Don't leave your pitchin' and flippin' rods at home just because the weather has turned warm. These tactics can be just as effective in the summer.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Like Taliban fighters hiding from U.S. bombers, when it gets too hot for comfort, bass hunker down in thick cover to escape the heat. While the "heat" applied from anglers doesn't come from missiles, on sweltering days bass move into flooded brush, blowdowns, thick weed mats or some other cool, shady cover. They don't like to chase after prey and might not strike a lure on the other side of a log just two feet away. When not feeding aggressively, a bass still might strike in reaction to something invading its lair, though. It's just that - sometimes - bass won't hit until the food almost hits them in the head.
It's during this sweltering weather that a subtle approach often produces the most bass. And now is the time when bass anglers need to go into the rough stuff to root out their lunkers. Special equipment and techniques are required for these heavy-cover situations when you have to pry largemouths from thick cover.
For this type of hand-to-hand combat, few techniques come close to flipping or pitching Texas-rigged tubes, worms or weedless jigs at close range to spark interest in cover-hugging largemouths. Considering them coldwater baits, many anglers put away their jig-and-pork combinations in hot weather. However, few methods can explore thick cover as effectively as jigs or weedless Texas-rigged soft plastics delivered at short range with pinpoint accuracy, regardless of the temperature.
BASS "FLIP" OVER IT!
Almost like using a cane pole, flipping allows a person to get up close and personal with bass at short range. Using long rods, anglers can slip lures into tight pockets more accurately than casting when bass prefer a more subtle presentation to flash. Anglers can flip a lure into specific pockets in grassbeds, near a twig on a blowdown, or between two lily pads to reach those lunkers that few other anglers can reach with a bait.
"Flipping is a technique that allows me to have a finesse look while I'm still using big, heavy tackle," said bass pro Alton Jones. "It's a matter of looking at available cover, imagining where a bass might be and putting a lure on his head very softly. If I get a fish way back in the cover, I need heavy stuff to get him out right now."
For extra power to pull fish from tight places, Jones uses 30-pound braided line attached to a long rod. Line should stand up to rough treatment, sharp rocks, logs and other obstructions. For flipping, use a medium-heavy rod about 7 to 7 1/2 feet long with enough backbone to haul heavy bass from thick tangles.
To reach sweet spots, nose the boat almost against the cover. Strip a few yards of line out and hold the excess in one hand. Swing the long rod toward the target with the other hand and then release the excess line as the bait pulls the line through the rod guides. When you're doing it right, the bait will drop next to the target with hardly a splash. With this method, anglers can target specific cover, such as a single twig, a blade of grass or a quarter-sized pocket in a grassbed. A patient and skilled flipper can probe between branches of a fallen tree and penetrate some of a lake's very thickest cover. Sometimes, even a small piece of cover holds a huge bass.
Flipped baits don't plop in the water, possibly spooking skittish summer fish. After the jig or worm enters the water with barely a ripple, let it sink to the bottom. Frequently, bass strike on the fall. If a lure hits bottom without a strike, hop it up and down a few times before swinging to the next target - often just inches away. A good angler can comb through a potential hotspot pretty quickly this way before moving to the next patch of cover.
"Whenever fishing shallow water, make the lure entry as light as possible," said bass pro Dean Rojas. "The less you spook an area, the more likely you are to catch big bass."
PITCHING FOR AN INSIDE STRIKE
Pitching is another subtle approach for fishing tight cover, but anglers can achieve slightly greater distances by using the underhanded casting technique rather than the fixed-length-line method of flipping. Still, pitchers shoot for accuracy rather than range. When pitching, anglers make short casts by dropping their rod tips and flinging lures with brisk wrist action. Just before the lure lands, lift the rod tip to make the lure land as softly as possible. A low-trajectory pitch puts lures under bushes, overhanging trees, docks or other shady cover, making this a prime summer technique. Baits often hit the water and skip, further penetrating difficult cover.
BEST BAITS FOR FLIPPING AND PITCHING
Short and compact but slightly chunkier than worms, Texas-rigged tubes easily slip and skip through cover to hard-to-reach pockets. On the surface, a hollow plastic tube vaguely resembles a squid. While falling next to a log, it mimics a dying shad. Hopping on the bottom, it may look like a crawfish.
"A tube tends to hit the water and skip," Jones said. "A tube is well suited for skipping way back under cover like thick brush. I can reach places with a tube that I can't put a worm or similar bait. A tube gives me access to fish that other people won't even attempt to reach. When it falls, it glides from side to side and spirals. That action looks very much like a wounded shad that has been attacked by another fish as it slides to the bottom."
Fish a tube just like a jig. Let it sink next to a likely looking spot and then hop it a few times. If fish don't bite after the first few seconds, don't waste time. Move to the next twig, grassy pocket or rock. Sometimes, anglers thoroughly working an area they know holds fish might hit the same pocket several times without a strike until they finally antagonize a lunker into gulping the bait.
"If I pitch into a piece of cover and a bass doesn't hit it very quickly, I'm going to pull it out and put it somewhere else," Jones said. "The major mistake people make is not letting a tube fall on a slack line. When the line stops falling, either it hit bottom or I have a strike."
In thick cover, bass don't often make bone-jarring strikes on tubes, worms or jigs. Typically, an angler simply sees his line moving in a manner it shouldn't be. Soft and lifelike, plastic baits fool bass into thinking they actually swallowed a real meal. Many baits come injected with salt or fish attractant to make them taste more realistic. A bass might suck down a tube and hold it in its mouth without an angler even knowing that a fish struck.
"Sometimes, with really big fish, I never feel the bite," Jones said. "It just feels a little soft, mushy or heavy."
A tungsten slip-sinker instead of a lead one adds more penetrating weight with less bulk. It allows a tube to slip through cover as it spirals downward. Sometimes a faster fall into the strike zone means more strikes.
Flipping and pitching tubes near heavy cover works best in water less than 8 feet deep. In most lakes, some bass stay shallow all year long, seeking shelter under overhead cover. Furthermore, a fish that's in shallow water may be more likely to be on the lookout for a meal than a deep-water fish.
For the ultimate in overhead cover, fish floating or matted vegetation. Many anglers avoid these thick salads, thinking them impossible to fish. On the surface, the mat might appear solid enough to walk across. Under the water, though, the weeds might only float on the surface, providing a cool, shady ceiling for bass. Bass might not know the difference between a floating weed mat and a piece of plywood or a boat dock.
When vegetation blankets a waterway, a heavy jig (1 ounce or more) sweetened with a pork chunk might work best even in hot, shallow water. Silently approach a weed mat with your trolling motor or under wind power. With a long flipping rod, place temptations with soft pinpoint accuracy next to jagged weed edges. Probe every tiny pocket in the mat, wherever the jig can sink to the bottom.
Work slowly along the edges, targeting specific grass clumps or individual lily pads. Slip a jig or Texas-rigged worm between pads or in tiny pockets in the floating grass. After the bait hits bottom, bounce it a few times. If there's no response, drop the lure into the next open pocket. Bass typically hit either immediately or not at all. Don't waste time on an unproductive pocket.
This method works best during steaming, bright days in places where bass find little other shady cover. Bass also find more oxygen near weeds, a commodity often lacking in many hot, shallow waters.
In hot weather, color, size and lure shape often matter less than accurate placement. Bass might strike anything that lands inches away but not budge to attack baits more than a foot away. When lethargic bass hunker down in the rough, special anglers must go in and root them out.