Go Small For Big Results

Rigging and fishing little plastics for dug-in fish.

A veteran of the Bassmaster tour, Bernie Schultz often uses tungsten weight and a compact, weedless bait to penetrate cover.

Largemouth bass love thick cover, especially matted surface vegetation. It offers shade and insulation from extreme temperatures, hot or cold, and it provides an ideal situation for ambushing prey.

Knowing the bass are there is one thing; getting to them is another.

Sometimes matted vegetation is so thick, turtles and birds can walk on it. To penetrate cover that thick, heavy weights and compact soft-plastics are a must. Florida bass pros who earn their pay by flipping heavy grass prefer small, crawdad imitations, like the Gambler BB Cricket, Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver, or Yamamoto Fat Baby Craw. Each of these measures less than three inches in length and features streamlined appendages to minimize resistance during penetration. Color preferences range from june bug, black-blue, black neon, to more natural variations like green-pumpkin.

One of the author's preferred baits, a Yamamoto Fat baby Craw.

To rig these soft-plastics properly, you’ll first need the right size hook. Pros favor thick-gauge hooks designed for flipping with heavy line. Several manufacturers make them, including Gamakatsu, Owner, Eagle Claw, Mustad and VMC. Specialty flipping hooks come in two basic styles—offset and straight shank. The pros are divided on which is best, so use your own judgment, at least until your hooking percentages dictate otherwise.

More important than style is size. When fishing a 3-inch soft-plastic, use a hook that’s comparable
in size—depending on the manufacturer, usually a 2/0 or 3/0. You don’t want to dwarf the lure with too much steel. In the case of a small craw, the shank of the hook should be slightly shorter than the crawdad’s body, or carapace. That way you can secure the barb Texas-style back into the plastic.

The Yamamoto Fat Baby Craw features a shallow groove designed specifically to secure the barb, which simplifies rigging while increasing hooking percentages. The barb lies in the groove partially exposed, while the hook point is snug beneath a thin layer of soft plastic (see photo). This is referred to as “Tex-posed.” With the majority of the barb already through the body of the lure, there’s less plastic to drive through, so your chances of a solid hookup significantly increase.

Just as important is weight selection. Flipping weights come in three basic materials: lead, brass and tungsten. Nowadays, the choice of the pros is tungsten. Why? Tungsten is denser than either lead or brass, which means less of it is required. Simply put, a 1-ounce tungsten flipping weight is approximately two-thirds the size of a lead or brass weight of the same weight. Bulky weights tend to flop or hinge to the side once they make contact with cover. This not only hinders penetration through the mat, it also forces the lure to look and fall unnaturally.

Bet on small baits such as the new Berkley havoc Pit Chunk, top, and Rocket Claw, bottom.

A compact tungsten weight remains in line with the body of the lure, enabling it to punch through grass with stealth and appear more natural in the process. Although tungsten is considerably more expensive, its benefits easily outweigh the costs. Remember, compactness is key. Having a smaller rig will improve penetration and increase your number of hits.

Never use more weight than is necessary. While it may be easier to punch through cover with a 1-ounce weight, a 3/4-ounce is better so long as it too will penetrate successfully. Less weight usually translates to more strikes, so don’t over do it.

I secure my weights by inserting either a toothpick or soft rubber peg (available through better bass tackle dealers) inside the weight. I want it to remain absolutely stationary. Once the weight is aligned and snug with the soft lure, then you’re ready to punch through the thickest of mats.

Line is another consideration. In order to winch bass from extra thick cover, heavy line is essential. Some flippers prefer mono, while others choose braid. Still others are sold on fluorocarbon. I may use any of the three, depending on the situation.

When the canopy is extra thick and gnarly, and a 3/4-ounce or larger weight is required, 50-plus-pound braid is the best choice. If the cover is moderately thick and the fish are halfway aggressive, I still try to use braid. But if the bass are finicky, or the water is super clear, that’s when I opt for 20- to 30-pound fluorocarbon. If cost is a concern, similar strength mono with low stretch is another option. I suggest trying Sufix Tri-Tanium Plus, a super strong, abrasion-resistant copolymer that has just the right amount of stretch. It acts and feels like fluorocarbon, but it’s a whole lot cheaper. Regardless of the type line I’m using, I prefer it in a green pigment. It virtually disappears in grass or tannic-colored water.

Choose a stout baitcaster with a high-ratio retrieve to make taking up line much easier. Your rod of choice should be a 7½- to 8-foot heavy-action flipping stick. In fact, one of each would be even better. That way you can alternate between two size rigs until you figure out which is best in a given situation.

When you find a good looking mat, fish it thoroughly. Use stealth in your approach, but be deliberate. Although the lure you’re using may be small, this style of fishing isn’t about finesse. You’re after big fish hiding in extra thick cover. Start by working the edge, targeting indentations or small points. If that doesn’t produce, move in tighter and fish thin pockets or extra-thick areas. Also look for variations
in the cover—places where edges and seams are formed, or possibly where cover is mixed. In Florida, it’s common to find different forms of vegetation growing together, like reed clumps scattered in a field of matted hydrilla, or bulrush stands choked with hyacinths. Use the emergent vertical cover as targets. Each stand could be holding a fish, maybe more, and often they are big. – FS

First Published Florida Sportsman Jan. 2012