June 02, 2021
As summertime approaches, Southern bass begin to move shallow and push into hard cover such as flooded and fallen timber (often called laydowns, layovers or deadfalls), stump fields, brush piles, limbs, floating wood and shoreline trees.
As the weather warms after spawning, bass will congregate in and make feeding runs to such habitat. Casting or flipping baits into hardwood cover now is a fun and exciting way to catch largemouth bass.
However, finding, fishing and patterning the best woody cover in most Southern reservoirs and lakes can be a daunting task. Here’s how to find the best hard cover and catch fish from it.
The most productive hard cover depends on several variables. These include, but are not limited to, the following factors.
- Adjacent Bottom Depth and Topography
As a rule, wood structures found at mid-depths (approximately 8 to 12 feet) are generally more productive in warm weather than those lying in very shallow waters (2 to 3 feet). In May, fish move from the spawning flats to the wood on the edges of the shallows. Southern lakes offering both shallow and mid-depth woody structures in various areas can provide great angling all summer long, as it offers bass options under various weather conditions.
Prime areas to search include shore bluffs adjacent to channels that may have been hit by winter storms or spring rains. Such weather can erode shorelines and leave new brush or laydowns in the water column.
This "new" hard structure, in sufficient depth, will attract bass faster than those brush piles or stumps in just 2 or 3 feet of water. Additionally, bass will utilize the slightly deeper brush longer, but those woody structures generally won’t remain there as long as shallow ones, as they rot quicker or eventually drift free.
Wood type affects productiveness as well. Softer woods rot quickly, and those exposed to air rot along the water line. Hardwoods remain and offer productive fishing for longer periods.
Likewise, bigger trees with thicker limbs almost always attract more baitfish and bass. Those with numerous large branches and plenty of submerged structure offer largemouths a protected habitat and ample food.
Bass swim and suspend horizontally, so they prefer horizontal cover such as floating wood or laydowns where they can be as inconspicuous as possible in the water column. Such predator/survival behavior is developed when they are fry and carried through to adulthood. Typically, wood structures lying mostly horizontally—rather than at an angle—have a longer life expectancy, as they are less likely to be broken off.
Knowing the characteristics of wood and the relationship between bass and the various types of submerged cover can help the angler be successful. For example, a cedar tree laydown that’s been submerged for two years generally offers more limbs and better fishing than, say, a fallen pine tree lying in the same area over the same period. Pine will rot quicker and have fewer branches for cover. Similarly, fallen trees with relatively smooth trunks will not be as attractive as those with limbs off their primary trunks. Even a subtle difference such as bark can have a tremendous effect on fishing success.
Hardwoods are usually more dense and less buoyant than softwoods, which means they are heavier in the water. That affects how their trunks and branches float and generally minimizes movement of the laydown due to wind or currents. Correspondingly, soft woods will provide a horizontal canopy and possibly float around a cove until trapped between other trees or structure. Such laydowns, particularly the giant ones, are not to be overlooked because they do harbor bass, particularly under a bright sun.
DEVELOPING A PATTERN
When determining the potential of woody structure you should initially scan the water’s surface. The direction of the major limbs breaking the surface often reveals the orientation of the main tree trunk lying on the bottom, and provides an indication of the density of the other limbs lower in the water column.
Armed with this knowledge, the angler can make casts at the optimal angles and distances to effectively work their baits. Once you have “read” the surface structure, you can formulate an effective approach and lure presentation.
The more time a laydown, brush pile or tree trunk has been submerged—the better (generally). The avid hardwood angler opts for dead or bare timber, including those newly submerged wood targets that have lost all their leaves, as these always hold more bass than laydowns with foliage.
A fallen tree with the root ball still in the dirt bank and leaves on the limbs (although they’re mostly underwater) offers sporadic fishing. The dense leaves hide forage and inhibit the predators, so they aren’t normally as productive.
Many laydowns still anchored by their root ball have been felled near a bank or shore with adjacent cover. Once erosion has taken its course, the angle of entry into the water can reveal the depth or the size of the submerged limbs that may be supporting the fallen trunk. Those laydowns that are isolated along a shoreline may be floaters—or could have been prior to settling down in a location. These are always worth casts to determine if bass are congregated there.
Another significant clue to locating a productive laydown, brush pile or floater may be the presence of current. The tilt or slant of emergent brush can reveal the general direction of the water flow.
Often, a quick glance at a specific location will reveal stickups bordering open water that are flapping (moving) in the current.
Moving water means easier feeding opportunities for bass as forage is brought to them via the current, a cooler more hospitable environment and deeper water. To find laydowns in current, it’s often necessary to head for the tributaries.
TACTICS and TACKLE
A variety of lures, such as crankbaits, spinnerbaits and soft plastics, can be productive around most forms of hard structure. When the water is stained or off-color, crankbaits are the best choice of lures for emergent trees, brush piles, timber lines and laydowns.
When a crankbait runs into a limb, it makes a discernible noise that often triggers a strike. These baits are ideal to slow-crank vertical wood or sparse limbs off laydowns. Make sure to retrieve them as tight to the trunk and inside the limbs as possible (without snagging of course).
Most anglers work dense wood cover from the outside in, eventually trying to touch every part of the tree. Generally speaking, there are more small fish at the ends of the smaller limbs, while bigger fish hold tighter to the larger interior limbs. Many crankbaits have some type of rattle in them, but the simple “knock” on tree limbs should be enough of an attractant. I tend to employ the rattling baits most often in relatively clear waters that are at least 8 or 10 feet deep.
While some crankbaits do get hung up on brush or limbs, others have been designed specifically for targeting brush. One of my favorites over the years has been the Luhr Jensen Brush Baby, which was designed with brush cams on the side of the body and on the bill so it’ll slowly track through the densest of limb cover.
Weedless-rigged soft plastics and weedless jigs also can be thrown into the densest of hard cover with very few hang-ups. Texas-rigged, highly buoyant worms can be slowly eased through brush piles and brushy laydowns in shallow-water habitat. Adding rattles is a good way to increase their effectiveness. When fishing soft plastics or swimbaits around brush piles, first work those skinny-water laydowns that have been submerged in the water for a few years.
Spinnerbaits are still a favorite lure for fishing laydowns and floating timber in relatively shallow water that does not have abundant vegetation in the water column. In clear water or in water less than 5 feet deep, in particular, snagless spinnerbaits slowly retrieved along the main axis of the structure is a go-to bait and presentation for many. Alternatively, they may be flipped into a laydown and allowed to flutter down into the cover to draw strikes.
Whether you’re casting crankbaits, spinnerbaits or plastic fare this time of year, head for the hard cover for largemouth action. Flip or cast baits into the cover and hang on to the rod. With the right lure, presentation and wood target, you’ll be in for a fight.