July 12, 2022
Water temperatures approach their annual peak as the sun climbs higher in the summer sky. As their environment warms toward uncomfortable or even lethal levels, gamefish respond in predictable ways in an effort to do one simple thing: cool down, even by just a few degrees.
While many fish concentrate around deep cover or suspend in deep water, some fish—often largemouth bass of exceptional size—make the exact opposite transition, moving into thick, matted vegetation in shallow water. These fish ride out the summer heat in the slop.
The number of quality largemouth bass that are sucked into shallow slop by mid-summer is amazing. The primary reason for this predictable congregation is rudimentary. Matted weed growth on the surface—and the duckweed, algae and "gunk" it collects—provides protection from the sweltering sun.
Slightly lower water temperatures, coupled with a shady, darker water column beneath the slop, yields a bass-concentrating habitat that is hard to beat. Fish beneath the slop remain supercharged with an amped-up metabolism; when the opportunity to steal a meal presents itself, slop bass are generally quite responsive.
Bassmaster Elite Series angler Greg DiPalma pulls big bass out of thick slop with regularity. "Slop fishing is so productive for the simple reason that so many largemouth live there during the really warm months, and often well into the fall," says DiPalma. One thing that many anglers overlook is how productive slop fishing can be when a powerful cold front moves through in late summer or fall. When that happens, fish will pull into the slop to warm up instead of cool down. For that reason, anglers really need to think about slop fishing as not just a summer, warm-water pattern, but also one that under the right circumstances can produce for long stretches of the season.
DiPalma selects stretches of slop to fish by first paying close attention to color— not of the lure he presents—but of the thick, matted vegetation on the surface.
"In the summer it’s important to focus on mats that are still alive, because dying mats will consume dissolved oxygen as they decay and those low-oxygen environments will repel fish. Slop starts out green of course, and then turn a very deep yellow."
DiPalma continues, "These mats are actively producing oxygen and will hold bass. Then, the slop turns brown and black as it dies back. In the warm months, that’s the slop to avoid, but interestingly, in the colder months, you can pull bass out of that stuff because the dark cover will help keep the water warm and put bass in a feeding mood."
WALK THE FROG
Hollow-bodied frogs are a productive way to pull bass out of the slop. An excellent representation of the abundant amphibian prey that bass consume in the matted vegetation, hollow-bodied frogs will summon bass to the surface and draw aggressive strikes.
"Cadence—the sequence of pulls, twitches, and pauses you use when frog fishing—is critical when fishing in the slop," says DiPalma. "Fishing frogs is much like presenting a jerkbait in open water. You’ve got to determine the right retrieve; it’s something you have to figure out on your own and be prepared to change up throughout the day."
As the frog is worked across the slop, the movement of the lure across the surface sends vibrations through the matted vegetation, alerting lurking bass to its presence. Often it is productive to include pauses—sometimes brief and other times longer—within your retrieve as strikes will occur while the frog is motionless.
DiPalma recommends twitching and shaking the rod tip when the frog is paused. Additionally, time spent lingering around edges, pockets, holes and other structural elements within the slop, things like sunken tree limbs and embedded areas of lily pads, attract big numbers of bass.
DiPalma says, "We focus a lot on lure cadence, but in all honesty, I’ve also had plenty of times that all I had to do was make a long cast and retrieve the frog straight in. It’s all about figuring out the bass’ mood and then showing them a retrieve that matches their attitude."
Frog fishing is an incredibly visual experience. Violent strikes hurl water and vegetation into the air, to the thrill of the angler that has induced the surface attack.
One of the most critical aspects of frog fishing is learning to pause before setting the hook. If you don’t, you will invariably pull the frog away from the fish before the hooks that ride on top of the frog’s body can bite and take hold. Teach yourself to count to three after a bass attacks the frog, and then set the hook with authority. Bass will not release the frog during that short delay, and you’ll be rewarded with a much higher hooking percentage.
Tackle for slop fishing is necessarily stout. Choose a rod longer than 7 feet to help with casting distance and to move line on the hookset. Because you need to horse fish out of the thick stuff once they’re hooked, consider casting rods with medium-heavy or heavy power and fast or extra-fast action.
DiPalma recommends a heavy-power, fast-action rod like a 7-foot-2 Shimano Zodias or a 7-foot-5 Shimano Expride. Pair these rods with a powerful, high-gear-ratio casting reel to winch hooked fish quickly out of the slop. DiPalma rigs his rods with Shimano Chronarch or Curado K reels. Strong, no-stretch braided line is the only way to go. DiPalma spools his reels with 60- or 65-pound-test braid.
DiPalma offers one additional pro tip for success with hollow-bodied frogs in the slop. "Sometimes on heavily pressured bodies of water, extreme casting distance is the key to getting bites. My favorite frogs are SPRO. They cast great and really look like the real thing."
To get more casting distance, DiPalma shoves seven or eight copper BBs into the bait’s hollow body. That little bit of extra weight allows him to get more distance on the cast, without being so heavy that the frog busts through the matted vegetation.