Cypress trees, at first glance, seem like Mother Nature’s gift to bass fisherman. Cypress trees create dense forests of cover that make any bass angler drool with anticipation of catching monster bass lurking in their shadows. Typically cypress trees are found in warmer climates and shallow water. In general, cypress trees will be found in less than 5 feet of water; however, I’ve seen them in as deep as 10 feet of water.
There are days an angler can pick up a spinnerbait or vibrating swim jig and simply cruise through the cypress tree groves and catch bass with regular occurrence. Just like a lily pad field or grass flat, bass will hunt prey by swimming through and around the cypress groves. With this roaming pattern in mind, using a stealthy approach, making multiple casts and changing casting angles throughout the cypress tree groves, you’ll eventually cross paths with a hungry bass. These types of days make you scratch your head because, more often than not, catching bass from cypress trees is not that easy.
Let’s first discuss the anatomy of a cypress tree. From the surface of the water, it looks like a very healthy tree with limbs and leaves. The only difference between a cypress tree and a pine tree on the bank is the type of bark and its general shape. Pine trees are tall and thin while cypress trees are short and fat in comparison. Cypress trees have a skin like bark versus the chunk bark of a pine tree. The obvious advantages of cypress trees are that they grow in the water, providing cover for bass; and since it grows in the water, you have abundant shade that is not shoreline related.
Under the water is where the real magic of a cypress tree grows. Just a few inches below the normal water level you will find a system of hair like roots that circle the tree. The older the tree, the larger this system of roots becomes. Cypress tree anglers commonly refer to this as the ‘root ball’. The root ball completely circles the tree and provides an underwater ridge that bass can hide under. When you pitch a bait to a cypress tree and let it fall along the trunk, you will notice it doesn’t fall but a few inches; this is your bait landing on this root ball.
The final piece of the cypress tree is what we call a ‘knee’. The cypress tree is a surface rooting tree. Meaning, its root system runs along the surface of the ground with only a tap root digging deep into the earth. From the trees roots running just a few inches under the surface of the lake bottom, vertical knots form every couple inches and grow through the lake bottom towards the surface of the lake. These knots are what we eventually call knees. Just like the root ball, the older the tree the more knees it will have. Some very old trees have a hundred or more knees that will be anywhere from a couple inches to a foot tall. Bass can settle down in these knees and watch the world go by. These knees grow out away from the base of the tree along the bottom of the lake. I have learned that a good rule of thumb is to expect knees to grow half again past the ‘limb reach’ of the trees–Take the longest limb of the tree then add half again that length. You can expect to find the knees somewhere between the base of the tree and that determined distance away from it in any direction. It’s these knees that are overlooked by most anglers.
Bass will hide under the root ball waiting for shad, bream or crawfish to settle past the lip of the root ball and become an easy meal. The typical angler will fish cypress trees by pitching jigs and creature baits to the base of the tree. They let the bait settle on the root ball, slowly pull it off letting it fall to the bottom, and expect a strike. Once the bait hits the bottom without a strike, they move to the next tree. The more advanced cypress tree anglers will use the same technique, but, will also look for wind direction and shade position to help them determine which side of the tree to pitch to. This can be very effective and will produce bass the majority of the time. Very experienced cypress tree anglers have learned that the root ball is not the only place bass will stage on a cypress tree. After the initial fall to the bottom, instead of retrieving the bait for the next pitch, they drag the bait out away from the tree feeling for the knees. Once you find a tree with extra knees on it, remember it, as it will be a tree that can hold a limit of bass.
Patterns for fishing cypress tree:
I’ve already mentioned pitching baits to the base of the tree, or waterline, and letting them settle onto the root ball then pulling them off. Ninety percent of the anglers on the water will be doing this. It works with any vertical presentation– jigs, creature baits, Senko type baits, to name a few. When bass are actively feeding, this pattern can be extremely effective and it is just a matter of covering as many trees as possible. Anglers will change bait styles, sizes and colors looking for the best pattern; however, adjustment to the fall rate is more important than anything else. I stick with basic color options and simply adjust how fast my bait falls. For example, when fishing cypress trees I fish a black and blue jig the majority of the time. I’ll start with a 3/8 ounce and work my way up from there until I find the ideal weight they will strike the best, as well as giving me the fastest presentation possible so that I can cover more trees in a given time frame. My thinking is that I’d rather have them eat a half ounce jig over a three eights ounce jig, simply because the bait will fall to the bottom faster and I can make my next pitch faster. Even though they are eating the three eighths ounce jig, I will check to see if they will eat a half ounce jig, just to make sure I’m not losing fishing time. More fishing time equals more possible strikes.
