Lakes filled with aquatic vegetation are a blessing to savvy bass anglers who know how to work their lures through the grass but are a bane to inexperienced fishermen whose lures bog down in the weeds on nearly every cast.
Bass anglers consider grass any aquatic rooted plant that has most of its vegetative mass below the surface, although some portions may stick above the water and form into a mat. These submerged plants have soft stems that give the vegetation a grassy appearance.
While some conventional bass lures tend to bog down in the matted vegetation there are other baits that work well in the weeds. Here’s a look at four ideal lures for fishing grass lakes.
Lipless Rattling Crankbaits
This lure produces best in the early spring when the weeds are just starting to grow near the bottom or about halfway up the water column. You can yoyo the bait up through the weeds and let it drop to the bottom when the grass is short to trigger strikes. If the weeds are grown halfway to the surface, try retrieving the lure at a medium to fast pace and rip the bait when you feel it starting to cling to the grass.
This blade bait is ideal for slow rolling above submerged grass in the spring. As the grass grows taller in the summer, change your spinnerbait presentation by speeding up your retrieve so the lure stays above the weeds. A double willowleaf spinnerbait works best because the willowleaf blades provide enough lift to keep the lure riding above the grass.
Swimming a jig over submerged grass and around the edges of matted grass produces bass from late winter until the grass starts dying in late fall. You should use a jig and a trailer buoyant enough to keep it swimming above the vegetation so try a 1/4- or 5/16-ounce swim jig and a bulky plastic chunk or craw.
Hollow Body Frogs
A hollow-belly plastic frog delivers some great topwater action when the grass mats form on the surface in the summer. On sunny days the frog can be skimmed at a steady pace across the mat and then paused in the holes of the mat to trigger strikes from bass suspended under the weed growth. When skies are cloudy, walk the frog next to the grass to tempt bass prowling the weed edges.
Oklahoman Edwin Evers shocked the bass community in 2015 when he won a midsummer Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on New York’s St. Lawrence River by catching hefty smallmouth bass as shallow as 2 feet deep. Aren’t the brown ones supposed to be lurking in the dark depths in July and August?
During the previous Elite Series tournament on the St. Lawrence in 2013 many of the heaviest smallmouth limits were caught 30 feet deep and deeper. Deep bass were present when Evers won, but they were not as plentiful as in the 2013 event. He credits a full moon for keeping more of the smallmouth in the shallows.
Florida Elite Series pro Bernie Schultz agrees that more smallmouth were shallow when Evers won. However, Schultz claims that in northern waters like the St. Lawrence, Lake Champlain and Lake St. Clair, there are always enough shallow smallmouth to fare well in a tournament.
Schultz finished 15th in the St. Lawrence event that Evers won. He finished sixth at the 2013 Elite tournament there. He caught his bass shallow at both events.
“I’ve made checks at just about every northern smallmouth tournament I’ve fished in the summertime,” Schultz said. “I always fish shallow, and I have a lot of water to myself.”
Under normal midsummer conditions, there are far more smallmouth bass in deep water than in the shallows, Schultz conceded. His shallow strategy consists of covering a lot of water and targeting fewer scattered bass.
“The key is having shallow water adjacent to deep water,” Schultz said. “Twenty to 30 feet would be great.”
The shallow feeding area could be a shoal, reef, point or sandbar. If there is vegetation present, it is typically pencil reeds. Since shallow smallmouth tend to be here today and gone tomorrow, it is imperative that you have a milk run. The more shallow feeding locations you hit the better your odds for piecing together a substantial limit.
Most of the lures in Schultz’s extensive shallow water arsenal are moving baits that draw the bass up.
“In clear northern lakes it’s important to keep your bait over their heads,” Schultz said.
A Hildebrandt Drum Roller originally designed for redfish, is one of Schultz’s primary shallow water smallmouth baits. He dresses the hook with a 4-inch, Z-Man Laminate Swimmerz swimbait.
His other lures include small swimbaits and topwater plugs, including Rapala’s Skitter V and Storm’s Arashi Cover Pop. Add to this hard jerkbaits and soft stickbaits.
“Once I find some fish I’ll slow down with a tube or drop shot,” Schultz said. “I’ve caught smallmouth on a drop shot in less than 2 feet of water.”
After Evers won the Elite tournament on the St. Lawrence, he mentioned that he saw many smallmouth in the shallows before he caught them. Although these were not bedding bass, he was sight fishing for them.
Seth Feider, the Minnesota smallmouth ace who is currently an Elite Series pro, often sight fishes for summertime smallmouth in shallow water.
“For me, the shallow bite is all about conditions,” Feider said. “I need a calm, sunny day to go shallow in the middle of the summer. It’s just the opposite of what you would think.”
These conditions allow Feider to see smallmouth bass in 2 to 6 feet of water. He pointed out that northern smallmouth bass often feed in the shallows during the summer because the water never gets too warm for them.
Feider looks for the bass on shallow humps and reefs. He runs his electric motor on high speed and keeps the sun at his back so he can better see into the water. When smallmouth frequent the shallows on sunny days, their color darkens, which makes them easier to spot, Feider added.
“There’s not much chance to see them before they see you,” Feider said. “But you can spook them and still catch them. I cast as far ahead of them as I can and bring the bait back to them.”
Two lures do the heavy lifting for Feider. One is a popper. He swoons about Storm’s Arashi Cover Pop, which he works with a bloop-bloop action and also as a walking bait.
“That’s the best popper I’ve ever seen,” Feider said. “It walks so good I hardly throw a Spook anymore.”
His other go-to bait is a bitsy 3/32-ounce marabou jig he designed for Outcast Tackle dubbed the Feider Fly. To give the bantamweight jig greater casting distance, Feider dresses the hook with a 1/2–inch length of plastic he cuts from a Senko.
To get the distance needed to cast the light jig ahead of a cruising smallmouth, Feider claimed it is essential to use spinning tackle with gossamer 6-pound Suffix 832 braid and an 8-pound Suffix Fluorocarbon leader. He matches the line to a soft 7-foot, 6-inch, Daiwa Tatula rod and a 3000 size Daiwa reel. The long rod and the reel’s large diameter spool also increase distance.
“I’m casting to individuals,” Feider said. “They’re pretty catchable because they’re cruising around looking for food. I’ve chased some fish 100 yards before catching them.”