It was a hot, humid afternoon in Mid-July when the phone rang. It was a friend of mine who had just returned from Viet Nam. A few brief salutations were exchanged, and then the words that brought a smile to my face, “man, it’s been a long time since I wet a line, want to take a run down to the river?” I replied with a resounding, “Sure, how soon you want to go?” He said, “I’ll pick you up at 4:00, I have a new concept I wanted to show you. Just make sure you got some Johnson Spoons.”
At first light we pulled into the parking lot, the mist wafting softly over the stillness of the bayou South of the river. As the mist dissipated, I stood in awe, looking across the bayou at the massive floating mattes of duckweed that were everywhere, in fact, there was very little open water anywhere! “You got to be kidding me”, was my response in total shock. “Where we supposed to fish?” I continued. My partners response was, “Watch and learn”. So, I found a nice log to sit on and waited to see what this was all about.
Bud starts casting his spoon on top of the green flotillas, and I watch as he retrieves it just fast enough to keep the spoon on top, occasionally pausing the bait, then quickly resuming the retrieve not allowing the bait to sink at all. After a few casts, the water erupts as a small northern pike viciously attacks the bait from underneath the duckweed. This was my introduction to slop fishing. The rest of the day was spent casting our spoons on top of this stuff, and the rest of the day we continued to catch fish. Back then, it was mostly a northern pike and an occasional bowfin. Those were the old days, now I find I mostly catch bass in the slop and the occasional northern pike.
Over the years, there are a few tricks, approaches and techniques that I’ve learned, and I’d like to share a few.
A Few Basic Lures
Although baits, like the Johnson Silver Minnow, still work great in the slop, there’s other baits that work as well, or better depending on the situation and the condition of the slop. A Moss Boss, for example, works much like the Johnson Silver Minnow, but when the duckweed forms into a tight mat, the Moss Boss, is a better choice. The Moss Boss has a tendency to land with the hook up, and because it’s a plastic bait versus metal, the bait doesn’t sink as fast, which means it can be worked much slower and paused for longer periods of time. Other good baits are T-rigged tubes, lizards, worms, and just about any plastic bait that can be fished weightless on heavy or medium heavy tackle; and don’t forget those frog-type and rat-type baits either! When using heavy baits like the Johnson Silver Minnow, it’s wise to add a plastic or pork trailer, this keeps the bait up on top where you want it.
When the duckweed isn’t compacted into a mat, I prefer to use lighter and/or shorter baits; however, when the duckweed forms into a tight mat, I prefer to use heavier and/or larger baits. Experimentation is a good thing here, try different baits and bait configurations. In the beginning, fish with what you’re comfortable with.
There are as many variations for retrieves as there are baits to choose from. Some of the more commonly successful retrieves that I employ are:
Slow as possible and steady, no pauses, just barely keeping the bait up on top. Works well in Late Spring
Medium retrieve, with occasional pauses – works well in Early Summer
Rip-n-pause with a very slow retrieve in between rips – works well in Mid Summer
Fast retrieve, no pauses – works well in Late Summer
Erratic retrieve – works well in Early Fall
Back to slow as possible and steady with no pauses – works well in Late Fall.
These are my basic retrieves, but there’s no rule as to what’s right or wrong here; play around with your retrieves, use whatever works for you, after all, variety is the spice of life.
Look before you leap
Whenever I first approach a cove that’s totally covered by slop, I take a moment to make an assessment of the area before tossing a lure out randomly, hoping for a strike. Is this an area I’ve fished before? Are there any underwater structures? Do I observe any activity under the mat? Are there turtles sitting on logs, or actively feeding? Do I see any frogs at the edges? Herons along the shoreline? Emergent timber, or other types of structure (pads, brush, narrows, man-made structures)? Hard, or thick areas of compacted slop? Any tiny openings? Bird activity? Overhanging vegetation?
Once I’ve made these observations, it’s easier for me to determine exactly how to attack the situation. I always employ the outside – inside approach, slowly working my bait into the target area, and, I always cast further than what I’ve determined my target area to be. Whenever possible, I cast the bait to the shore and gently pull or hop the bait into the water. Much like a frog or other small critter jumping off the bank to the edge of the water.
Never make the assumption that what you observe today will be the same tomorrow! Duckweed is a floating structure; it’s governed by currents, rain and wind. A completely covered cove today could be a sparsely covered the next day. Each day brings new challenges. But, on the inverse thought process, what you observe today as a likely location for slop fishing that’s devoid of slop may be full of slop the following day, so make mental notes of the other locations where slop fishing might prove to be quite to your advantage.
Why do bass gravitate to the slop? Primarily for its many benefits such as shade from the sun. Whether it be a really bright day, or extremely hot, under the mat of duckweed the water temperature can be 10+ degrees cooler than the exposed water. Other forage that bass rely on feel more secure just under the slop, or along its edges. The slop provides shadows from which feeding bass can ambush their prey, underneath compacted slop a bass is totally hidden from anything moving across the top; frogs, snakes, mice, and birds. Bass are able to get quite close to the shoreline and remain undetected; this allows them to capture unaware forage that moves along the shoreline. I’ve taken bass within six inches of the shoreline in eight inches or less of water on days that the humidity level was hovering around eighty percent, and the air temperature was around ninety-five. There’s also numerous insects and crustaceans that live within the vegetation itself, these forms of forage attract minnows and other fish such as crappies, bluegills, suckers, shad, and golden shiners; all are necessary to the bass’ survival.
