I N A TYPICAL YEAR, throughout most of Texas, the spawn is long since over by the time April rolls around. Whether it’s south at Falcon, though, or east toward Rayburn, high water often remains.
Only small numbers of fish have moved offshore. The rest continue to recover from the spawning ritual or to guard their newborn fry.
That’s when Elite Series pro and Bass University instructor Matt Herren puts a flipping stick in his hands and goes to work. He’s no stranger to Texas waters, with a 2016 Toyota Texas Bass Classic title to his name. In addition to that win on Ray Roberts, he’s a threat to win any time oversized fish are in play.
So when Herren speaks, you should listen. In April he believes “It’s all a flip bite.”
Not just any flip bite, though. He’s trying to agitate bass that may be in a weakened state, hoping to replicate some of their fiercest enemies. He believes that they’re often most threatened by oversized baits.
That might be a bulky jig with a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver 4.20 on the back. In fact, that’s often his first choice because it has an exposed hook and creates a lot of disturbance in off-colored water. Increasingly he finds himself turning to a Texas-rigged Double Wide Beaver, a 5.2-inch creature bait that consistently produces big bites.
“A beaver-style bait imitates a lot of different things in the food chain,” he said. “But if you turn it sideways, it has almost exactly the same profile as a small bluegill
“Around the spawn, big bass absolutely detest bluegills more than just about anything.” His three favorite colors—Blank Check, Sprayed Grass and Payback—all provide a lot of flash and a mix of colors. He varies them depending on water color and the patterns on the forage he spies.
Because this is a large piece of plastic, it requires a hook with a lot of gap, and Herren favors a 6/0 heavy duty extra wide gap from Hayabusa, which he said penetrates easily and keeps fish pinned. That’s half the battle with an 8- or 10-pound bass in heavy cover—getting them out once they’ve bit. He said that with today’s stronger rods, better lines and quality hooks the key is “have a firm hook set, but don’t overpower it, because you can literally tear a fish up with it. Just bury the hook and hang on.”
Additionally, he believes that “rate of fall is really critical,” and sometimes a 3/8 ounce weight will get bites when a ½ ounce won’t, or vice versa. He’ll use anything from 1/8 up to a full ounce in most Texas bush flipping situations, but when given a choice between two close ones he’ll err on the side of going heavier. “Sometimes with a light weight, it’ll get all wrapped up or hung up on a limb, and you’ll think you’re on the bottom when you’re really not,” he explained.
Herren’s rod of choice for this technique is the aptly named Kistler KLX Stump Grinder, a 7-foot 6-inch extra-heavy action flipping stick made in Magnolia, Texas precisely for this situation. It’s the same rod he uses for flipping a jig in these circumstances, paired with a 7.3:1 Ardent Grand baitcasting reel.
The reel only weighs 5.9 ounces, but it’s deceptively strong and well-suited for hand to hand combat. He prefers to use 25-pound test Gamma fluorocarbon “whenever I can get away with it, because it doesn’t saw into the branches.” Yet, there are times when it’s simply impossible to use anything but braid. In those instances he calls on Gamma Torque, most frequently in the 70-pound strength.
Herren believes that April flipping fish in Texas can be patterned, and that the dominant patterns vary from lake to lake within the state. On some bodies of water the fish seem to prefer the bushes in the drains, and on others they prefer those on massive spawning flats.
Either way, his typical starting point is to target the “big isolated” bushes wherever they occur. Although he believes a bulky creature bait is the best way to amass a big bag, he believes that sticking with it is the best way to undermine your consistency on the water.
“There comes a time after the spawn when they want something wiggly, like a lizard,” he said. “When I know they’re there, but I can’t catch them on a beaver-style bait, that’s when I switch up.
My new favorite bait for that is the Reaction Innovations Man Bear Pig,” a five-inch elongated soft plastic that combines some of the best attributes of the Sweet Beaver with some taken from other creature baits. The lesson is to remain somewhat flexible, but also resolute, because keeping a flipping stick in your hands is the best way to put yourself in position for a flooded brush beatdown.
Email Pete Robbins at [email protected]