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Chalk Talk: Kenney on punching mats

Chalk Talk: Kenney on punching mats

(Editor's note: The following is the latest installment in a series of fishing tips presented by The Bass University. Check back each Friday for a new tip.)

Florida pro JT Kenney said he uses his mat-flipping stick 12 months out of the year. “I’ve never actually punched through ice,” he laughed, but he’s used a big weight and braided line to penetrate leaf mats, chopped up eel grass, and just about anything else that makes a canopy. His favorite, though, is submerged aquatic vegetation, usually milfoil or hydrilla.

“I won a Bassmaster on Lake Okeechobee before punching was cool,” he said. The technique also played a big role in his win on Champlain. Any time you have grass that mats up and has a cavern underneath, it’s likely to be his go-to tactic. It may seem easy, but he’s realized that “there’s more to this technique that meets the eye.”

Most bites come on the initial fall, and he’s realized that room for that fall is critical. If there’s not space under the mat, you’re likely in the wrong area.

He rigs up with a bobber stopper, then adds a tungsten weight, almost exclusively a 1 1/2-ounce Reins. “I don’t trust anything that doesn’t have an insert,” he said. Why 1 1/2 ounces? “It’s the biggest weight I’ve found where you can still have a semi-decent hookup ratio.” Anything bigger tends to blow the fish’s mouth open on the hookset. He will, however, go smaller in thinner canopies, occasionally as low as 3/4-ounce. It’s all about efficiency, making lots of drops and penetrating as quickly as possible.

His hook of choice is a Trokar Big Nasty, usually in the 3/0 to 5/0 range depending on his choice of bait. He admitted that it has an “odd bend to it,” but that’s for a reason. A normal flipping hook’s bend impedes the bait from falling through the mat. This one allows you more clean drops without missing hookups.

He fishes it on a Halo TI 7’11" extra-heavy flipping stick. It’s not just because he’s winching big fish out of cover, but also because you need something extra-heavy to control the bait’s fall, especially when there’s heavy fishing pressure and a subtle drop is critical. While there are times when crashing the weight into the grass gets more bites, most of the time quieter is better. He uses a 7:1 Ardent baitcasting reel, and said that 8:1 is not unreasonable. He keeps moving, making as many flips as possible, usually lifting it up and down two or three times before hitting his next target.

When it comes to colors, he keeps it simple: generally he relies on black and blue, green-pumpkin, a combination of those two, and in Florida or tannic water junebug gets put into the mix.

If you want to learn more about when, where and how Kenney flips matted vegetation, including how he rigs his creature baits for active fish versus pressured fish, along with his color choices when there are a lot of shad around, check out his full video, available only by subscribing to The Bass University TV.

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