Some Key Elements
Always look for edges. Edges where moving duckweed comes in contact with compacted duckweed; edges where duckweed comes in contact with emergent weeds; edges near the shoreline where a sliver of exposed water separates the duckweed from the land mass.
Look for openings. Small openings where something in the water is restricting the movement of the duckweed; openings between patches of slop where minnows may be popping on the surface; openings where a fish may have just rolled, or a feeding turtle has pushed it aside.
Look for the heads of frogs just peaking up ever so slightly, or snakes gliding across or through the slop. Any emergent timber floating timber also provides additional hiding places for aggressive fish.
In the early part of the year, look for slop over dark bottom areas; as the water begins to warm, look for areas more suitable for spawning. Over the years, I’ve noticed a lot of bass spawning underneath the slop, especially where there is current as a factor.
Every year, I like to scout out areas that I feel will provide better slop fishing possibilities than others. I do this early in the year before any slop exists, making note of submerged lay downs, holes, sandbars, humps, narrows, and channels. When the duckweed first begins to appear, signaling the beginning of slop fishing, I’m ready. Other anglers have looked at me in wonder, when I’m casting a bait to an area that appears to have no structure to it whatsoever. However, because of scouting efforts, I know that there’s structure there! Underneath the slop, right where I mapped it in the Spring.
Let’s Fish Cove X – My Plan of Attack
Here’s a hypothetical Cove X and how I would attack fishing it from shore. When approaching areas similar to this, I adhere to the principles that success comes from attacking the situation in a methodical and thorough manner. Sometimes I may make four or five casts to the same location; I realize that this seems redundant, but sometimes it takes several casts to “wake” the bass up, or simply aggravate them, into a reaction strike.
Position 1 –
Cast tight to the shoreline, and retrieve parallel to the edge. Look for recesses of the weed line underneath the slop, which I knew about by scouting the area earlier in the year.
Position 2 –
Pockets on outside edges along the weed line are minnow magnets. I will cast parallel to the shore on my left, targeting the tight hard-to-reach areas near the emergent timber, including the base of the lay down, where it drops down into the water.
Position 3 –
Along the outside edges of submerged trees and lay downs, and additional angles of incidences for the emergent timber.
Position 4 –
Tight and parallel to the shoreline and inside edges of lay downs.
Position 5 –
Outside edges of a lay down and pockets along the weed line.
After I have thoroughly attacked Cove X, I will give it a brief rest. If I am confident that there are bass there, I will fish it again; fan casting the entire area.
Setting the Hook!
Most of the time, you won’t see the fish until it attacks your bait, in other words, it’s going to blast a hole through the slop to get at your lure! Your first reaction will be to set the hook immediately. This is a grave mistake, nine out of ten times, you’ll be pulling the bait away from the bass rather than setting the hook. Wait until you feel the weight of the bass to set the hook, or until the fish has your bait and is rapidly moving away from you.
Fishing slop is not for the weak of heart! I’ve had several friends hyperventilate from the experience, one even passed out. Bass that come from underneath the slop, striking your bait, do it viciously, aggressively and without warning. It doesn’t get any better than this.
Quite often, a large pike or bass will blast through the slop several feet away from your bait and attempt to attack it from above. Although this is quite exciting to watch, the majority of the time they flat out miss the bait. Don’t panic! Make several casts to the surrounding area and several more to the location from where they broke through the slop. If nothing else, sit down for a few minutes, giving the area a break, then try using a slightly smaller bait which will allow you to retrieve it more slowly and methodically. Shaking the bait without retrieving it, will sometimes be the incentive the bass needed to give you another heart-pounding attack.
Equipment – Here’s What I Prefer to Use
Most of the time, I’m casting baits on top of the slop with a high-speed retrieve Shimano baitcaster on a 6.5′ medium to a medium heavy graphite rod. I use 50 lb. Spider Wire Stealth braided line, but when fishing weightless baits like tubes or downsized worms, I prefer to use a 6.5 foot fast taper spinning rod, with a Shimano Spinning reel loaded with 10 lb. monofilament.
There are always a few exceptions to the rule. If I owned a 7-foot medium bait casting rod, I’d probably use it over the one I’m currently using. Occasionally when the fish are real skittish I not only downsize my baits, but I go to a six foot, fast taper fiberglass rod with a Shimano spinning reel loaded with 6 lb. Berkely XL in the camo green. I’ve been known to go lighter yet, but quite honestly, I don’t recommend it.
The Lure of Slop Fishing
For me, it’s the anticipation of the strike. As I cast my baits on top of the velvety green mat, the lure makes ever so slight indentation, I watch intensely as it glides and skips along the surface. I have absolutely no idea when a bass will violently strike my lure. The thrill of watching a big bass blow up through the matted weeds without warning gets the heart beating. It’s even exciting when you accidentally run your bait across the back of an unaware fish in a neutral or negative mood, and they roil the duckweed or slap the bait with their tail as they’re swimming away.
Interested in other articles by Mark Toth on fishing? Read Finding Hidden Fishing Treasures, Basic Ditch Fishing, Strategies for Ditch Fishing and Packing for Mobility. These articles may be found under Bass Fishing Articles, in the Bass Fishing General Tips category.
Mark Toth, The Ditch Fishing Chronicles