Grass game plan — Pro tactics for fishing vegetation for bass

Every bass angler knows vegetation attracts their prey, but what do you do when faced with miles of salad? These pros tell you how to focus your efforts.

It’s that time of year when homeowners swell with pride as neighbors, guests and passersby pass out compliments.

“Lawn’s lookin’ nice,” they say.

Well, bass anglers also love their grass, if only the aquatic type.

“It’s 100% important to summertime bass fishing,” Stephen Johnston, a guide on Toledo Bend reservoir, said of aquatic vegetation. “It pumps out so much oxygen (that) it brings baitfish in, and that brings fish in. It doesn’t have to be 20 feet deep — it can be 5 to 20 feet deep. It just varies based on where you are in the state.”

Just like that diligent homeowner who studies the growing cycles of his lawn, notes the impacts of climate, pests and competing weeds, the savvy bass angler looks at grass with an equally discerning eye.

“Grass,” in bass-fishing parlance, is a rather broad term, often loosely used in reference to an array of aquatic vegetation.

Hands-down, hydrilla dominates the show, day-in and day-out. Not so popular with lake managers and waterfront homeowners, this thick-growing plant forms broad banks that grow from the bottom and often top out to form dense mats that collect a variety of drifting plants.

Dennis Tietje

Bass pro Dennis Tietje of Roanoke, who fishes the FLW Pro Circuit, pointed out that hydrilla might also mix with coontail and milfoil — particularly in rivers.

Depth for the hydrilla foundation varies by location.

“In the Red River, the grass can be in 5 to 7 feet, while down in the Atchafalaya Basin it can be 4 to 6, but in big reservoirs like Toledo Bend, it can be as deep as 12 to 18 feet,” Johnston said.

Elsewhere, other vegetation fits the grass game by offering the shelter, oxygen and feeding opportunities bass. The smaller, surface-topping leaves of peppergrass make for prime bass habitat, as does the wiry, emergent alligator grass.

Peppergrass and other loose growing plants are a great place to throw topwater frogs.
Peppergrass and other loose growing plants are a great place to throw topwater frogs.

Tietje also includes the wispy pencil reeds in this scenario.

“Anything that provides shade for the bass, you can’t go wrong,” he said.

Finding grass

Finding grass often requires little more than visual recon — by June, a lot of the shallow hydrilla, peppergrass and alligator grass will have reached the surface, while pencil reeds are usually airing out their tips.

Using Toledo Bend as another example, deeper lakes might hold a lot of their grass below the surface year-round.

“In deeper spots, I’ll locate the grass with my electronics, and then I’ll idle around to find the edges and the (contour),” Johnston said.

When evaluating grass opportunities, consider these criteria:


What types of baits can make it through the cover, and how easy will it be for bass to reach the surface?

“First of all, I look at the thickness —that’s No. 1,” Tietje said. “Is it matted grass or structured grass, where the fish can move around at will like pencil reeds or peppergrass?

“When fish can feed up through the canopy, they’re more likely to hit a surface lure.”

Water clarity

At first blush, it might sound like circular logic, but clear water hastens grass growth; grass filters water to improve clarity. But the point is, areas less given to stained outflows typically see the most-robust growth of bottom-anchored grasses.

“The matted grass is going to be your key areas,” Tietje said. “The grass needs sunlight to grow, so it grows really well in clear water. If you get into grass in muddy water, the fish aren’t as attracted to it as they are in the clear-water conditions.”

Gathering spots

In any scenario, but particularly in the marsh, Tietje likes grass on the edges of points. Water dynamics and fish behavior are the beacons here.

“Points are always the most-active area of any grass bed,” Tietje said. “It’s your passing zone, your current break, the ambush points. You can call it a number of things; it’s just where the party happens.”

Boat cuts, points and any contour features offer heightened opportunity in a grass bed.
Boat cuts, points and any contour features offer heightened opportunity in a grass bed.

