Punching grass for hidden bass

The art of flipping is no longer for specialists. Look into most Bassmasters' rod lockers and you're going to find at least one long, stout rod latched to a gutsy reel spooled with heavy-duty line.From Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota to Okeechobee in Florida, or the California Delta to the Potomac River in Maryland, everyone is sneaking jigs or soft plastic baits into cover and catching fish.As good as the technique can be, however, there are times when conventional flipping tactics aren't going to be as effective. Basic fundamentals will catch fish, but extreme conditions call for extreme measures. One of those surfaced during the 2003 Tour on Lake Okeechobee when Floridian Terry Scroggins demonstrated how to catch cold-front bass that were less likely to submit to conventional tactics.Instead of nibbling around the edges of Seminole's vast bulrushes and pencil reeds like everyone else, Scroggins aimed for the heart of dense hydrilla mats where the bass sought comfort amid tumbling water temperatures. The strategy earned him a 10-pound margin of victory.The weather was so cold the bass were using the dense mats like a blanket," says Scroggins. "Schools of fish were burrowed underneath them."The presentation required more than your basic bullet sinker/plastic bait or a jig-and-pig. The grass was so thick on top that Scroggins had to rig a 1 1/4-ounce sinker with a 3-inch craw to drill his bait to the bottom.Two weeks later, the Bassmaster Tour moved to Seminole on the Florida-Georgia border, where several days of unseasonably cold weather kept the bass in a funk. And while most of the pros were applying conventional tactics, Texan Gary Klein found dead mats of floating hyacinths, and like Scroggins, punched his way through the thickest mats and tempted dormant bass into feeding.The big weight/little bait combo isn't new to Floridians who call upon such unconventional tactics when cold fronts push bass into seemingly unreachable haunts. But the unveiling of such heavy cover schemes has opened a new frontier for flippers and has them reaching more frequently for armor-piercing rigs "It's a great wintertime tactic, but it works anytime the fish have moved into real heavy cover," explains Scroggins. "When I've got a limit during the summer and need a good kicker fish, I'll grab the heavy rig and go looking in thick stuff for a big fish."The strategy works anytime you've got heavy cover over a couple of feet of water, he adds, and it's one he turns to on lakes he's never seen before.Seems like there are always some fish holding in the thickest cover on a lake," he says. Klein notes that the method also can produce on waters that get a lot of flipping pressure. Most anglers will peck around the edges or dip baits into holes of grass, an activity that will put bass on guard and push them into the thicker stuff.Fish in those grassbeds don't want to leave — it's their home," says Klein. "But when they get a little uneasy, they can back up against the cover and still see what's going on around them."

 Anytime you go flipping, advises Arkansas pro Mike Wurm, take a minute to assess the underwater world from a bass' perspective. Life beneath snarly cover is far different than what we see above it."When fishing tough conditions, you have to put yourself in the fish's head and go where he lives, not where you want him to live," he explains. "You've got to get a bait under that matted grass or logjam and visualize what is going on down there." Wurm says all types of forage lives beneath dense surface cover, and the fish sit beneath it. The mat provides shelter and comfort, and when bass get hungry, they don't have to go far to snack.Of course, not all grassbeds are equal. Those protruding over primary structure that matches the seasonal pattern will hold more bass than that which grows off the bass' traveled path. Grass matted around wood or bushes can be even better, and some types provide wider openings in the underwater world. Hyacinths are best known for building a massive canopy over open water, but other types of vegetation — hydrilla, coontail and milfoil — will mat on top yet provide plenty of room beneath for bass to roam and feed. And, contrary to popular belief, it doesn't have to be green and lively. When Klein won at Seminole, he targeted dead clumps of hyacinths that absorbed heat and provided slightly warmer water than the open areas.

 "You could stick a temperature probe down there and see a significant change in water temperature," he described. "The fish were in the mood to spawn and had committed to shallow water, so the combination of warmer water and cover provided them with the best environment — given the cold front that had hit that area."The technique can be just as deadly in deeper water, but the bites may not come on the bottom, adds Scroggins."The bass will suspend just beneath deep mats," he offers. "If the water is deeper than a couple of feet, I'll let the bait go to the bottom, shake it, pull it about halfway up and shake it, and then raise it to the bottom of the mat and shake it again. That's a good way to determine where they're holding.Gearing upMost pros believe that any bait you can get in front of a bass hiding in thick cover will trigger a reaction. But getting any bait through a wall of grass requires a heavy sinker and a compact lure."A big worm or bait with a lot of appendages tends to grab onto the cover, slow the presentation or even hang up," explains Klein. "You need something you can drive through the cover and won't catch on leaves or stems."

 Both he and Scroggins opted for Texas rigged, 3-inch crawfish-style plastics that were pegged to large "Penetrater" bullet-shape weights (www.penetrater.com). The pegged, heavy weight attached to the lure helps the bait break the surface and get to the bottom. Texas rigging prevents the hook from catching in the grass.

Lead-based weights will do the job, but Klein believes those made from Tungsten provide additional advantages. Tungsten weights are smaller than lead sinkers of equivalent weight and the material is much harder.

 "It makes it easier to determine the type of bottom you're fishing," he explains. "One of my best spots on Seminole had a hard bottom; I could tell by the way the sinker 'thunked' when it hit. I doubt if I would have noticed that with lead."

Floridian Shaw Grigsby believes smaller profile baits also are necessary because most of the forage hiding there is small"A larger bait may not be as realistic and is harder to get through the cover," he says.

 Tubes can be good choices. However, says Grigsby, large flipping-style tubes, when coupled with big sinkers, may present too large a package when forage is small or bass are being fussy. If that's the case, he opts for Strike King's Tube Technology Wild Thing Junior, a hollow creature bait that measures about 3 inches long.

 "I caught big bass at Seminole on that lure and so did my partner," he explained. "Once it gets through the mat, it has parts that move and look natural to the bass."Heavy jigs could do the job, but the bulky package and exposed hook tends to hang in the grass and affect the bait's descent, adds Wurm. That's why he and others prefer the small, streamlined crawfish-style baits.The big weight/small bait package may appear unbalanced in that the weight seemingly overpowers the lure. But that's part of the attraction, says Scroggins.

"The key is to get the bait where the fish are and trigger a reaction," he describes. "Sometimes, like in cold water, you may have to hold the bait down there for several seconds and shake it to entice the strike. In either case, the big weight is critical to the presentation."Line and hooks are equally important. Many pros prefer braid over monofilament because of the added strength, sensitivity and lack of stretch. When hooking big fish in heavy cover, you need the power to drive the hook home and haul the bass to the top.I used 80-pound SpiderWire Stealth with a small diameter, which helps the weight penetrate the mat easier," says Klein. "I also was making long pitches into the hyacinths and wouldn't have landed as many fish as I did if I were using mono."Because of the heavy line, extra-strong hooks that won't bend or break are required. You'll need wide gap designs to give the hook enough room to penetrate the plastic and secure itself in the bass' jaw.Naturally, a 7- to 7 1/2-foot flipping rod is a must; the stouter the better. Thick vegetation drags on the line and diminishes power on the hook set, so you need something with extra muscle.

 "I normally use 6.2:1 baitcast reels for my fishing, but I want a slower (5:1) reel for this technique," Grigsby adds. "The slower-geared reels give you more power to crank fish out of cover."





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