Work the Weeds For Bass
Author: Mike Gnatkowski
At one time I all but gave up bass fishing during the summer. It seemed futile. Most lakes are a buzz of activity as water skiers; personal watercraft and go-fast powerboats made fishing almost impossible during the daylight hours.
Like most anglers, I was sure that all the commotion probably sent bass to parts unknown or had them in such a state of panic that they were impossible to catch. I was convinced that the blazing sun and warm temperatures heated the shallows to uncomfortable levels for bass.
By the middle of summer, weeds also made fishing difficult, if not impossible. The shallows become choked with emergent vegetation. Bass anglers commonly refer to the aquatic jungle as slop, junk or salad. The weeds can be anything from common water lily to coontail, cattails, milfoil or more likely a combination of several types of weeds that form a nearly impenetrable jungle.
Over the years though I've discovered that this is exactly where you should begin your search for summer bass. It's the kind of place anglers and others avoid and summer largemouths search out.
Weeds provide everything a bass needs. Thick aquatic vegetation wards of jet skis and powerboats and provides a safe haven. It's a natural refuge bass seek out when summer arrives and water zealots descend on the lake. The nastier, the thicker the cover, the better.
While shallows exposed to the direct rays of the intense summer sun will often heat to the temperature of bath water, water under the shade of a dense mat of vegetation will stay relatively cool and nearly ideal for warm-water-loving largemouths.
Weeds also provide a smorgasbord of entrees for summer bass. Baitfish retreat to the cover of the weeds too, to find sanctuary from sun and predators. When they do, they play right into the hands of Mr. Bass. In addition, a host of aquatic insects like mayflies, damselflies and dragonflies call the weeds home. The insects attract baitfish and panfish; bass feed on the smaller fish and the insects themselves.
Other creatures, both aquatic and terrestrial, venture out onto or under the vegetation or by accident, and become dinner for hungry, weed-loving bass. Frogs, toads, snakes, crayfish, mice, voles, moles, even ducklings provide a summer buffet for bass waiting in the weeds. There's really no reason for a bass to leave the thick, summer weeds.
Once I discovered this bass cornucopia, I looked to summer as one of the most predictable and exciting times of the year to fish for bass. You just need to know where to look.
The best lakes are those with a good bass population and a limited amount of thick, impenetrable vegetation, which helps concentrate the fish. Too many weeds and the bass will be widely scattered. That doesn't mean that you can't catch some dandy bass there during the heat of the summer. It just means you'll have to work a little harder to find them.
Ideally, you want to find a lake that has some secluded bays and coves that boaters avoid where bass can retreat. Find such a hotspot and it's not uncommon to catch a half- dozen bass without moving the boat. Such a spot can be even better if the isolated bass have ready access to deep water. Throw in a little flooded timber, the odd stump, docks, a duck blind or two or lay downs and you have all the makings of bass nirvana.
A number of proven methods can take bass in the weeds, but one of my favorites is with a fly rod. Fishing for bass in the weeds is ideally suited to the long rod. New-wave bass flies are incredibly realistic and imitate just about anything a bass would eat. Tired with a monofilament weed guard, the flies are virtually weedless and can be cast into the thickest, nastiest stuff without fear of getting snagged and right where the biggest bass take refuge.
Not only do flies look real to bass, but they also feel and act like the real thing. You can swim them and twitch them and jiggle them so they look incredible lifelike. And anyone who has had a big bucketmouth explode on a hair mouse or popper will attest that few forms if angling are more thrilling.
When it comes to fly fishing the weeds for bass, don't spare the rod. Fly rods should be in the 8-1/2- to 9-1/2-foot range and capable of throwing a 7-, 8-, or 9-weight, weight-forward line. When you go toe-to-toe with a big largemouth and you need to horse him out of the heavy cover you'll appreciate the power and backbone of the heavier rod.
Weight-forward or bass-bug-tapered fly lines will help turn over bulky, air-resistant bass flies and aid in hitting productive-looking pockets and edges in the weeds. Leaders should have a stiff, extra-heavy butt section. A 7-1/2-foot leader testing 12- to 14-pounds or heavier is good for flinging big bugs and poppers. Bass are not line shy like trout. You can get away with much heavier leaders and you'll probably need it when you've got to muscle a big hawg out of heavy junk.
