By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
Sending a jig or Texas-rigged bait toward cover is a simple concept, but the mechanics are where most anglers stumble. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Randall Tharp calls pitching one of his favorite techniques, but he’s quick to point out a couple of situational variables.
“The pitching technique accounts for a lot of big bass and it wins a lot of tournaments every year,” Tharp said. “It’s definitely one of my favorite techniques, but there are some subtleties in this presentation.
“When I’m making a really precise cast, I like to hold the bait in my hand; but this isn't to load the rod tip,” he said. “The advantage of holding that bait in my hand is that it remains very still and I’m able to make a super-accurate cast.”
At times, accuracy yields to expediency and in such cases, Tharp shifts gears and goes with a free-swinging pitch. No palming; just reel up and use a sharp forward swing to send the bait toward a more broadly-defined area.
“That allows me to fish a little quicker and make more casts that way,” Tharp said. “It’s not as precise as holding the bait, but I can make longer (pitches) and a lot more (pitches).
“It’s maybe a half-second, maybe a second difference; but over the course of a day, the more presentations I can make, the more efficient I can be and the more chances I have of getting that big bite.”
Tooling for any task impacts outcome; but this is especially true for the up-close-and-personal act of pitching. Rather than rattle off a one-size-fits-all list of must-have tackle specs, Tharp suggests experimentation to determine personal fit.
“Every time I have a flipping stick in my hand, I want to be as efficient at this technique as I can possibly be,” Tharp said. “I want the highest hook-up percentage. I want to catch every fish that bites.
“There’s not one rod or reel or line or lure or the way you tie your knot; you have to have all of those things put together and they have to be precisely matched to you. Your hookset isn’t like mine; my cast isn’t like yours. You have to figure out what works for you.
Some baseline truths guide this concept. First, a stout rod of about 7'10" allows you plenty of the “reach” needed to send baits into areas were traditional casting just won’t work. Given this point, ample backbone for separating fish from cover is more valuable than tip flexibility.
“I go with a 7.5:1 Team Lew’s Custom Pro reel because it allows me to quickly reel up for another pitch,” Tharp said. “Also, if I miss one, I can reel and up and get back in there quickly.”
As for pitching rigs, options abound, but consider the get-in-get-out priority. Elite Series pro Terry Scroggins suggests wide-body baits with minimal appendage range like the YUM Bad Mama, while Tharp’s fond of the Zoom Z Hog. Offering a substantial target that moves a lot of water and gets noticed, it’s not as likely to snag cover along the way like a more flamboyant plastic made for open-water use.
Look for the flow-through spots when pitching laydowns in current.
Helpful here is a size-efficient tungsten weight pegged for tight composition. Texas angler Phil Marks adds paper towels to his tungsten weight trays to minimize paint-chipping when rough rides bounce tackle.
When choosing line, the first instinct toward heavy braid is isn't always right. For pitching into grass, tules, reeds and other dense vegetation, braid’s slicing ability serves you well. In tight wood, you might do better with 16- to 20-pound fluorocarbon, which won’t pinch into woody crevices like the substantially thinner braid.
We’ll close with a couple of insightful tips on precisely where to pitch those baits:
> Whether he’s targeting a flooded tree or a submerged bush, Scroggins stresses a centrist approach. Because he believes the biggest fish will always hold closest to the heart of a piece of cover, he wants to make a focused presentation to that inner sanctum.
Scroggins notes that hooking a big fish will pretty much blow out the cover, so he suggests making a few perimeter pitches to hopefully pick off bonus fish before committing to the high-percentage zone at the cover's center.
> Mike Iaconelli won’t pass up many laydowns, but particularly not those washed by river or tidal current. Not only will he meticulously pick apart the tree’s bushy part where the most aggressive fish will sit and feed, he’ll also look for flow-throughs where current passes directly under or through prominent parts of the tree. These current conduits create eddies as the water piles through and fish will sit in the slack water to pick off passing meals.
Iaconelli also saves a few pitches for the laydown’s up-current side. Here, he said, you may encounter the most amped-up fish on the tree, so don’t overlook this counterintuitive spot.
> When spring finds fish moving up to spawn, Texas pro Ray Hanselman becomes very picky with his pitching targets. Light penetration is essential for egg development, so pitching to leafless tree skeletons proves more productive than hitting those with full foliage.
Similarly, Hanselman gives each flip an honest assessment based on the cover makeup; specifically “Can I get a fish out of here?” If the answer is no, he’ll reel up and make another pitch.
The key word here is efficiency, so concentrate on refining and perfecting your game for maximum pitching productivity.