October 17, 2016
By David A. Brown
Sink a worm in the reeds for all-season action.
Flipping the reeds is classic Florida bass fishing. It works basically year-round on our shallow, bowl lakes where bulrush, cattail and Kissimmee grass comprise the dominant bass habitat. Warmer months see a definite increase in applicability.
Jim Ashbacher is a Southwest Florida bass fishing guide who does a lot of flipping using slender soft plastics.
“This is a very effective summertime tactic because a lot of the fish like to sit back there next to the cover and wait for the bait to came past them,” Ashbacher said. “Early in the morning, the fish will be closer to the top of the vegetation where the baitfish swim around; but later in the day, they get a little tighter and farther down in the cover for more shade.”
I learned to flip years ago with 6-inch ribbontail worms. Ashbacher prefers the simplicity and weed-evading configuration of a soft-plastic stickbait like the 5-inch Senko. Easy to rig and cast, these minimalist worms slip through tight spots and trace their way down the plant profile with no hangups.
“I tell anglers to drop the bait down there next to the vegetation, jig it a little bit and let it soak,” Ashbacher said. “You want to get your bait as close to the base of the vegetation as you can get it. Don't pull the bait up and down really hard; just enough to make it dance a little.”
Emergent vegetation complemented by secondary cover such as hydrilla, eel grass or mats of hyacinth are your high-percentage areas. Such spots offer the vertical structure and shade bass love, plus excellent habitat for baitfish.
As for bait color, in clear water, many Florida experts use natural options like green pumpkin and watermelon. They will move to darker colors like black, Junebug or grape for dingy water. On sunny days, baits with red, green, blue or silver fleck might help you attract attention.
Ashbacher rigs his Senkos on 4/0 Gamakatsu wide-gap worm hooks. Lake Trafford, where Ashbacher fishes, averages only 5 feet deep, so he fishes his worm weightless and relies on the salt-impregnated density of the Senko for effective descent. On deeper lakes where fish may be several feet down—or in particularly heavy vegetation—a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce pegged bullet weight will escort the bait into the strike zone.
Baitcasting or spinning gear with a balance of fish-whipping backbone and flip-friendly tip will allow you to properly place your bait and then bring your fish out of the cover. Fishing with Ashbacher on a recent trip, I flipped with an 7-foot medium-heavy Okuma TCS spinning rod (designed by Florida FLW Tour pro Scott Martin) and a matching Inspira 30 reel strung with 20-pound Tuf Line braid. The line's unyielding nature helped wrassle fish out of the cover, while 18 inches of 20-pound fluorocarbon prevented spooking line-shy fish.
Now, if you're looking for the eye-popping excitement of topwater strikes or the savagery of a bass chasing a spinnerbait, flipping vegetation might feel like a downshift. The pickups are usually more subtle.
The fun starts when the fish realizes its mistake and boils the shallow water. To get to that point, though, you must hook your opponent and Ashbacher advises a measured
“When you feel the bite, count to three and then set the hook,” he said. “Just make sure the fish has the bait in its mouth. Sometimes, they short strike and bite it behind the hook and when you pull, you just pull the bait off.
“If you give them that 3-second delay it seems like they get that second bite on the bait and you can set the hook.” FS
First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine September 2016