Let’s assume the fish are relating to the root balls and not the knees for a minute. If bass are not responding to the vertical presentation, there are still options. The vertical fall described above is not producing well; obviously we need to try something different–a horizontal presentation. Spinnerbaits, squarebills, and swim jigs are all excellent horizontal presentation baits to coax bass from the root balls. However, it’s imperative to cast the bait past the tree and retrieve it to the root ball. I can only assume that anglers get caught up in pitching baits to the base of a tree and why they stick to casting straight to the base of the tree. With a horizontal presentation you want your bait to run just under the root ball. Basically, you want your bait to run right up and smack a bass suspended under the root ball in the face. Cast the bait far enough past the cypress trees so you can achieve your desired depth before the bait gets to the tree. I always start with a steady retrieve; however, more often than not a stop and go will draw the most and largest strikes. Run a spinnerbait right up to the root ball and kill it. This lets the blades flutter, then start the retrieve again. Many times this pause will draw violent strikes. The same technique applies with crank baits; retrieve it right up to the tree and pause it. It’s even better if you bounce the crank bait against the side of the tree and then pause it.
Bass related to the knees of the cypress trees instead of the root ball can be a huge advantage for the angler that figures it out. Most anglers pay little, if any, attention to the possible knee system of a cypress tree. If an angler can find a pattern for these bass, they will likely have it all to themselves. There are two ways to help determine if bass are using the knees. First would be a lack of strikes from the root balls. The best indicator, though, is following. If you notice bass following your bait to the boat while retrieving it for your next cast, this is a good indicator that the bass are sitting in the knees of the tree. They are targeting the bait as it goes flying by while retrieving it for the next pitch to a root ball. When I see this happen, I start dragging my baits out away from the trees looking for the knees.
It’s been my experience that cypress tree knee fishing is a contact sport. Deflecting baits off the knees to draw strikes. Simply swimming something over the knees generally only triggers the bass’s interest enough to follow the bait and never strike. My bait choices will be crank baits, spinnerbaits and swim jigs; just like with the root balls. The only difference is my target has changed. Instead of trying to get my presentation up under a root ball, I’m now trying to make contact with a cypress tree knee. Since knees can be anywhere inside a circle around the tree it takes a little more time to locate knees; however, once located it can be very rewarding.
It’s been my experience that larger bass will relate to the knees more than the root ball or trunk of a tree. I start my search in the shadow of the tree; this is not because that’s where the knees like to grow. If there are knees in the shade they will produce better than knees in the sun. I’ll say it again; fishing cypress tree knees is a contact sport. Find the knees and bounce the bait off of them in order to draw the most and largest strikes. Just like with any other cover, drawing a strike may require multiple casts to the same knee. Once you find that magic casting angle and caught a fish, don’t move on just yet; multiple bass can be caught from one set of knees.
Which cypress trees are best?
When looking at a lake full of cypress trees, the first question that will come to mind is “Where do I start?” This is where electronics and or a good topographical map will help. You’ve probably heard it before, and it holds true on cypress tree lakes, “in determining where to start you must first take all the trees out of the equation”. It’s been my experience that I can catch bass in just about any cypress tree grove, but some groves produce more and much larger bass. Finding the ditches, creeks, and drains are important to catching the best bass a body of water has to offer; trees or not. A bass is a bass, and having migration routes is important to its survival. Migration routes allow a bass to move from winter feeding grounds, to spring spawning grounds, to summer staging areas, and finally back shallow with the shad migrations. Larger bass like an easy life. The big ones won’t shy away from these migration routes because they make life easy.
Because cypress tree groves can cover a lot of typically shallow water, you won’t necessarily find the major creek channels, ledges and drop offs that you do in reservoirs. In a cypress tree filled lake, typically a one or two foot drop can be significant. That said though, significant drops are relative to the area you’re fishing. One lake may need only a few inches depth change to create a migration route; while another lake may require a two to three foot drop. The point is to know the body of water you’re fishing and look for the most significant depth changes, then concentrate your efforts on those cypress trees.
When fishing a lake full of cypress trees, most anglers find it very hard to give up on an area and try something else. It is very easy to get caught up in, “I’ll try something else after the next tree”. Well, that next tree never comes because each tree looks like it should hold a bass. When I first started fishing cypress tree lakes, I would use very little gas and wear out a set of trolling motor batteries. I would fish and fish some more thinking the next tree would produce a strike. It’s important to remember that you have to take the trees out of the equation. You may have started on a channel bend and caught a couple bass, but because each “next tree” looked so good, you have now traveled well away from your original channel bend pattern. It’s imperative to pattern or try to develop a pattern versus just fishing tree after tree after tree.
When fishing cypress tree lakes use seasonal patterns to help determine which trees to start developing a pattern with. Then pay attention to the shade, current, and wind direction to help you determine which side of a tree, root system or knees a bass will be holding. Putting a pattern together on a cypress tree lake can be rather difficult simply because there is so much cover. If you take a step back and look at it from the perspectives in this article, it should help speed up the time it takes to dial in a pattern and start putting bass in the boat.
Lastly, I’ve mentioned a few baits I like to use, but cypress trees are cover just like any other and using your imagination is never a bad thing. Once you understand how the cover is laid out, developing your own tools to catch bass from it can be very exciting and rewarding.
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