Ask any knowledgeable, experienced angler to name the universally preferred cover of both bass and bass fishermen, and the answer likely will be stumps.
Stumps provide prime habitat for all species of bass in both man-made reservoirs and natural lakes.
Most commonly found in impoundments, stumps are usually created when trees are clear-cut prior to an area being flooded. Although the timber is sold for a profit, the flat-topped remnants remain in place on the lake bottom for years.
Typically, stumps range in size from 1 to 3 feet in diameter and feature a squat section of trunk that gives way to a series of roots attached to the soil. The trunk provides plenty of cover for bass as soon as the impoundment is formed, while the root system usually offers ample room for shelter as the bottom gradually erodes, exposing the roots. And the top of the stump is often slick with algae, which attracts baitfish.
Stumps are not exclusive to reservoirs, however. Natural lakes can have a variety of trees (like cypress and oak) that leave stout stumps when knocked down or cut.
Like most forms of cover, there is plenty to consider when targeting stumps. Here are 10 valuable tips provided by some of America's brightest fishing minds.
1. ALL STUMPS NOT CREATED EQUAL
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Davy Hite emphasizes that some individual stumps are going to be more productive than others in the area.
"When I'm fishing stumps, it's typically in an area where there's a thousand of them, or maybe even 10,000 of them," the former Bassmaster Classic champion says. "But not all stumps are created equal.
"If you catch a fish, stop and evaluate the area: Is it on a flat? What is the depth of the water? Is the creek channel close to it? Does the stump have a lot of roots, a lot of mass, or is it small? Really evaluate what type of stump it is and determine what's around it to narrow your search for bass in an endless field of stumps."
2. OUT-OF-SIGHT STUMPS
One of the best aspects of stump fishing is that it often involves casting to visible targets, which simplifies the task at hand. But Ish Monroe usually avoids such conveniences.
"My best tip for fishing stumps is just backing out and trying to find the stumps you can't see," advises the Bassmaster Elite Series winner from California. "Everybody fishes the stumps that are visible. The ones you can't see are going to hold more fish that will likely bite a lot better."
Monroe searches out invisible stumps using a crankbait. He then switches to a Texas or Carolina rigged soft plastic. A drop shot rig is another option.
"At a tournament on Lake Murray, S.C., I caught fish with a drop shot on stumps that were in 25 to 30 feet of water," Monroe continues, "I actually found a lot of those on my Lowrance graph. It was something nobody else was fishing."
3. CURRENT EVENTS
Elite Series competitor Kevin Wirth identifies an often overlooked element of stump fishing. Current plays an important role in positioning bass on these wooden remnants.
If an angler can identify some current, either from power generation or the wind, the location of stump bass will be pretty easy to figure out. The Kentucky pro recommends positioning the boat downcurrent and casting past the stump so that the lure is retrieved with the flow. A bass relating to the cover will most likely be positioned on the downcurrent side facing into the current.
4. MIXING COVER TYPES
One of bass fishing legend Larry Nixon's favorite stump scenarios involves isolated cutoff trunks surrounded by aquatic vegetation.
"Anytime you've got two critical pieces of cover like stumps and grass together, it can make a big difference," the long-time angler says. "That can be a bonanza situation.
"But if you've got a lot of grass around any type of wood cover, it calls for more precise fishing, which means flipping and pitching, and getting a little tighter to it. If you don't, you'll just get hung up in the vegetation and never fish the stump properly."
5. BE OBSERVANT
You come off plane and allow the boat to settle down at the edge of a large stump flat. There are stumps both above and below the waterline in every direction. Where do you start?
Arkansas pro Mike McClelland's answer to that intimidating situation is to look for any oddity among otherwise uniform stump rows.
"You have to look for stumps that have more to them than just a stump sticking out of the water," the professional angler says. "Be observant about stumps that are on the edge of the river channel or the edge of a break that has some root system exposed. Those are definitely the stumps that are going to produce on a daily basis.
"Fishing stumps is a lot like targeting laydowns. You want to fish the key stumps — the ones that are positioned right. That is always a good starting point."
6. THE PROPER APPROACH
Elite Series pro Jeff Kriet has a lifetime of experience when it comes to fishing stumps, which are the unofficial state bass cover of his native Oklahoma.
For him, success on these forgotten tree trunks begins with an initial decision.
"The big key on stumps is whether to throw a reaction bait or a flipping bait," Kriet notes, "I would rather flip than throw a reaction bait, but the bass have to be holding tight to the stumps for that to work.
"The most important thing with stumps is to figure out what side the fish are on — the sunny side or the shady side. If you're fishing a lot of stumps, understanding where the bass will be positioned will allow you to cover a lot more water. To me, the most important thing in fishing this type of area is efficiency. If you have 500 stumps and 85 percent of your bites are on the shady side, then you won't waste nearly as much time."
7. THINK DEFLECTION
There are few hard-and-fast rules in bass fishing. But bass fishing star Mike Iaconelli knows there is one that applies to stumps.
"Stump fishing is all about deflection," the former Classic winner says. "Stumps for me are a killer place to get a reaction bite by deflecting a bait as many times as you can. To get that deflection, the ideal bait is a shallow running, wide-wobble, square-billed crankbait like the old Bagley versions.
"I learned that from reading articles in Bassmaster Magazine and watching (Rick) Clunn on TV. He would hit a stump at a different angle every cast, which gets a different angle deflection, and eventually he'd trigger a fish to bite.
"But it's not just lipped crankbaits. I think a reaction bite in general comes when the bait changes direction. So I like ripping a Rat-L-Trap so that it brushes off the stump enough to kick the rear end of it out."
8. LURES FOR DEEP STUMPS
Veteran Elite Series pro Paul Elias recognizes that the deepest stumps are the most overlooked and therefore likely to harbor easier-to-catch bass.
His lure of choice is usually a deep diving Mann's crankbait, but he doesn't limit himself to his all-time favorite type of baits.
Elias points out that a 1- or 1 1/2-ounce spinnerbait sporting a big No. 7 or No. 8 willowleaf blade, and a rubber-skirted jig also are excellent choices, particularly during the hottest times of the year.
"A lot of people lay a jig down after the water warms up," he states "I usually don't start to throw a jig until the weather turns hot."
9. MAKE REPEATED CASTS
Virginia's John Crews is a high energy kind of guy. And that energy level is really on display when he is fishing a stump row or stump flat.
Most fishermen don't give each individual stump enough attention, according to the Elite Series pro. His rule of thumb is the more thoroughly you fish each piece of wood on a stump flat, the more bass you will catch.
In his case, that involves repeated casts from different angles with a shallow diving crankbait or 1/2-ounce jig. "If the stump is in the right place and there's a fish on it, you just have to figure out how to get it to bite," Crews adds.
10. THE EYES HAVE IT
Scott Rook's most important piece of equipment when it comes to fishing stumps is static. It never moves.
His polarized sunglasses.
"Everybody thinks that sunglasses are great for sight fishing and looking at fish," the veteran Elite Series pro emphasizes. "Well, they are the key when you're fishing stumps, too.
"You have to have a quality pair of glasses to see the dark spots of submerged stumps. You'll have that row of stumps that you can look at, but then out from them you've got these little dark areas. Those are the deeper stumps. They're less targeted, so I'll keep my eye out for dark spots."
Originally published October 2007