As a few innovative anglers have discovered, "welding" is one of the best ways to quickly put a limit of quality fish in the boat.
"Most people who try this give up after 30 or 40 minutes. But when you find a bite this way, you can have 25 pounds in the boat in five minutes," says Ray Hanselman, a guide and tournament angler on Texas' Lake Amistad, where fishermen coined the term to describe this muscular method of taking big bass from deep grass.
That's because when a fish grabs a jig in 25 feet of water, under a thick wall of hydrilla, the angler feels as if he is "welded" to the bottom. Then, after he's found that first bass, he does his best to "scrape" the area clean. Hanselman's best "scrape" at Amistad has been 12 fish that weighed 3 to 6 pounds each. Last October, he found enough scrapes to total 65 pounds and win a three-day tournament.While terms such as "scrape" and "weld" might be exclusive to Amistad, the method certainly is not. Wherever an angler can find deep beds of hydrilla, he can employ this method, and generally it will produce from late spring into late fall."Pitching a jig in the grass has been my favorite tactic for many years," says Troy Jens, a guide on Alabama's Lake Guntersville."When it's right, the fish are really grouped up. I've caught as many as 15 fish over 4 pounds in the same small area, sometimes putting five or 10 in the boat without hitting the trolling motor."Sometimes, there will be four or five big fish in a grass patch that is smaller than the boat. It's amazing," he continues. "We often see five or more big fish following the one that is hooked up, trying to get the jig away from it."But the thought of dropping a jig or tube blindly through a thick layer of grass is a daunting prospect for many fishermen. They fear they are wasting their time with such a tactic when they could be casting to visible cover along shorelines or locating fish with electronics around hard cover and structure. The key to success, say both Hanselman and Jens, is to look at a large grassbed, as well as the water around it, and pinpoint the small areas likely to hold scrapes."Fish visible edges, isolated pods, and 'drains,' or points," says Texas guide Hanselman, who started pushing through the grass in 1996 with a Texas rigged worm."The best time is when the water gets to 80 and above. That's when the fish will move to the outside edges, following the bait. Then, as the water cools, they will move to the inside edges."Jens adds, "The two key areas are points and creek channel bends, where there are scattered clumps of grass. Schools of big bass roost in these thick clumps and feed on bream near the grasslines."You have to think of the jig as a search bait," he adds. "Often, I'll hit areas and make only a few drops to determine if the fish are there and then move on. Once I put a few fish in the boat, I can usually run that same pattern, hitting the same type areas up and down the lake, and do well."Just as important as fishing the most productive area is making certain that the bait actually gets to the bottom. That's usually best accomplished with a short pitch or even a vertical drop.Many times, they (beginners) pitch too far and never get the bait to the bottom," explains Jens. "And another mistake beginners make is not keeping track of the bait on the way down, which means that they will miss strikes as the lure descends."Adequate weight is required to make sure the baits reach the bottom, and that's why both guides recommend 1- to 1 1/4-ounce jigs. Hanselman adds that a tube with a 1-ounce bullet weight is a good backup when bass aren't aggressively attacking the jig.Keeping a tight line, the Texas guide bounces his jig or tube through the grass until he is certain that it has hit bottom.Then I jiggle it two or three times and retrieve it for another drop," he says.Sometimes the bite will be of arm-ripping proportions.When they're really grouped up and active, they knock it so hard they can take the rod away from you if you are not holding on," says Jens. "I've had clients lose rods and reels. The short line and no-stretch of the braid makes it like hand-to-hand combat."Other times, an angler simply will feel a heaviness at the end of the line."With the braid, you can feel them better, but they also can feel you better," says the Alabama guide. "Hitting them quick is important, or they will spit the jig before you can blink."Hit them quick, but not too hard."You have to be fast, but on a short, heavy line, there is little stretch," Jens continues. "Too much power and the jig gets torn from the mouth of the fish, or the line or rod breaks. Just a quick, firm pull is all that is needed with today's sharp hooks."
At Guntersville, though, the fish typically are no deeper than 13 feet. At Amistad, they might be 25 or more. That's why Hanselman remains a proponent of the hard hook set — even though he breaks four or five rods a year."I move my left hand above the reel for leverage and pull hard," he says. "Then I pump and reel. If the fish buries in the grass, I just point the rod at it and pull straight with the line. That's when braided line really comes in handy."Hanselman prefers 65- to 80-pound braid paired with a specially made 7-3, super-heavy Waterloo Scrape Rod. Jens likes 50-pound braid and a 7-0 medium-heavy to heavy All Star rod.The Amistad angler prefers a Nichols or Oldham jig in watermelon, with a Mad Man or Baby Brush Hawg trailer. For less active fish, he pairs an LFT watermelon craw tube with a 1-ounce tungsten weight and a 4/0 Shaw Grigsby tube hook. Jens likes a Booyah jig, usually in black and blue with a green pumpkin 3 1/2-inch chunk from Yum."The Booyah jigs have a perfect head for grass, and I strongly prefer the round-bend hooks on the Booyah jigs over the wide-gap type hooks in many other models," he says.But whatever type jig is thrown, the Guntersville guide cautions that dropping jigs through grass is not for the meek."Still, it's the best method I've found to put numbers of big fish in the boat."