pound braid and go to work."
Summertime may be his favorite, but Reed finds concentrations of bass holding in weeds as deep as 22 or 23 feet in East Texas waters. He emphasizes that bass location in such habitat changes with the season. As a result, he usually finds them in the interior portions in the winter and summer; and more likely to be relating to the edges in the spring and fall.
For most anglers, determining where to begin their search in acres and acres of submerged grass can be baffling.
"The starting point is always structure related," Reed advises. "You have to have structure meet your grass, and that's where the bass are going to be. Think of it like there wasn't any grass there. You would fish the structure spots. For bass to really congregate in that grass you need a point or a creek channel bend — there has to be something different."
"There will be miles and miles of vegetation that looks the same, but you need to find the little key spots like depth changes and so forth."
These hidden hot spots can include:
> A cut, point, pocket or other unusual feature along the edge of a well-defined grassline.
> Channels and ditches that dissect weedy areas and are used as migration routes by bass.
> Mixing types of vegetation beneath the surface.
> Bald or bare spots void of growth, which may indicate the location of a sandbar.
> Points that include a distinctive shape in the grassline or a bottom-contour change.
> Tunnels formed by the bare bottoms of creek channels or other depressions where submerged hydrilla or milfoil actually curls over to form an open water cavern beneath the plant.
> Drains created by erosion from rain runoff along a large point that was exposed before the reservoir was flooded. Grass usually won't grow in the drain itself.
"When I first started fishing in East Texas in the 1980s, we didn't know a whole lot about grass," Reed says. "People were talking about drains and ditches and so forth. It took me a little while to figure out that an East Texas drain may not be a foot deep going through that grass. And fish just really concentrate on that (subtle) depth change."
With deep grass, Hartley is an edge man. And he has the results to show for it. During his visit to Amistad in January '06, he homed in on grass edges to catch four 8-plus-pound bass during the coldest week of the year.
"The main thing I look for with deep grass is the edge of it, depending on the time of the year," he notes.
"Especially in cold water, I'm looking for the deepest edge of the grass closest to really deep water. When I say access to really deep water, I don't mean 20 or 30 feet. The grass edge is at that depth; I want maybe 80 feet of water under the boat near that grass. That way, I have an opportunity to pick off a fish that is down that deep and just moves up for a minute or two to feed.
"It is not always clearly defined on your depthfinder. It's not like a straight line where the grass stops. Really, what you're looking for is that scattered edge, where the grass is thinner and not a solid wad. The bass seem to like it better where it is half weeds and half not weeds. They like to be in those smaller clumps and come out to feed in those open areas between the thick grass."
Bass positioning and metabolism generally dictate lure choice when probing offshore weedbeds. The thickness of the grass also comes into play.
Martin-Wells' primary tools are a deep diving crankbait or a 1/2- to 3/8-ounce jig. But she has had the most success using a Spro suspending jerkbait to draw strikes from below.
Given a choice, Matt Reed will be armed with a 3/4- to 1 1/4-ounce jig or a 10 1/2- or 11-inch plastic worm teamed with a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce weight, depending on the density of the grass.
Regardless of the lure involved, Hartley employs a lesson learned in the offshore waters of Lake Erie. He utilizes spinning tackle, which allows him to more accurately get a bait to free-fall to a spot in the grass that can be as deep as 30 to 35 feet. It also is well suited for the dragging method of fishing a tube.
"With that spinning reel, it works out well because when I feel I've moved the lure up off the bottom, I can flip that bail and let it right back down in the fish's face," he says. "And I get a lot of my bites right then."
AN IDEAL DEEP GRASS SITUATION
BASS icon Rick Clunn describes his ideal deep grass scenario:
"It would be a channel swing running against the grass because you've got the best of both worlds intersecting," the veteran Missouri pro explains. "You've got a creek or river channel making a bend against the grass, which is the ultimate combination of cover and structure.
"Bass location on that swing would depend on the time of year, really. If it were winter, you'd fish along the edge. You'd want to fish the spot where the grass gets very c lose to that channel bend. In the winter, especially, this type of area is prime."