Bass In The Grass
September 27, 2010
Everyone knows that bass haunt weeds. But crucial to consistent success is knowing exactly where they'll be in those tules or rushes at any time of day. (May 2008)
Bass pro David Rush show us why Texas-rigged plastics are his lures of choice when fishing the weeds.
Photo by Brian Sak.
When anglers living east of the Rockies hear the words "West Coast bassin'," they picture deep clear reservoirs devoid of what they consider ideal habitat for their favorite quarry.
That's right, no brushy flats, no stumpfields and no vegetation.
They think of steep rocky banks where anglers are forced to use small baits and light line to catch bass along dropoffs and long tapering points.
Plenty of reservoirs in the West fit their preconception, but many waters resemble ponds and lakes more akin to those found in the East or the South. And these are some of the West's most productive bass waters.
Western anglers who fish submerged grass and other types of submerged vegetation generally avoid reservoirs designed for drinking and irrigation water storage, where fluctuating water levels is a major factor contributing to their lack of weeds.
One exception may be in springtime, when you could fish vegetation in shallow coves, while rising waters flood areas where weeds and grasses sprouted, during the period while the reservoirs were down.
To fish vegetation year 'round in the West, look for waters that aren't tapped for drinking. Farm ponds are always a good bet. Shallow natural lakes, including Clear Lake in California, Siltcoos and Tahkenitch in Oregon, and Washington State's lakes Sammamish and Washington, provide exceptional bass fishing.
For those intent on targeting manmade waters, look for smaller reservoirs that generally fluctuate less.
The backwaters of rivers and streams, along with tidal waters, also produce a variety of bass-attracting vegetation.
IF IT GROWS, THEY WILL COME
Understanding why and how bass use vegetation is the first step toward catching bass in the grass. You'll be amazed at how much you can learn by simply taking time to study the fish themselves.
The most obvious and distinctive characteristic of bass is their color. Have you ever wondered why they're predominantly covered with multiple shades of green?
Most biologists say that fish coloration has evolved along two lines. If they are extremely colorful and stand out like a sore thumb, then to anything looking for dinner, that message says, "I'm dangerous -- stay away!"
Or they could be colored similar to their surroundings so that they blend into the background. This camouflaged approach helps them avoid being captured, and helps them stay hidden in order to ambush prey.
Bass fit into the concealment group, of course. When young, they rely on their ability to blend into their surroundings for protection, and for capturing food throughout their lives. And because bass are predominantly green, aquatic vegetation provides the most effective form of cover.
If weeds are there, bass will be, too.
First, you need to find bass -- that sounds obvious. Yet the failure to accomplish this important step is the downfall of too many anglers. When casting to areas devoid of fish, no matter how good your equipment or how proficient you are at using that gear, you're not going to get a bite. Learn to locate bass!
An understanding of why bass use vegetation is fundamental to discovering where they're living. But also important is knowing where they'll be at a particular point in time. That includes "time" in the broader sense of when during the year, and the narrower sense of when during the day.
"Why are the bass using weeds?" asks California pro Bobby Barrack, who has made a name for himself by pulling huge fish from thick vegetation. "Or why aren't they using it? If you can't answer these questions, don't expect to catch a lot of bass when fishing in the weeds."
Weeds provide cover -- an important element for any bass habitat. Aquatic plants provide a feeling of protection for bass. Baitfish, crawdads and aquatic insects use weeds for the similar reasons, and in the weeds they provide a food source for bass. Weedbeds are ideal hideouts where hungry bass can wait to ambush prey.
But the vegetation that grows and thrives in Western waters provides more than just cover. The plants' production of oxygen, through photosynthesis, is vital for aquatic life. Waters with healthy green weeds are often rich in oxygen -- a quality that bass will never pass up.
With a grasp of why weeds attract bass, your next step is figuring out where they are in the weeds.
"Before you even get out on the water, you have to do a little homework at the dinner table," Barrack said.
Once you understand how the time of year, the water temperature and available food sources affect the bass and their habits, then you can go ahead and figure out how you want to attack particular areas.
"Just because you caught bass with a crankbait along a weedline on the outside of some rocks the week before, doesn't mean you're going to catch them on a crankbait today," said Barrack. "The fish will still be somewhere in the vicinity -- they live there and they stay there. But you have to figure out what they're doing at the time that you're there."
For example, let's say you take a trip to your favorite lake shortly after the water temperature has climbed into the mid-60s for the first time this spring. The night before -- after watching the weather and telephoning the local marina -- you learned there's a front approaching and that overcast skies are expected all day.
You decide to target weedbeds near both deep water and suitable spawning areas. With a stiff breeze coming out of the west, you find your spot on an east bank. Guessing that the bass are feeding on baitfish being blown into the weeds, you fish a spinnerbait parallel to the outside edge.
And you knock 'em dead!
Back at the same area one week later, you find similar conditions. Except today the sun is high and bright, and there's no wind. A
fter throwing your blades for hours without a bite, you give up and move on.
What happened? The bass's food source and behavior changed. Fish moved deep into the weeds, out of direct sunlight, where they could ambush small sunfish and other prey.
There's only one time when you should avoid vegetation altogether. And according to Barrack, it's when water conditions are on the decline.
When temperatures dip to 55 degrees, plants begin to die off. Instead of producing oxygen, decomposition actually uses it up. Before long, local conditions become so unsuitable that no aquatic life can survive.
