Casting to shoreline vegetation produces bass, but sometimes the best fishing is right below your boat. Deep offshore vegetation has the potential to attract and hold the biggest bass. The problem is how to reach those lunkers. No bass is safe if you follow the advice of these three bass pros who have perfected their own weed-fishing techniques.
Through the Roof
Hydrilla and milfoil grow deep in the clear waters of Arkansas’s Lake Ouachita, where Doug Garrett uses a pitching technique to drill lures through the cover and into a bass’s lair. The vegetation on his home lake takes root as deep as 20 feet, and its canopy frequently rises to within 6 to 8 feet of the surface. Bass usually seek shelter under the canopy, where the fish have plenty of open space to roam.
The prime times for keying on hydrilla and milfoil are winter and summer, when the fish tend to keep to deepwater sanctuaries. Garrett finds the most productive grass beds along bottom structure such as humps and points.
“Good electronics will show you the depth of the top of the grass,” says Garrett. “The sonar will show the bottom, which is usually about twenty feet deep, and the canopy at eight feet deep. It also shows that most of the grass is open under the canopy.”
Some bass position along the edges of the grass mat, but Garrett relies on pitching to get a lure in front of bass hiding under the thick canopy. Since holes in the submerged canopy are difficult to see, Garrett uses a 1-ounce sinker to drop his Texas-rigged lure through the mat. Shad are the main forage for impoundment bass, so Garrett opts for soft-plastic baitfish imitators such as the Yum Woolly Hawgtail or the Yum MegaTube.
Because bass hold at various depths under the grass canopy, Garrett tries different presentations until he finds the strike zone. “When the bait hits the canopy it slows down; then you’ll feel it go through the canopy and take off again,” says Garrett. “Sometimes when the bait starts to take off through the bottom of the canopy, you’ll get a strike; sometimes the strike might occur nearer to the bottom.”
After the lure reaches the lake’s floor, Garrett shakes it a couple of times and then reels it back to the top of the canopy. Once he feels the lure hit the canopy, he lowers it and shakes it again about a foot or two below the submerged mat. If these tactics fail, Garrett pulls the lure out of the weeds and pitches to another section.
In the summer, Lake Winnipesaukee guide Rick Lillegard keys on vegetation he calls “sand grass,” which grows as deep as 30 feet and sprouts about a foot off the bottom. Bass hang around the vegetation because it is often loaded with crayfish.
The New Hampshire angler uses his electronics to find the deep weeds, which Lillegard describes as “fuzz” on the bottom of his depth finder’s screen. He believes the most productive vegetation grows along sandy bottoms between islands and saddles where the weeds funnel down to an ideal deepwater ambush spot for bass.
“It’s a perfect place to find two kinds of forage: yellow perch and crayfish,” says Lillegard. When bass are near a weedy bottom, Lillegard favors vertical jigging or drop shotting above the vegetation. His favorite lures are a twin-tail spider jig or a 5- to 6-inch finesse worm rigged with an 18- to 24-inch drop line and a ½-ounce tungsten weight. He fishes the jig and the drop-shot rig with a spinning outfit.
When Lillegard rigs up in this fashion, he can lower the rig to the bottom yet keep the lure above the weeds. Lillegard tries to hold the jig a foot or two above the vegetation while vertical jigging. Both presentations allow him to shake the lures in the strike zone longer to tempt cruising bass.
Cranking Up a Bite
Though lipless crankbaits are the choice of many to fish weed beds, Kevin VanDam relies on a SStrike King Series 6 crankbait, capable of diving down to 16 feet, when he fishes offshore vegetation. Coontail and water cabbage are VanDam’s favorite targets. “Those grasses are ‘crispy’ enough that you can crank through them pretty well without fouling a lure,” he advises.
Dragging a lure through the vegetation helps the Michigan pro find the outer edges and irregularities that often hold bass. “The grass usually grows irregularly where there is a change in the bottom-say, from sand to gravel or mud,” says VanDam.
Isolated clumps of grass are also ideal spots to crank for deep bass. “Most of these stands of grass are not extremely thick,” says VanDam. “The deeper the water gets, the sparser the weed cover.” VanDam casts his crankbait past a clump of grass extending beyond the mass of weeds and then tries to brush the top of the submerged vegetation with his lure on the retrieve. Since bass tend to school in such areas, he knows such spots might produce multiple catches.
If the crankbait bite dwindles or is nonexistent, VanDam switches to a tube bait or Strike King 3X Finesse Worm. These lures also work well when he fishes other types of vegetation. “Some of the weeds are so stringy you just can’t fish a crankbait,” he adds. “Sometimes you have to fish the thickest weeds vertically with a tube or straight-tail worm. It’s slower fishing, but often that’s the only way you’re going to catch bass.”