Punching for bass is using heavy weights and compact baits, literally punching through heavy vegetation that has matted, on the surface, to get to the bass underneath. Where do you start punching for bass; it can be very overwhelming. Many Anglers are confused looking at large grass flats, weed edges that go for miles, or complete bays covered in floating vegetation that move with the wind or tides. These scenes make my hands shake with anticipation of catching big largemouth bass. The big question, however, do I have to fish all of this vegetation to find the hot spots, or can I narrow this down a little and concentrate my efforts.
Definitely the latter, vegetation bass need the same things as bass on lakes without vegetation. A food source, a sanctuary, and a travel route to and from the two. Vegetation bass, however, can find all these things in very close proximity to each other. Vegetation creates multiple ambush points for bass to feed. The vegetation it’s self can be sanctuary; with a bass simply needing to retreat deeper into the forest to hide. This leaves the big key element; finding the food source.
Food sources obviously vary from region to region, or even area to area on a given body of water. Many things live in vegetation; it’s the start of a complete food chain. Starting with micro-organisms, that feed on the grass and each other, to bait fish that feed on the micro-organisms, then ending with the bass. Vegetation of all types will hold every forage in a given lake to include shad. However, it has been my experience shad will use the edge of the vegetation for moving around the lake versus actually living in the vegetation like a bluegill, various bream, minnows, or crawfish will. Determining which forage bass are eating, helps me dictate which baits I will use, but that’s for another article.
I use current more often than not to help me determine which vegetation or which parts of a vegetation field to fish. Whether it is from wind, water (river system), or tides, current determines where to start. Current will carry zooplankton into the area, and this sets up the food chain necessary to find and catch actively feeding bass.
In river systems, determining where to start is pretty easy. We know bass are already living by the current, so the only real question is, are they on the inside bends or outside bends. Once you figure this out, through season experience or trial and error, you will be able to move up and down the river and start to further dial in your pattern.
Finding bass on large vegetation covered flats is a little more in depth; however, you can cut down a lot of wasted punching time by using a quality topography map. Using a map, or depth finder if you’re on the water, look for structure changes. Points, humps, ditches, drains, creeks, anything that would create a bottom contour change under the vegetation. The best structure changes will continue out from under the vegetation and into deep water. Once you’ve been able to establish a pattern, using the structure, you’ll be able to repeat it throughout the lake and again further dial in your pattern.
Grass edges are very similar to fishing river systems. In that, you are working the edge of a grass line, that usually drops into deeper water fairly sharply. This sharp depth change is what normally sets up the grass edge as the lake bottom gets to deep, to quickly for the grass to grow. This type of area can be difficult to pattern and will take more time to figure out. A good topographical map and determining current can get you started though. Look for where a channel swings against the vegetation, places where the vegetation makes a point, or where wood of some sort is mixed with the vegetation. Basically, you’re looking for anything that will make a line of vegetation different. Bass will always relate to something different, even in vegetation.
Once you have figured out in general where the bass are holding, it’s time to pinpoint them. Start looking for anything different in the vegetation. This could be wood, rock, or dissimilar vegetation. It can even be thin or thick portions of the vegetation. Finding two different types of vegetation that mesh together can be a fantastic spot. Where hydrilla meets lily pads has produced some of the best stringers I’ve caught while punching.
Bass will gravitate to change, things like logs floating up against the edge of a grass line, stumps in the middle of a grass flat, rock piles on a channel swing are all great place to catch bass. Notice the log, stump, rockpile, all great places to catch bass without grass. Punching is a tool to use and get a bait to the bass holding on these items after the vegetation mats over them.
Hyacinths and other types of floating vegetation can be fantastic and heart breaking at the same time. Floating vegetation can be very frustrating. It never fails, you’ll find a great mat of floating hyacinths with quality bass under it. The next time you get there, the floating mat, is gone. More often than not the bass stayed under the mat for a reason, something more structure related, a hump, channel swing, rock pile, brush pile. In this situation, it’s best to fish the area with other presentation versus chasing down that particular mat. However, this is where it’s confusing and frustrating and trial and error come into play. I have seen times when a mat would blow from one side of a bay to the other, and bass could be caught under this mat; as long as it was not in transition. Floating mats are giant, horizontal pieces of structure. That alone can be the draw for bass to hold under floating vegetation. However, if it’s moving, it’s seldom productive. Think of it as a log, when it’s floating across the lake, it’s not very productive. When it hits the bank, it’s just a matter of time before a bass will take up residence under it.
I’ve mentioned this before; generally, punching is not a numbers presentation. It is a quality bass presentation; my top 5 bass were caught punching. Yes, there are days that you can catch 50 bass punching vegetation, especially with floating mats; as bass will school under them, watching for schools of bait fish to ambush. Normally, you’ll catch one or two good fish from a likely area, and covering water will be the key. For example, you’ve found that bass are holding where grass edges make a point. These grass points are just not large enough to hold very many bass, and the larger bass will take the best spots. That said they replenish quickly. It’s not uncommon at all to catch a bass from a floating log against hydrilla, only to come back an hour later and catch another one. Bass move up and down these vegetation edges, just like an underwater ledge, and take up residence where the best feeding opportunity presents its self. It’s been my experience that the bigger bass gets the best spots.
For more information and ideas on where to start in a river or how to find those key little spots in vegetation, check out this article as well Flipping Grass Mats