By Steve Price
October 20, 2011
On Sam Rayburn Reservoir where Todd Faircloth lives, they call the vegetation grass. On Rayburn, it’s primarily hydrilla, but when pros like Faircloth talk fishing, virtually everything that’s green and grows in a lake is called grass. The way they distinguish it is not by its proper name, but rather, by the seasons, because the grass changes almost month by month and each change forces them to fish it differently.
At Rayburn, Toledo Bend, Guntersville, and many other famous grass lakes across the South, the major differences are between the summer grass and the winter grass. In the summer, the grass has normally grown to the surface where it may be matted on top, and it’s thick. During the winter, the grass is thinner, and it’s mostly below the surface. In either case, it will have an outside edge where it stops growing because the water is too deep for sunlight penetration.
“Fishing the grass is not difficult if you recognize these changes and how they position bass,” explains Faircloth, 36, a long-time tournament angler and member of the Yamamoto Pro Staff. “In the summer I’ll concentrate in the main lake, but in winter and continuing through the pre-spawn, I fish big tributaries. Because the grass is different in these two seasons, I also change both my lures as well as my presentations.”
During the winter months Faircloth and other grass pros stay close to creek channels, since bass will seek deeper water. The fish seem to prefer steeper drops then, too, so the pros look for channel bends and intersections where creeks and ditches meet. For Faircloth, the preferred depth is 10 to 15 feet.
“This time of year, the grass is not nearly as thick, but I concentrate along the outside edge where the grass stops growing because of that channel,” he explains. “The bass are not really in the grass, but rather, along that edge, and usually either along the lip of the channel or in the channel itself.
“I’ll use a ½-oz. jig with a Flappin Hog trailer. It’s bulkier and has a slow fall, so I’ll cast along the edge of the grass, then crawl or hop it slowly out of the grass and down into the channel. Bass are relating to the grass, but they’re not wadded up in it the way you’d think they would be. This is true on most grass lakes, not just Rayburn. This is how I approach any winter grass lake.
“Sometimes, on bright, warmer winter days the bass will move up and hold on top of the grass, but most of the time they’re on the bottom. Casting the jig and crawling it back lets me put the lure in front of more of them. With the Flappin Hog, I also have plenty of lure action, even during a slow retrieve.”
The jig gradually gives way to a lipless crankbait as the bass move into the grass in preparation for spawning, generally around February. The water and the weather, even on Rayburn, can be brutally cold that time of year, but because the fish are in the grass, no other lure will attract them as easily as one of the rattling, vibrating crankbaits, preferably reddish-orange. In fact, the crankbait color, Rayburn Red, was introduced for this very reason, since the fish are starting to feed on red crawfish in late winter.
“This is the time I often throw a wacky rigged Senko, too,” says Faircloth. “In comparison to the high-speed crankbaits ripping over the top of the grass, the Senko is almost a finesse presentation. On lakes like Rayburn where everyone seems to be throwing a crankbait, the Senko provides a totally different appearance. It works best on bright, sunny days with no wind. Most bass are still hovering on top of the grass, but even if I find them in the deeper ditches along the outside edge, the Senko still gets to them.”
As the water gradually warms through the spawning season and more water flows in from seasonal rains, the grass begins growing again. There’s often an inside edge, too, but it’s only really critical during the spawn. Once the bass have finished nesting, they don’t stay long on that inside edge, but move out of the tributaries and back to the main lake. Not surprisingly, many of them end up right back on the outside edge of the grass, which still may be less than 10 feet deep. On clear lakes like Amistad, this outside edge can easily be seen, and in places it looks like a wall because it’s that distinct.
On most lakes, however, the grass edge is not quite that abrupt, since they do not have the sharp delineations between mud and rock bottom that characterize so much of Amistad. By June on many lakes, the grass has matted thickly on the surface. Faircloth moves further out so he doesn’t have to punch through the actual mat, and while he’s on the deeper edge, he’s actually pitching and flipping just inside that edge.
“I think the bass are following creek channels, drains, and points, and using the grass as ambush areas,” he says. “That’s one reason I change to a heavier 1 or 1 ¼-oz. jig. I’m trying to create a reaction strike, so I want a fast falling lure that will shoot straight through the grass right along that edge. I still use the Flappin Hog as a trailer to add bulk, but overall, the lure is still very streamlined. I pitch or flip because I want to keep the lure close, since probably 95% of the bites I get come on the initial drop.”
With the Flappin Hog, Faircloth bites about half an inch off the body, and he hooks it just like a normal pork chunk instead of threading it on like most anglers do. Rigging this way allows the jig skirt to flare more, and with the slightly shorter body, the entire lure looks like the natural crawfish and bream forage. If he doesn’t get hit on the first fall, Faircloth hops the bait only a couple of times before reeling in for another pitch.
“I just follow the edge of the grassline, and yes, it can get really tedius,” admits the Texas pro, “but what makes me keep going is the fact I’ve experienced times when I get to a spot hardly as big as my boat and catch 20 to 25 pounds of fish as fast as I can get my jig down to them.
“I think every bass fisherman knows grass provides some of the best habitat in a lake, both for the forage as well as for the bass feeding on that forage. On any lake, however, the grass almost seems to develop a type of personality all its own that changes, throughout the year.
“During the winter and summer seasons, especially, concentrating mainly along the outside edges of the grass seems to me to be one of the best ways of learning that personality.”