May 07, 2020
By Pete Andersen
Spring weather is anything but predictable, bouncing between winter’s cold and summer’s heat. However, while unpredictable, there is one certainty—bass and anglers will head for skinny water, where they’ll revel in warming temperatures and an abundance of visible cover. But don’t let your excitement get you in a rush.
Fan casting a bank will catch a few springtime bass, but proper and precise presentations always catch more in less time. That’s where skipping, pitching and flipping come into play. Mastering these techniques requires an understanding of boat position, casting angles and gear. Here’s how to win with them on your favorite shallow-water spots.
When water is at its clearest or shallowest, or fishing pressure at its heaviest, bass retreat under and into cover such as docks, vegetation and overhanging trees. Skipping your lure across the water like a stone is the best way to reach those distant dark corners. Do it right, and the fish will never know you’re there until you’ve set the hook.
Skips can be made quickly, so they’re perfect for covering water. Use your trolling motor to position your boat, creating clear shots to your lure’s final destination. That’s not always done while moving parallel to the bank. If you’re fishing a dock, for example, slide down its side and try casting perpendicular to it.
The best lures to skip are soft plastics, especially floating worms, weightless stick worms and tube baits stuffed with a lead head. Jigs work, too. And while a flat head or trailer may add a skip or two, real performance gains are found under the skirt. Traditional skirts twist on impact, stopping the jig. Choose one that is hand tied or locked down, such as those that Major League Fishing and Bass Pro Tour angler Andy Montgomery designed for Strike King.
Rookie skippers should reach for spinning gear, avoiding the massive backlashes that only an experienced thumb can stop from forming in a casting reel. Match the rod’s length to your height. For example, shorter anglers will find creating the proper sidearm angle—tip pointed toward water—easier with a shorter rod. Subtle braided line won’t hold back your lure, and its strength makes your spinning outfit a more powerful bass extractor.
The underhand pendulum swings that pitching demands require casting gear. Rods measuring seven feet are the standard. Select one with a medium or heavy power to slam hooks home. But to generate distance, especially with lighter lures, find one with a slightly slower action in the tip. It loads easier, increasing distance and accuracy.
While pitches won’t reach as far under cover as skips, they are pinpoint accurate. Sneak toward your targets with a slow and steady trolling motor. Keep the sun and wind in your face, so your shadow doesn’t alert bass to your presence and your boat is easier to control.
Get close enough to quietly drop your lure next to individual targets, such as dock posts, seawalls, points along riprap and other pieces of isolated cover. One sleeper spot is the cinder block (or two) holding down a lakeside home’s water intake, which are usually given away by a small float. Each deserves a couple pitches from different angles. High-speed reels, which have a gear ratio between 7:1 and 8:1, make quick work of retrieves, allowing time for more pitches.
The best pitches are made with lures that have a concentrated mass, such as jigs. Texas-rigged soft plastics work, too, as long as the weight is pegged. Even crankbaits can be pitched, though mind their multiple hooks. They’re great at drawing reaction strikes from bass in laydowns and under docks.
Most lures that can be pitched can also be flipped—the stealthy, short-line technique that penetrates heavy cover within a few feet of your boat—but Texas-rigged soft plastics are the most efficient. Use a weight that’s heavy enough to break through cover.
The lack of leaf-covered overhanging branches or thick aquatic vegetation, which won’t arrive until summer, makes fishing within flipping range difficult in spring. It usually happens in only a few situations: in water that’s muddied by runoff; in warm bulrush- and laydown-laden backwaters; and around early emergent vegetation, such as arrowheads in Virginia’s and Maryland’s tidal waters.
Flipping is easiest with your toes against the gunnel and your boat parallel to the cover. It’s not fast fishing; thoroughness brings the biggest rewards. For example, only one of two flips just six inches apart may draw a strike. So use less trolling motor and more shallow-water anchors, if you have them.
The typical flipping rod is 7 1/2 feet long. An 8-footer will extend your reach, but pay attention to the extra line that it moves. It’s easy to over work your lure. With fast strikes and plenty of cover to tangle in, reels need a tight drag and easy-to-grab handle. Gear ratio isn’t important because there’s only a few feet of line to retrieve. Spool up with fluorocarbon line for everything but the thickest vegetation. It’s stiffer than monofilament or braid, so it’s less likely to wrap around a stem or branch.
Keep in mind that these presentations aren’t mutually exclusive. You might skip under a dock’s decking, for example, then pitch to its posts and flip the brush pile off its back corner. Match your approach to where you think bass are holding.
Try This Baitcaster For Finesses Lures
Finesse fishing isn’t only for spinning gear. Today’s baitcasting outfits can put even the smallest lures on target. Start with an Abu Garcia 7-foot-long medium Veritas rod, which handles 8-pound test line and sports an action that light lures can easily load. Match it with Abu’s Revo EXD, which debuted in 2019. Its 11 bearings and shallow spool are tuned for finesse lures. While the reel might cost more than you usually spend on a reel ($300), it comes with a deep spool, too. Drop that in, and you’re ready for summer’s crankbaits, Carolina rigs and structure spoons. It’s basically like getting two reels in one.