There have been thousands of times out on the water where I have seen anglers severely limit their success with their own poor habits. They will come across a spectacular piece of fish-holding cover and only fish the very outer edges. No matter how many times I have seen it, this still drives me nuts and makes me want to fish the cover as soon as they leave it.
I look at the outer edge of cover like the front porch on a house. You can roll through your neighborhood and there might be a few people on their porches but the majority of the people are inside their homes. The same holds true with bass relating to trees and other fish-holding cover. There might be a couple of fish hanging out beyond the outer edges of the trees, but you really need to put your bait up in the nasty stuff to get the most out of it.
When I approach a good-looking tree in the water, I like get a solid visual of what I am about to attack. My Wiley X polarized glasses get rid of the glare and allow me to see what is underwater. A high-quality pair of polarized sunglasses will improve your ability to see submerged targets. The first thing I do is determine where the outer edges of the cover are. Next I get a read on as many different quadrants of the cover as possible. I try to see each limb, how different objects cross each other, any holes in the cover, and so on—I analyze the area and try to find each and every place I think a fish might hide. After I see what I am working with, I begin my assault.
Before I even make my first cast I position the boat 10 to 15 feet away from the outer edges of the cover. Next I angle it (if needed) to allow me the most direct approach to the target. It does you little good to make a bad cast to a great piece of cover. Have enough restraint to wait the extra few seconds it takes to put the boat in the proper position. As you work around the perimeter of the cover, do so with your trolling motor on a low setting to keep the noise levels at a minimum.
I like to hit the outer edges with a Gary Yamamoto Senko first. The Senko gives me the opportunity to fish the perimeter without disturbing the entire area. It drops out of the sky and quietly falls into the strike zone.
The reason I don’t go straight for the main trunk of the tree is because I don’t want to scare off everything that is positioned around the tree by pulling a fish out from the deepest part first. There is also a high likelihood that I might get hung up, and if that happens I will probably have to pull my boat up in there to get it. In the process I am going to scare the fish away or at the very least make them really gun-shy. My goal is to disrupt the cover as little as possible as I fish it.
After I dissect the outer edges, I switch my weapon to a square-billed Lucky Craft crankbait like the LC 1.5 DRS. Making the most out of every cast, I run the bait parallel to some portions while crashing into other sections of the cover trying to trigger a strike. These sudden changes in speed or direction very frequently result in a fish eating your lure. With the crankbait, I try to draw out the more aggressive or active fish.
Once my crankbait assault is complete, I will begin to cast into the cover with a jig. I want to pitch my Siebert Outdoors Elite Jig in until it is crawling through the nastiest stuff out there. For me the jig serves a few different purposes. First, it is very snag-resistant. Next I have the ability to flip and pitch it with laser-like precision, hitting very specific targets. Lastly I can keep the bait in the strike zone for as long as I want, all while trying to antagonize the finicky bass into biting.
With this multi-step process, I am simply trying to maximize my fish-catching potential and get as many fish as I can from each piece of cover.
Let me reiterate this point so I am perfectly clear: if you are only fishing the outer edges of any cover, you are skipping right over dozens of fish every single time you are on the water. If you want to get the most out of your trip, you have to cast into the intimidating mess.
One thing is absolutely certain, you will get snagged, hung up, or whatever you like to call it. That is just the nature of the beast and a given when fishing where fish actually live. Don’t let this discourage you from fishing these areas—if you get snagged a few times while fishing nasty cover, so what? That little bit of aggravation will all be forgotten when you pull out a giant bass on another cast. It is all worth it at the end of the day.
Next time you are cruising through your neighborhood, remember to pay attention to how many people are out on the porches. Don’t forget, bass are a lot like people—so do not limit yourself to only catching those few fish.
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Images courtesy JT Bagwell