Punching for bass is what you call getting a bait through heavily matted vegetation to the bass that are underneath it. Punching for large bass means using heavy weights, big hooks, and strong line. This is not a technique for the wimpy or faint of heart. You will have heart pounding action and your adrenaline will flow; you’ll have the shakes after putting a 4 pound bass in the boat! There are so many aspects to this technique, punching bass, that to cover them all would require a book, so, let’s just cover the equipment for now.
I use a Dobyns DX795FLIP Champion Extreme for all my punching applications. This rod is 7 feet 9 inches long. Many anglers opt for an 8 foot rod; the school of thought is that many tournaments limit you to 8 feet, and by gosh I’m going to have every bit of it. Not really. For me, an 8 foot rod is really just a little too long and becomes more cumbersome than it does helpful when trying to flip. For others, the 8 foot rod allows for longer flips. This will be a matter of using various sizes to find what works for you. The DX795FLIP is classed as a Medium Heavy rod with a fast action tip. Again many anglers feel they need a Heavy action rod with an extra fast tip to punch with, the school of thought here is, heavy cover equals heavy rod. I’ll try to explain why I love the Dobyns DX795FLIP. The Medium Heavy action combined with the fast tip provides a better hook up to land ratio. There is more than enough back bone in this rod to pull fish from the thick stuff. When you set the hook on a fish with this rod, you have the power to move them; however, you also have the flex in the rod to absorb when they come flying across the mat towards you. This moment happens twice in a battle of punching. First is when the bass breaks the surface and then thrashes across the top of the matted vegetation, and second is when they hit the edge of the vegetation and head for deep water, which is on the other side of you. There will be a lot of give and take in these two parts of the battle, and a medium heavy rod will keep tension on the fish at all times. The fast action tip is also very helpful when that fish heads under the boat for its last run at deep water. Remember a bass has not used up any energy yet because it only flopped on top, the fast action tip will aid in preventing a hook from pulling out on hard pulls. If you think about how a hook can rotate in a bass’s mouth when it is pulling directly away from you, you’ll realize that the only thing holding it in place at this point is the barb. A fast action tip gives a little more and will help prevent ripping the barb free.
I have used many different reels for my flipping applications, and have come to enjoy the Shimano Castaic. The flipping mechanism on this reel is very comfortable for me, and I can disengage and re-engage the reel quickly. This is very useful when flipping and the depth changes some; or when you make a longer flip, and need to let some line out. I highly recommend a reel with a flipping switch on it, for this purpose. It’s just the nature of the game, when punching for bass, you must regularly adjust the amount of line you have out. A reel with a flipping option makes adjusting very easy to do and keep your reel engaged without the hesitation of having to turn the handle. While the Shimano Castaic is only a 6.3:1 gear ratio, the only other option with this same flipping mechanism is the Shimano Core at 7.0:1. I do recommend the fastest reel you can use to help take up line when a bass is thrashing across the surface of a mat. I don’t use the Core simply because it’s out of my budget. I mention this because some of the other brands offer a flipping switch on reels that are high speed. While I don’t use the fastest reel possible, I recommend you use the highest speed reel you can.
You will need a minimum of 50 pound braided line. I personally use Power Pro line in 50 or 65 pound test. With regular retying, I have not lost a bass do to either of these lines. If I’m fishing hydrilla, coontail, or another grass type vegetation I use the 50 pound. If I’m fishing hyacinths, lily pads, or log jams I use the 65 pound. The obvious is true; hyacinths and wood are harder on line. However, with grass type vegetation something many anglers don’t think about is the smaller diameter of the lighter lines allow the line to cut through the vegetation when fighting a bass. On a side note, if you are in lily pads that are healthy and strong a smaller diameter can cut them. However, if your fishing pads at the end of the year, they are dying, weak, and stringy. At this stage, they are nearly impossible to cut, and you have to pull a bass through them or pull the pads out of the soil when a bass wraps in them, hence the stronger line.
The biggest question I get asked about punching is how much weight should I use. The simple answer is enough to get through the vegetation. I do try to use as little weight as possible, generally this will be a three quarter ounce. However, that said I have had times when I could get more bites on a 1 ounce weight even when a three quarters would get you through the mats. The reason for this is that punching is a reaction bite. When your bait breaks through the surface, it will fall to the bottom very quickly. Bass do not have time to think; it’s either eat it or let it go. While the fall-rate is highly magnified from what you might be used to with a standard Texas rig or jig fishing, it is still a major factor in strikes. I have used up to one and a half ounce weights and had very productive days. Once I have to get to two ounces to get through the mats there are some special things required to be productive, and I’ll cover those in another article. I use Elite Tungsten weights. The shape of the Elite Tungsten flipping weight allows for easy penetration of vegetation; they are durable and come in a variety of colors. Using Tungsten over lead, gives you a smaller profile and you’ll be able to use less weight to get through the mats. The last thing to mention about the weight is no matter what size, it needs to be pegged. There are many options to use for pegging, from inserts to bobber stoppers. I use bobber stoppers; they are cheap and very effective. A bobber stopper will keep your weight in contact with your bait; yet, when you are fighting a bass they allow the weight to slide up the line some when a bass shakes it head. This prevents a bass from using the leverage of the weight to dislodge the hook.
I highly recommend a straight shank hook. Through the years, I have experimented with many different hooks trying to find the best hook up to land ratio. Everything from super wire EWG hooks to over sized hooks to undersized hooks. One day fishing with Ron Fogelson I was enlightened on how effective a straight shank hook was. He had been told that straight shank hooks would help and was using them. While neither of us, at the time, were very good at punching it was quickly obvious that the straight shank hook had a two to one hook up to land ratio. Now with proper equipment and experience with the technique, I am surprised if I lose a bass. That’s not to say I land all bass I hook, there are still outside factors that will give the bass and advantage. Hook size is very simple for me; I use the biggest hook I can get away with for the bait I’m using. Generally it’s a 5/0 and will go up or down one from there. My hook of choice is the Trokar flipping hook. While expensive it is very sharp and holds a point well. You won’t need a bunch of hooks, so the price is offset by the fact you won’t need to replace them often. An important feature of hooks for punching matted vegetation is a bait keeper. There are many versions out there but, I prefer the hard plastic version the Trokar is using. Without some sort of bait keeper, a straight shank hook will drive you to the funny farm with baits falling down the shank. This balling of the bait will also prevent a good hook set.
There is your basic equipment for Punching bass. Punching equipment is specialized, and using a set up that is considered all purpose will leave an angler whimpering at the bank. Punching Bass, is fun, it’s exhilarating, and it’s heart breaking all in the same day! I will continue to write about my experience with punching bass, to share what I’ve learned to be productive. I think next up will be baits and how to present them.
If you have any questions or would like to debate/discuss my arsenal swing by the Ultimate Bass Forums, I love talking punching bass and love learning new things about it!