DougHannon concentrated intently on the path his lure traveled over and around a thick sea of lily pads. Suddenly and without warning, the pads and water exploded like a Navy depth charge as the lure disappeared in a shower of spray! The bend in Hannon’s baitcasting rod, however, revealed that he was fast into a huge bass, and after several exciting leaps over and through the dense vegetation, Hannon carefully landed and released an over 10 pound largemouth bass.
For Hannon, this was no major feat, since his name is synonymous with giant bass. What is phenomenal is the where and when of this dramatic action. It happened at a small lake in the panhandle of Northern Florida, and the time was mid-day during the hottest part of September!
According to Hannon, these waters contain plenty of surface vegetation during the warmer months of the year. Types include hydrilla and milfoil, which are considered nuisance weeds, and both lily pads and dollar pads.
This surfacing vegetation in the shallows of these lakes are generally thickest in the north and northwest part because of sun and solar exposure. In this hemisphere, the sun is always in the south and the cold winds are normally out of the north, so the north shore is protected, yet exposed to the warm south winds and is generally 2 to 4 degrees warmer than the rest of the lake.
Hannon also reminds anglers that weeds produce oxygen during the day, stop producing and in some cases even consume oxygen at night. Weeds like hydrilla or milfoil are high consumers of oxygen at night, so bass will generally stay closer to the edge of these kinds of beds than they will with lily pads that offer open cover and don’t consume much oxygen at night.
“Despite lower oxygen levels, you can still catch bass inside the edge of the weeds,” said Hannon. “They will go in as far as the bait goes. I generally use the presence of bait in the weeds as a positive sign.”
To locate baitfish in the thick weeds, Hannon employs a bright, silvery lure with a lot of flash so that it can easily be seen by the baitfish. Buzzbaits, spoons or other highly visible lures work well.
“I throw one of those lures back in the thick weeds,” revealed Hannon. “If the baitfish scatter like welding sparks, then I know that predator fish like bass are present.”
Hannon believes that bass in the weed beds are easy to catch and hard to spook. He thinks that they feel secure because of the thick cover. These areas, however, require some specialized topwater techniques. In fact, weeds offer some of the best top water fishing in the world.
“If a bass is going to take a topwater lure in open water, he can suck it off the surface,” said Hannon. “But, when a bass takes something off the top of a weed bed, they have to explode much more violently and often they miss it 3 or 4 times. It’s a lot more fun to fish this way. ”
Besides looking for baitfish in the thicker weeds, Hannon tries to find signs of bluegill eating worms or grubs off the bottom of the dollar or lily pads. Holes appear in the pads when this action occurs, and one can actually hear the popping sound of the sunfish feeding.
“When I find these situations, it’s time to choose the right lure to attract the bass up through the vegetation,” said Hannon. “The important thing is to pick something that moves properly and can be easily seen. That means lures than have a lot of contrast.”
“You have got to realize that the bass are down in the water looking up,” continued Hannon. “If you look at the physical features of a bass, it’s an up-feeding fish. Everyone says it’s a bottom feeder, but there’s no doubt that the mouth is angled upward and the eyes are on top of the head. Bass are upward oriented, and light favors a predator close to the surface. So, they look up and see the bottom of the leaf covering up the top side of the leaf that you see. Plants are designed to take all of the light that they can get, so they are often a different color on top than they are on bottom. In fact, aquatic weeds like lily pads are generally the opposite color of green on the bottom. They are normally either red or purple on the bottom, which are popular colors for bass lures.”
“Using those colors is a mistake,” stated Hannon. “If you were to pull that lure across the surface of weeds and a bass was looking up at it, it will blend into the bottom of the lily pads, whereas the green or blue color will contrast. So, the colors that are best and easiest to see are the colors that blend in well with the top of the lilies. And, that makes sense in nature’s scheme too, because a critter that lives on top of the lily pads and weed beds is more concerned about his exposure from the topside, birds and terrestrial predators and being invisible up there than he is about the bass blowing up under him.”
According to Hannon, bass exploit that edge. By having colorations of greens and browns, smaller, pad-walking creatures make themselves invisible to the more immediate dangers from above, but become vulnerable to the feeding bass. This makes greens and browns good color choices for lures in the vegetation.
“One of my favorites is just black and white or black and yellow,” said Hannon. “These colors radically contrast with each other and have a chance of being seen.”
Lures for fishing vegetationHannon likes black, weedless spoons, buzzbaits and large plastic worms. He believes that spoons probably represent baitfish that have been chased out of the water and are flipping on top of the pads, while buzzbaits represent a frog to the fish, because a frog out in the open water knows bass are present and will run across the surface similar to a buzzbait. The larger plastic worms just look like any number of water snakes, which are a common bass food all over the South.
“Trial and error is still the best way to determine what a bass will hit,” said Hannon. “You’ll usually find that in weed beds, there will be a preferred color and a preferred action, but the shape and size of the lure aren’t that important. Since bass have trouble seeing in heavy cover, I violate my own rule that small subtle lures are better for big bass. Instead, I use the largest size the bass will hit, because it’s easiest to see. In normal water, big bass can distinguish a false bait representation from a greater distance, but in the top of weeds, they can’t see the lure very well at all. Often only parts of it can be seen at one time. It’s similar to sneaking up on an elephant in heavy brush . . . you may never see the whole thing. So, a large lure can be an advantage getting strikes in heavy cover. ”
Hannon says that when bass feed in heavy cover, they tend to take in a lot of unwanted debris as well. A bass sucks everything into its mouth including pieces of lily pads and grass. So, they’re not as likely to just grab the lure and spit it out like they would in open water.
“What they generally do is come to the top with their mouth open, suck the lure in, turn down and then swim through the water with their mouth and gills open to try to clear everything,” said Hannon. “The gills strain out all the leaves and stuff that are hanging out of their mouths. Therefore, you have to wait for that to happen before setting the hook. If you jerk immediately, you’ll pull the lure away from the bass.”
According to Hannon, the best technique for hooking bass in the weeds is to simply drop the rod tip on the strike and at a moderate rate, crank slowly. If anything is felt, jerk hard. That usually involves waiting 2 to 3 seconds between the strike and trying to set the hook.
“When you get into the right kind of water, you an expect a fish to be anywhere,” said Hannon. “The technique to use is to try and move the boat forward, cast and just assume you’re going to cover all the water in the particular weed you are fishing, spread your cast out about 20 degrees, maybe 18 to 20 casts around the boat and then move the boat the distance of a cast. Work the area slowly, and it will get you a lot more bites than casting closer all the way around the boat.”
Hannon believes that this is the only type of fishing where the average bass size is as good or better than those caught on wild shiners. One seldom catches a bass less than 3 pounds using this technique.