There are few techniques in the world of bass fishing that are more intimidating than punching a soft plastic bait through intensely thick vegetation. The weight has to be gargantuan. The bait has to be small. The bites are infrequent. And when you do hook a fish, it is very difficult to pull it out of the grass. Still, you can catch the biggest bass of your life if you commit to the effort. Elite Series pro Chris Lane knows this, and owes his bass fishing career to the technique. Follow his advice on narrowing down vast acres of matted green stuff to identify small concentrations of fish, and punching may well become your go-to method for catching lunker bass.
It isn’t often that a single bass defines an angler’s career, but Chris Lane clearly remembers the fish that literally kept him in the Bassmaster Elite Series. It happened on March 24, 2007, the third day of the tournament at the California Delta, the second event in Lane’s sophomore season as a pro. Unless he won a nice check, he wasn’t sure he’d continue in the sport.
That’s when the 13-pounder hit his creature bait in the Delta’s thick vegetation. Lane managed to get the fish out of the greenery and within inches of his outstretched hand before it came loose. His partner that day said it was the biggest bass he’d ever seen. After recomposing himself, Lane picked up his rod and started flipping into the heavy mat again.
This was the way he had taught himself to fish back home in Florida when he was 15 years old, and a few moments later, a 9-pounder hit. This time, Lane did land the bass. It got him into the final Top 12, where the next day he finished ninth. That gave him enough money to fill up his RV and drive to the next tournament, and to continue his career, which now, a decade later, includes seven B.A.S.S. victories, including the 2012 Bassmaster Classic title.
Although his lure presentation throughout the Delta event that week was flipping, his actual technique was one known as “punching,” in which a heavier-than-normal sinker is used to punch through extremely thick, usually matted, vegetation and pull a large soft plastic lure down with it.
“It’s high-impact, hand-to-hand combat with giant bass,” says Lane, describing what punching is all about. “It’s very close and happens right in front of you. You’re trying to penetrate a jungle where giant bass are hiding, trying to sneak into their house without them knowing you’re there. It’s intense.”
It’s also one of the most effective big-bass techniques used by the pros today; Lane searches for places he can try punching on every tournament lake he fishes. He’s punched grassy water from Champlain to Kissimmee to Guntersville to Toledo Bend to the Delta, and he likes it so much, he uses a plastic creature bait he designed specifically for punching.
“Punching is a direct outgrowth of the flipping presentation California pro Dee Thomas introduced to B.A.S.S. competition in 1975,” explains Lane, “and all of us believe the actual punching technique itself was developed right there on the Delta, where the vegetation is some of the thickest anywhere. The primary difference is that punching is strictly a presentation for matted surface vegetation. In flipping, you can fish vegetation, but you can also flip to logs, rocks, pilings — practically any type of shallow cover. You’re generally using a lighter lure, too. Dee’s favorite jig weights were between 3/8- and 5/8-ounce.
“Punching developed as its own presentation out of the need to penetrate the heavier cover that the lighter flipping lures couldn’t get through. Thus, in punching, we use a sinker weighing at least a full ounce, and occasionally as heavy as 2 ounces, to get our lure through that cover. We don’t use jigs, either, because the open hook will snag on the vegetation as it’s falling. Because the cover is so thick, we need a weedless bait the heavy sinker can pull straight down.”
Lane’s punching gear includes a 7-foot, 6-inch medium-heavy action Bass Pro Shops titanium rod and a 6.4:1 reel spooled with 65-pound-test Bass Pros Shops Hyper Braid braided line. Because he uses braid exclusively, Lane feels he can use a slightly lighter rod action and still get good hook sets and play big fish effectively.
His lure of choice is a 3-inch creature bait, the Drop Dead Craw, which he developed for Luck-E-Strike Lures. It’s available in several sizes, and its primary feature is a pair of swimbait tail appendages that add extra kick as the bait falls. In many cases, lure action is an important part of punching, since the heavy weight is pulling the lure down quickly in fairly dark water. Lane thinks a lot of strikes come as a reaction when a bass feels those vibrations right in front of him.
“Creature baits are all I use when I’m punching,” Lane explains, “because I not only want a large profile lure, but I also need it to be weedless. It absolutely has to slide through the vegetation easily and without snagging. Some anglers use plastic worms, but I don’t like them because the tail can and often does wrap around a stem or leaf and get stopped as it falls. If I’m punching through an extremely heavy mat, I’ll use a smaller 2-inch creature bait, but if it’s a little thinner and I can get my lure through it, I’ll use a larger 4-inch Craw.
“Creature baits can be rigged Texas style so they’re weedless,” he continues, “and I normally use a 3/0 or 4/0 TroKar hook. If I have one single recommendation for any angler learning to punch, it’s to use a strong hook. Not only are you fishing for big bass, you’re fishing for them in the thickest cover you can find, and you have to get them out of that cover.”
The heart of any punching system is the heavy sinker, and Lane never punches with less than a full ounce of XPS Tungsten. He was using 1 1/2 ounces during that Delta tournament, and in other places he’s punched with as much as 2 ounces. His sinker weight depends on how thick the matted vegetation is, and he pegs it snugly so it can’t slide up the line.