By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
Froggin', flippin’ and …um, yeah, that’s where most grass-bed game plans stop. And that’s okay, as these techniques account for plenty of action in the vegetation.
Just don’t fall into the potential-killing rut of complacency. Consider grass a multi-faceted life center deserving an equally diverse approach and you’ll find your grass game reaping greater benefits.
Example: FLW Tour pro Todd Castledine likes swimming a Strike King Denny Brauer Structure Jig with a green-pumpkin Structure Bug or a white Rage Swimmer. Fond of the way this jig plows through even gnarly vegetation with minimal snags, Castledine said it’s a great fall-back when fish stop eating topwaters, or when windy days require a bait with a little more moxie.
“The swimjig will work down to about 9 to 10 feet,” he said. “It covers everything – a topwater can’t go under the water, a crankbait can’t go on top of the water, a worm can be too slow. The swimjig can go slow or fast and from an inch or two below the surface down to 9 or 10 feet. You can almost wake that bait on top of the water – it encompasses everything.”
Also boosting the swimjig’s appeal is its all-terrain performance. When multiple grasses grow together, you often find uneven seams, if not awkward blending. This makes it tough to use treble-hook lures, as you can’t establish the safe zone. No worries for the swimjig’s narrow nose and ample weedguard.
That being said, Castledine won’t hesitate to crank a clean grass bed with a Strike King Redeye Shad, 6XD or a KVD 1.5, 2.5, 4.5 or 8.0 square-bill. Ticking the tops or running the edges, grass cranking is a good bet for covering water.
“This can be a tougher technique, so fewer people do it, but it can be very productive,” Castledine said.
Noting a clear delineation of sparse grass and thick grass, Castledine said success in the latter requires identifying potential sweet spots such as points, drains and nearby channel swings. Complementing all of these, he said it’s impossible to have too much of the thick stuff.
“To find your own fish you need to have them spread out, so I want to find a lot of thick grass,” he said. “It’s harder to find them, but you’re probably going to be rewarded by more. A lot of times, the father back you go in a creek, the thicker the grass is; but I’ve been on some lakes where it’s not that thick back there because the water is dirtier. Sometimes the main-lake grass is thicker because the water is cleaner.
Veteran pro Jay Yelas knows that a swimbait can produce big results around grass points, edges and drains.
“But the fish also like that sparse grass. Like on my home lake, Rayburn, the farther north you go, the less grass you get. I kinda like the sparse grass because the fish still use it, even though it doesn’t look good to everyone else.”
Case in point, during the FLW Tour event on Lake St. Clair in late June, Castledine took 6th place, largely by foregoing areas of denser grass and targeting small patches of meager growth.
“It was 3 inches off the bottom, but it was the thickest grass in that area, so they had to use it,” he said. “It’s the same thing on Rayburn; the sparse grass may not look good to some guys, but the fish are still going to use it – you just have to figure out how to catch them.
“I think you can catch them better in thicker grass with big schools of them; but fish move around a lot in thick grass and they can hide from you. They can’t hide from you in the sparse grass.”
Here, Castledine leverages the fish’s unobstructed visibility by using faster baits like peppy topwaters, swimbaits and crankbaits. These aggressive presentations generally trigger what is, essentially, a captive audience.
“When they shut off in the thick stuff, they shut off,” Castledine said. “But in the sparse grass, you can usually trick one by using a variety of baits. In my view, the faster you fish, the more likely you are to trick on in that sparse grass.”
Other tactics to expand your grass game include:
> Swim Team — Western pro Jay Yelas likes to mix up his grass-bed presentations by bringing a soft swimbait, like the Yamamoto Zako, past the prime spots – points, edges, cuts, etc. Yelas rigs his Zako on a 5/0 belly-weighted wide-gap hook with 1/4- to 3/8-ounce weights, which allow him to make the casts needed to reach a distant point or put his bait in front of breaking fish.
When summer melds into fall, small buzzbaits work well in the tattered edges of fragmenting grass lines.
Preferring a slow to moderate retrieve> that just ticks its way through the grass, Yelas says this: “Swimbaits seem to shine in low-light conditions; early and late, anytime it’s cloudy or breezy. If you get some cloud or wind in the middle of the day, they’ll bite that swimbait.”
> Perimeter Plan — Bassmaster Elite pro Stephen Browning knows that even a large and well-stocked grass line may shut down when too much angling pressure shell-shocks the fish. Some of the fish may simply hunker down and ignore the barrage, but he’s found that a certain percentage of the fish will slide out to peripheral structure and stare at transoms. Sneaking out to this largely overlooked zone of opportunity, Browning will pitch a jig around any stumps, logs, rocks or contour changes he finds.
Similarly, you might find an early morning or late evening bite a boat length or two off the grass, when bass utilize the low light to chase shad in open water next to the grass line.
> Breaking Up — Lastly, when fall sees the beginning of grass-bed decline, you’ll often notice tattered edges, as the main body starts to wither and leave isolated clumps. This fragmentation accommodates a variety of moving and targeting baits, but Alabama angler Jimmy Mason wants maximum noise and commotion, so he goes with a 1/4-ounce or 1/2-ounce chartreuse/white Booyah Pond Magic buzzbait.
This presentation works especially well for bass schooling on small threadfin shad. If they’re chasing big gizzards, you may want to send the swimbaits or hefty spinnerbaits into duty. Lots of bluegill present? Castledine’s jig-swimming deal might do you right.
As with any scenario, matching the hatch helps you dial in your grass-bed diversity.