It also takes me back to some meaningful words Charlie Haralson once shared as we crawled our baits through underwater jungles of huisache and mesquite bushes along the banks of Salinas Creek on the Mexico side of Lake Falcon.
Haralson is a former Falcon guide from Laredo who has logged countless hours on the popular South Texas fishery and boated more 10-pound bass than most anglers could catch in 50 lifetimes. He has also lost his share of big fish, but knowing Haralson like I know him, you can bet it wasn’t for lack of preparation.
“When you hook a fish that you can do absolutely nothing with—one that breaks you down, wraps you up and leaves you wondering if it was even a bass—now that’s frustrating,” Haralson said. “A lot of guys can’t comprehend the feeling because they have never experienced it. But it happens at places like Falcon and Sugar Lake (in Mexico) pretty often. These lakes are different from most. There is no telling what the next bite will be. You need to be prepared, so that when the opportunity presents itself you can capitalize on it the best you can.”
So it goes with any lake known for producing big bass around jungles of thick cover. Go at it unprepared and sooner or later you are going to get whipped.
What follows is a bass angler’s gear guide for targeting thick-shouldered, green fish in places where the sun doesn’t shine very often. Follow it and you will increase the odds of winning the battle in tight places when the big bite comes:
Fishing line is the critical link between you and the fish. If there is a weak spot in the link, a big bass in heavy cover will help you find it.
Two words of advice, here. Think heavy. Braided line like Sufix 832 with a breaking strength of 50 pounds or more is heavily preferred for tossing jigs, plastics and frogs around aquatic vegetation like hydrilla, lily pads, pepper grass, etc.
One of the main reasons is this line is super strong, and like many other braids, is very small diameter with zero stretch. Matched with the proper rod, braid allows for turning a big fish quickly and horsing it in before it can wrap up in the muck. Another benefit is that braid will actually slice through vegetation like a knife, which helps prevent big wads of grass from balling around the line.
As well as braid works around grass, plenty of guys prefer not to use it when fishing around wood cover. “I use fluorocarbon for everything else, whether I’m flipping around docks, brush or rock,” said Florida bass pro Randall Tharp. “Braid makes a sawing noise when it comes over limbs. Plus, it will actually dig into wood and cause you to lose fish.”
It wouldn’t be wise to go to a gunfight with pocketknife. Sort of like it wouldn’t be smart to dabble a bait around heavy cover using a rod with the flex of a flyswatter. Long handle rods at least 6 1/2-feet long with a medium/heavy or heavy action are the preferred choices when casting or punchin’ in heavy cover. Matched with big line and a quality bait-casting reel, a proper rod will provide critical backbone for horsing bass out of thick vegetation, bushes or brush.
Reels with a high-speed gear ratio get the nod over slow speed reels, especially for tight-quarters tactics such as pitching and flipping. A 7.0:1 or faster reel will allow you to gather line and set the hook quickly when a bite is detected. Plus, the higher speed cuts down on wasted time spent retrieving the bait once it is out the strike zone. This adds up to more flips or pitches over the course of the day.
Most hardcore anglers opt for tungsten slip sinkers over lead these days, especially for close range techniques like flipping in bushes or lily pads or punching creature baits through dense mats of hydrilla or water hyacinth. Tungsten is considerably heavier than lead, which means a much smaller profile than a lead weight of equal size. The smaller weight passes through cover easier and is less visible to bass.
California bass pro Ish Monroe pointed out he prefers tungsten over lead for another reason, as well. “Tungsten is also louder than lead,” he said. “It makes a ‘thunk’ when it hits hard bottom, rock or a limb. That will sometimes trigger those reaction strikes.”
When fishing with plastics in heavy cover, it is best to use some sort of bobber stop or piece of rubber band to hold the slip sinker snug against the head of the bait. This promotes better efficiency, because it prevents the sinker and bait from separating on the fall; when the weight penetrates the cover, it takes the bait right along with it.
Short range flipping and pitching with plastics and jigs is usually synonymous with big line, a stout rod and a star drag that is locked down tight to prevent slippage and keep fish from getting the upper hand. Another key part of this “power system” is a stout hook.
Steer clear of thin-wire finesse-style hooks and go with a heavy wire hook that won’t flex or bend on a violent hookset. When using braid, be sure to use a “Superline” hook with the line tie welded shut to prevent slippage.
Perhaps the best way to prepare for a trip to big bass nirvana is by doing a serious tackle check. Hook, line, rod, reel—everything needs be geared for bear when gunning for bass on lakes with reputations known for producing the big bite.
“When you hook a big bass down here it is usually going to be in a bush or no less than five feet from one,” Haralson said. “The idea is to get the fish coming your way and to keep applying heat so it hopefully won’t wrap you up. There is nothing finesse about it.”