Flies for bass come in surface, divers and subsurface versions. Surface models imitate mice, frogs, moths, or nothing at all, just something that looks edible to a bass. They can be skittered or slid across the top of the vegetation and bass that sense the movement will blast through the weeds to get them. Poppers, made from buoyant foam or cork that feature a cupped-face head, can be made to gurgle, sputter and pop to call bass from heavy cover.
Divers are the fly-fishers crankbait. They have a cone-shaped head fashioned from deer hair with a stiff, rigid collar that acts like a lip on a crankbait. When pulled through the water with a few sharp, short strips, the fly dives and then swims back to the surface. Where openings occur in the weeds divers can be dynamite.
Long, slender serpentine flies, like an Eelworm streamer, Hare Water Pup or Rabbit Leech represent everything from worms to snakes and are the fly rodder's answer to the rubber worm. New creations and materials have improved even further on these designs. It often becomes a question as to when does a fly become a lure? It really doesn't matter as long as a bass eats it.
Bass anglers have a multitude of lures that are ideally suited to working the weeds for bass. They run the gambit from rubber or plastic frogs and poppers to weedless spoons, buzzbaits, top-water baits and plastics. Which one you pick depends on how thick the cover is, how quickly you want to cover water and how you like to catch bass.
Weedless spoons, like the classic Johnson's Silver Minnow, have caught lots of bass for anglers fishing the slop. The reason is the lures are very versatile. Spoons can be skittered across the top of the thickest stuff, but when you hit an opening you can allow the spoon to flutter down enticingly into the pocket or swim it along the edge. Another favorite spoon is a Weed Wing. The Weed Wing is similar to a Silver Minnow, only it has a propeller that spits and sputters to draw attention. Add a chunk of black or purple pork rind as a trailer and you can buzz the lure across the surface and let it flutter down when you reach an open spot. The pork bulks the lure up and slows its fall. Many times Mr. Largemouth will be waiting for it when it does.
Other lures designed for workin' the weeds include the Scum Frog, Moss Master Frog and "rat" type lures. Because of their weedless nature and concealed hooks, you can throw then in the thickest junk you can find without worrying about getting hung up. Pop, twitch, skitter and jiggle them across the top of the weeds and hold on. Key is to hesitate slightly when setting the hook with these lures to make sure the bass has the lure so there's some resistance and the hooks can penetrate.
Texas-rigged worms and Slugo-type plastics are good choices for the weeds too. Their hidden hooks make them almost totally weedless and their bass appeal has been proven time and time again. The problem with plastics is that you have to fish them relatively slow. A good trick is to use a buzzbait to locate active bass and then return and finesse them with plastic. It's a deadly combination.
Top-water lures may be the most exciting way to target bass ion the weeds. They perform best where pockets or small openings exist rather than solid, impenetrable mats occur. Old standbys like Heddon's Crazy Crawler, Torpedo and Zara Spooks have taken countless weed-loving bass over the years. Hula Poppers, Jitter Bugs, Sputterbuzz and Rebel's Pop-R make lots of noise and commotion that calls out bass lurking in the weeds.
A friend of mine uses Floating Rapalas and other stickbaits to waylay bass holed up in the weeds. He twitches and "walks-the-dog" with it from side to side to imitate a dying minnow. Bass explode on it!
Other lures that's perfect for the junk are spinnerbaits. With the hook riding up and the "V" configuration, a spinnerbait words off the weeds and pulls through without getting hung up- usually. One of the original in-line spinnerbaits, the Snagless Sally, is an old standby for workin' the weeds.
Northern anglers don't use live bait too much when fishing the weeds, but it's a technique that could pay big dividends. I've taken some huge largemouths from Florida's Lake Okeechobee on live golden shiners. The tactic has no equal when it comes to luring big bass from heavy cover.
The technique is to hook a shiner minnow through the lips with a weedless hook and then cast it to the edge of the weeds. The shiner instantly seeks out the security of the weeds- and often ends up in the gullet of a waiting bass. Florida guides use balloons for bobbers because they pull through the weeds easily, their inexpensive and you can use different colors to keep track of multiple rods.
You can tell when bass is eyeing up your shiner because the balloon starts bouncing and dancing around as the shiner tries to escape. Once the balloon disappears, count to five, reel up the slack, plant your feet and rear back- hard. You need to get the bass coming before he can burrow his way back into the weeds. It's a technique more bass anglers should try when bass are holed up in heavy cover in the summer.