"Bass will always move away from dying weeds, so it's important to fish the surrounding areas or a bank that's in close proximity to where the weeds were," said Barrack. "But don't stay away from the vegetation for too long -- in the West, weedbeds seldom die completely. The bass will move right back into those weeds as soon as the water stabilizes."
However, you could target weeds in waters with current, even when the vegetation is dying. There will always be some "dead water" behind the weeds or directly beneath them.
But the current usually replenishes areas in the vicinity of the outside edges. Bass typically move to these edges, using them as ambush spots.
Determining whether or not weeds are dying is fairly simples. Crank any lure with exposed hooks through the vegetation -- if parts of the plants break off easily, and your lure comes back to you with leaves or fronds hanging from it, then they're dying. It's time to move away.
Hardy plants, on the other hand, will fight you for that lure.
Understanding why bass love weeds and learning how to determine where those fish will be at any given time is only two thirds of the battle.
Being proficient at choosing the proper lure -- and then presenting it correctly -- can spell the difference between a livewell full of fish or one with only water.
Lure choice goes back to one of the bass's main reasons for being in the weeds in the first place. And by playing the percentages and picking baits that closely resemble what fish are feeding on, you'll be in good shape.
"What's the No. 1 forage that these bass are after right now?" asked Barrack. "If fish are in the middle of thick vegetation, eating frogs or rodents straying across the surface, I don't want to crank the outside edges.
"In that situation, I'll always go with a Snag Proof Tournament Frog -- the color and size will depend on the time of year."
If you have no clue as to what the bass in vegetation are eating, a few standard choices will increase your odds of catching fish. If the weeds are healthy and water temperatures are above 55 degrees, try working topwater baits, buzzbaits and spinnerbaits directly over the plants.
If the vegetation is dying, and the water is cooler, start off by flipping weedless jigs or soft-plastics, twitching crankbaits along the edges or slow-rolling spinnerbaits.
Presentation is extremely important when fishing vegetation. Don't think that bass won't be skittish just because they have thick cover to hide in. Bass in vegetation will spook just as easily as fish in other habitats.
"I never go into a weedy area with my boat on plane," said Barrack. "I'll shut my big engine down well before reaching the area I want to fish, then use my electric trolling motor to move close to the weeds quietly. And when I'm right in the weeds, I'll use a sturdy push-pole to move the boat."
Here are some items to have in your tackle box whenever you're fishing weedy waters.
Be sure to use them all with non-stretch lines, and stout rods and reels, which are designed for getting bass out of heavy cover.
These light-wire lures aren't made for thick vegetation, but they're ideal for working through sparse grass and parallel to weedbed edges. They're also a good choice when you want to cover lots of water in search of bass. You'll be able to fish them from just below the surface to near the bottom.
Spinnerbaits come with skirts in a variety of colors, with all-white and chartreuse the most popular. Try one pattern with red or orange mixed in when you think bass are feeding on small sunfish.
When imitating minnows or shad, use spinnerbaits with nickel or gold blades to produce lots of flash.
Similar to spinnerbaits, these noisy lures work best when targeting sparse vegetation or submerged weeds that don't reach the surface. The advantage of buzzbaits -- as their name implies -- is the sound that their odd-shaped blades produce. They also create a unique disturbance on the surface that bass can't resist.
Although you'll find that buzzbaits come in a variety of skirt colors, you really need only two patterns. Use solid white on bright days, and black when it's overcast or at night. Blade size is more important than color -- larger blades allow you to fish slower and create more of a disturbance.
When you want to imitate an injured baitfish struggling through sparse vegetation, and spinnerbaits or buzzbaits are a bit too loud, try a weedless spoon. Their flash and subtle side-to-side wobble often trigger strikes from cautious bass unwilling to eat other reaction baits.
Painted weedless spoons are available, but to take full advantage of the flash they can produce, you should stick to the chrome or gold versions.
Their overall shape dictates the amount of wobble, while a greater degree of bend generates more action. Most weedless spoons have a single hook on the cupped side, with a stiff guard to prevent snags.
When you want to put your offering right in front of a bass's nose, it's tough to beat Texas-rigged soft-plastics. These subtle baits can be pitched to holes in weed mats or right up against inside and outside edges. And their lifelike appearance is ideal for fishing clear waters.
You'll find an endless variety of soft-plastics available, from curlytail worms to lizards. But when fishing vegetation, some of the most popular are the relatively new creature-style baits. Their typically thick bodies work well with the heavier hooks necessary for fishing in the weeds. They are also ideal for the corkscrew-style bullet weights that prevent hang-ups.
Like soft-plastics, jigs are a great choice when you want to fish in the heart of submerged vegetation. But because they tend to be m
ore compact and dense, they're often the best bait for targeting the thickest of weeds.
Use jigs when you have to punch your offering through mats floating on the surface.
When selecting jigs for fishing in vegetation, be sure to choose those with wire or fiber weedguards that prevent the hook from hanging up. Popular colors include black, brown and purple. But don't overlook white jigs when fishing dirty waters. Tip your jig with a bulky chunk of pork or soft-plastic crawdad.
Weedless topwater offerings are ideal with warm, stable weather when bass gaze upward to feed on frogs, rodents, small birds, snakes and insects struggling on the surface. You'll have to fish slowly with these lures, because bass need to track them from beneath the thick cover. You should also be prepared to miss a few fish.
Topwater lures made for fishing over vegetation usually have a soft, collapsible body with a pair of hooks that sit tight to each side.
Although most anglers consider the "frog" to be the top choice, it's important to remember that this lure isn't always meant to resemble these bug-eyed amphibians. When selecting a pattern to cast, know what you're trying to match.