By Mike Gnatkowski
Locating dense stands of vegetation is key to locating lunker bass during much of the year. This is especially true for largemouth bass. Yes, you can find rotund smallies taking up residence in forests of cabbage in 14 to 18 feet of water, but it’s largemouths that really take a shine to weeds.
Vast jungles of summertime weeds make for an imposing puzzle, but just keep in mind all of it is potentially ideal habitat. Early in the spring through summer emerging weeds and edges are focal points of bass activity. Capitalizing on the weed connection requires figuring out the types of weeds present that bass are favoring and formulating a weed-line pattern that takes into account preferred locations.
Early in the year, the hot spot is the inside edge. Post-spawn bass will gravitate towards thicker stands of vegetation as summer arrives. Later, schools of bass will patrol the outside edge.
Bass spawn before panfish, and afterwards they hang around the bedding areas to defend their territory and to find prey. I can’t begin to tell you the number of good-sized largemouths I’ve caught on 1⁄16-ounce or smaller jigs and tiny Twister tails and grubs with 4-pound-test line.
Post-spawn bass key on the panfish spawning activity and the prey it attracts. Minnows, smaller panfish, crayfish, and gobies are nest raiders and become dinner for largemouths. Prey, like frogs, voles, and mice, also venture into the water between the inner weed line and shore and become dessert for hungry bass.
The shallows present a bounty for largemouths this time of year. Some may still be spawning along the inside weed edge in 4 to 8 feet of water while others patrol the edge and make forays into even shallower water. Some may be still aggressively defending their beds.
In addition to the well-defined inside edge, openings in the weeds may signal hard-bottom areas within the weedbeds where panfish will be spawning. Bass will position on the edge of these honey holes and wait for prey to venture close. Depending on the size of the opening, it’s not uncommon to work your way around the edge and pick off a half dozen bucketmouths in a single location.
“Finesse baits are a great choice when working the inside edge and open holes in the weeds,” tournament pro Sam Heckman said. “Things like flukes, Senkos, wacky worms, stick worms are perfect. Use light line and fish them slowly. Make long casts to the edge from deeper water or position so you can cast parallel.
“You can fish the baits with just a little weight or clean. The idea with Slug-Gos and do-nothing baits is to just let them fall and watch your line. Add a subtle pop or twitch every once in a while.”
Also, top-water lures can be a hoot early in the morning.
Once the panfish spawn begins to wane, bass begin to relate even more to the wall created by the developing inside weed line.
Lily pads are magnets because they emerge early in the season and provide ideal overhead cover. Lily pads often hold lunker bass because big females vacate the shallows first, and emerging lily pads are the first cover they encounter. It’s a perfect location for portly females to forage and recuperate.
As weed mats expand and thicken, bass will hole up in the nearly impenetrable jungles away from edges and suspend. Most commonly this is a mid- to late-summer pattern. Bass look at these weed mats as a dinner table. Besides food parachuting from above, the understory is home to a smorgasbord of sunfish, crayfish, and insects.
“When bass are tucked into these weed mats, it’s time to break out the heavy artillery,” Heckman advised. “You need a stout 8-foot rod and 50- to 65-pound-test braid if you’re going to be fishing heavy jigs and Texas-rigged tubes. Two options when fishing thick weeds are to rip a lure though the weeds or to use a heavy ¾- to 1-ounce tungsten jig rigged with a critter bait to punch through the thick weeds. The heavy jig will break through the thick canopy, then you just yo-yo it a couple times before hitting the next spot.”
An alternative is to fish on top of the weeds. Bass will position in holes in the weeds or right on top if there is enough water. These bass can be tempted with top-water baits like frogs even in the densest weeds and grass. Before the weeds get too thick, you can twitch stickbaits and top-water baits in open pockets and watch bucketmouths explode on them.
Bass eventually gravitate toward the outside edge of the weeds adjacent to deep water.
“They’ll cruise along the outside edge hunting along the curves, points, and indentations in the weeds to flush out prey,” Heckman said. “It’s usually best early before the bass either retreat to thick cover or go deeper and search out humps and mid-lake structure.”
There are a surfeit of lure choices that will work when targeting the outside edge including jigs, drop-shotting, Texas-rigged soft baits, top water lures, crankbaits, and rattle baits.
“Two of my favorites for working the deeper outside edges are spinnerbaits and square-billed crankbaits,” Heckman said. “They are reaction baits and target the active fish. They work best early and late in the day. Bright sun makes the fish tuck back in the weeds.”
Bass will show a definite preference for certain types of weeds depending on the body of water. Lakes and reservoirs can have a combination of coontail, pondweed, lily pads, hydrilla, cabbage, milfoil or a host of others. Determining which type of grass or weeds the bass prefer is a big step towards finding the right location and defining a pattern. Whether the bass are using vertical or horizontal weeds will determine your presentation.
Alewives migrate into Michigan’s drowned river mouth lakes in June to spawn. They relate heavily to weedbeds and bass key in on the opportunity.
Last year Chris Reinhold asked me to join him for an evening of top-water fishing on Muskegon Lake. The idea was to work the shoreline and weedbeds with frogs until the bass started busting alewives when we’d switch to top-water baits.
Chunky 2- to 3-pound largemouths smashed our frogs as we sifted the weeds. The tactic produced a dozen bass before the sun started getting lower, and Reinhold suggested we move toward the river mouth.
We saw the occasional swirl of alewives as they performed their spawning ritual. Eventually, the swirling and boiling intensified, as did the explosions from feeding bass. Reinhold caught a fish or had a strike on every other cast with some of the bucketmouths pushing 5 pounds. It took me a while to get the hang of waiting when the bass busted the lure, but eventually I caught several of the chunky largemouths.