August 18, 2022
It's difficult—if not impossible—to trace most bass fishing techniques to their origin, but we can do that with flipping. It came out of northern California in the late 1960s and early '70s. Dee Thomas took a method called "tule dipping" and transformed it into bass fishing's premier shallow-water, heavy-cover technique that's now a part of virtually every bass angler's arsenal.
Pitching (actually, an underhanded cast) has mostly replaced true flipping (a fixed-line method), but together they revolutionized the way we fish shallow water—especially brush and boat docks. But what about matted cover like vegetation, sawdust piles and the like? Sure, if you can find holes in the surface you can drop a bait in, but that's not enough. For numbers of quality bass, we need to penetrate the canopy to get to the bass below. Flipping and pitching get us into the thick stuff, but punching gets us under it, and that's much, much better.
WHAT IS PUNCHING?
Essentially, punching is a subset of flipping and pitching in which a heavy sinker (usually 1 to 2 ounces) is used to pull a soft-plastic lure through matted cover and into the water below. You can break through with a lighter weight if the cover's not very thick, but that's not what most people are talking about when they talk about punching.
The appeal of punching is simple: It's a way to present a lure to fish that don’t normally see lures, at least not in their sanctuaries under heavy cover. Punching also offers other advantages. Because the cover is typically very thick, we can get close to these fish—often within a boat length or less—without being detected, as long as we're quiet. Also, because the world underneath the matted cover is dark, we can use the heaviest tackle, giving us the best chance for landing a giant fish.
WHEN TO PUNCH
There's really no bad time to punch. If you have thick cover, there's an excellent chance bass live there all year long. Nevertheless, there are key times when punching really shines, like the dog days of summer, days immediately following a cold front and when fishing and boating pressure drive bass to the relative security of heavy cover. Summer is an ideal time to punch. You can use conventional methods early and late in the day when bass tend to be most active, but once the sun gets high, bass tend to look for holding areas where they’ll stay until it's time to eat again. That's punching time.
WHAT TO PUNCH
Punching got its start in the heavy hydrilla of Florida's waters, but there's punchable cover no matter where you live in the South—it just may not be vegetation. It could be a sawdust or trash pile. It could be a log jam. It could be almost anything that presents a canopy for bass and defies other presentations. As long as there's enough water underneath it to hold a bass, it's potentially a worthwhile target.
And if it has the other traditional elements of great cover—access to deep water and forage, good water quality and oxygen levels—it might hold multiple bass, including some giants.
If you're a capable flipper or pitcher, you already have the mechanics for most punching duties. Your biggest adjustment will be handling the heavy weights; they'll feel cumbersome at first. You need to get past that, and the journey starts with the proper gear.
When it comes to the ideal punching rod, there are two schools of thought. Most punchers opt for extra-heavy flipping rods of 7 1/2 to 8 feet in length, which afford the ability to hit a striking bass hard, get its head up and through the canopy and yank it into the boat. Some excellent examples of heavy punching rods are the Ark Essence 7-foot-11-inch extra-heavy/fast and the St. Croix Legend Elite 7-foot-11-inch heavy.
The other school chooses a softer rod of the same length. These anglers prefer a parabolic bend, believing that the biggest risk of losing a bass comes when the rod "goes flat" and there's not steady pressure on the line.
Reels should be fast and sturdy. A high gear ratio gets your bait back to the boat quickly for another presentation. Inexpensive reels rarely have what it takes to withstand the rigors of punching. After all, it takes guts for a reel to hold up to the heavy line and close-quarters fishing. Top choices are the Daiwa Tatula Elite Pitch/Flip casting reel (8.1:1) and the Lew's Super Duty LFS (8.3:1).
Though some punchers believe braided lines should be avoided because braid "makes noise" as it rubs against heavy cover, they are clearly in the minority. Most top punchers opt for 50- to 80-pound braid in the thick stuff. Some of the most well-regarded lines are Seaguar Smackdown Braid, Power Pro Spectra and Spiderwire Stealth.
Any sinker is fine as long as it's black and made of tungsten. Under these heavy mats, there's little light penetration. That means bass struggle to distinguish color. A darker silhouette is best here. A hefty bobber stop comes in handy when punching to keep the bait and sinker connected, though even this advice is controversial. There are punchers who believe that by pegging the sinker to the bait, you increase the chances that a bass can gain leverage and "throw" the hook.
Speaking of hooks, punching models should be more than just stout. Fifty- to 80-pound braid and a heavy rod can put a lot of pressure on a hook. You want one that's not going to bend. And punching is a place for small, slim-profile hooks—no EWGs here. A small, slim profile will reduce snags and keep you from having to pull vegetation off your bait all day long. Hayabusa, Trokar, Owner and Mustad all make fine models.
Finally, you'll find that a lot of punching experts talk about snelling their hooks rather than using a conventional knot. They point out that a properly snelled hooked will swing into perfect position on the hook set. While this is definitely true, your hook does the same thing when the sinker contacts the underside of the canopy or when it bumps into cover. More often then not, all that "snell swinging" leads to hang ups, which is why some veteran punchers choose to stick with a conventional knot. This practice greatly reduces cover snags, allowing them to spend more time with their bait in the strike zone.
Choosing the right baits for punching is all about profile. The bigger the bait's profile and the more appendages it has, the harder it is to get through matted cover. If things aren't too thick, you can punch a lizard or large creature bait, but in the densest cover, you'll want something small and streamlined.
The Gambler BB Cricket is a classic punch bait for this reason. You can even add a "punch skirt" if you want to show the bass a larger, jig-like profile. Just don't kid yourself about colors. It's dark under there—nothing but shades of gray. Go with something dark and get to work.
Your presentation starts with the flip or pitch. Drop your bait in the thick stuff and watch to see if it breaks through. If it doesn't, go to a heavier sinker or lob your offering a little higher in the air so it impacts with more force.
Once the lure breaks through, let it fall on a slack line, watching to see if it stops before reaching bottom. That initial fall is your best chance for a strike. Any bass down there will have to eat your bait or get out of the way. After it hits bottom, raise your rod tip to "check" your lure; if nothing's there, give it a little hop. Then give it another hop or two and get it out of there so you can make another presentation.
Don't expect a violent strike. You're serving up a meal in the bass' resting area. When you feel a strike—often just a spongy feeling—set the hook with a hard pull (not a violent yank) and rapid turns of the reel handle. This will get the job done without causing a heavy projectile to fly through the air in your direction if you happen to miss. And by all means, don't get in a hurry with your hookset. Bass tend to hold on to these baits much longer than you would think.
No one knows who punched first, but a couple early adopters deserve mention.
California bass pro Dave Gliebe was an early practitioner of the flipping technique and a disciple of its inventor, Dee Thomas. In the late 1970s, Gliebe won three national tournaments in a row, all by flipping a 5/8-ounce black hair jig tipped with a plastic worm.
Some of those winning bass came from heavy, matted vegetation. For those, Gliebe would either flip his bait into holes in the weeds or lob it high into the air and let it crash down on the surface, often breaking through the canopy to the bass below. Punching took a quantum leap forward in the 1990s when Florida angler Sam Aversa formed the Penetrator Weights company. Aversa poured lead slip sinkers weighing an ounce or more. The lead weights were large and cumbersome, but they got the job done.
When braided lines and tungsten came along in the late 1990s, they largely replaced monofilament and lead. That's when punching really took off.