Greg Hackney of Gonazles, host of Sportsman TV and a Major League Fishing pro, also looks for drains, which channel baitfish, and holes within a hydrilla bed that indicate rocks or stumps below. Solid objects block grass growth, and bass often gravitate toward this additional structure.

Contour points or boat lanes cutting through a grass mat are always attractive, but J.T. Kenney a former pro and now an analyst for Major League Fishing’s television show, looks for established patches of hyacinth.

These floating bouquets can clear out hydrilla below to form spacious bass-friendly caverns with overhead cover.

Signs of life

When you first approach an area of emergent grass, pause on the perimeter and listen. Hackney said he anticipates good things when he hears the telltale popping and cracking of bluegill sucking insects off the surface.

Even if the bass aren’t specifically targeting bream, the presence of bream is always a good indicator of a healthy and food-rich environment.

What’s the weather?

When gauging the day’s conditions, think light penetration. Windy days break up the surface, while dim skies further reduce the sun’s reach.

“When you have to put your sunglasses on, the fish are the same way,” Johnston said. “On those drizzly, cloudy days, they’ll be out roaming the edges, but bright conditions will push them deep into the grass.”

In looser vegetation where bass can reach the surface without pushing through a foot of salad, weedless topwater presentations can offer a ton of fun.

Johnston often starts his mornings by working a hollow-bodied frog across stands of leafy peppergrass.

Straight vegetation is certainly attractive by itself, but add in some laydowns, stumps or any other structure and the opportunity level rises.

The same strategy works in shorter duration over those random holes in weed mats, as well as any little cuts and dips in the contour or sections of scattered hydrilla clumps.

Complementing the floating frogs, a noisy, water-sputtering surface presentation also appeals to grass bass. Buzzbaits have their place in those less-dense scenarios, but Johnston suggested buzzing the lawn with a weedless swimbait or a 7-inch ribbontail worm rigged with a 1/16-ounce weight.

Tietje tempts grass fish with a Strike King Rage Toad rigged on a Stanley Double Take hook. He’ll further extend his Toad’s bite by sliding on a Lake Fork Tackle frog trailer, which adds a third barb while remaining virtually weedless.

Around grass edges, particularly those spots where subsurface objects stunt its growth, Hackney said a spinnerbait or vibrating jig can call up a mean bass bite in those dimmer conditions.

He might also work the grass edges for reaction bites by flipping a 1-ounce Strike King Hack Attack jig with a Rage Craw or Rage Menace trailer.

A big punch

In healthy weed mats, Kenney punches through the vegetation with a black/blue Gambler Why Not, a beaver style bait, Texas rigged on a 4/0 Cobra flipping hook with a 1½-ounce Reins tungsten weight.

Running chatterbaits through sparse grass cover will get the attention of any bass hiding in the vegetation.
Running chatterbaits through sparse grass cover will get the attention of any bass hiding in the vegetation.

Pitching presentations allow him to stay back and reach his targets without spooking the fish.

Bass might vary their preference for mat thickness, but when Kenney targets super-dense weeds, he’ll use a 2-ounce punch weight to swing his bait upward, then drive it through the cover.

Tietje follows a similar plan with a Strike King Rodent. He’ll match his weight size to grass thickness, but he likes to start out with a ½-ounce model to cover water quickly.

Regardless of grass thickness, Tietje uses a bobber stop to keep the weight in contact with the bait so the rig falls as one unit at all times.

Edge masters

Crankbaits can also trigger bites when bass roam grass edges. Johnston favors the Strike King 5XD or 6XD around shallow to mid-depth grass, but he won’t hesitate to dig deep with the hefty 10XD when working deeper grass beds.

Now, grass types and appropriate bait selections will vary by location and angler preference, but here’s a constant: pulling power. Leave those whippy rods in the locker and eliminate fears of tangled break-offs by spooling up with braided line.

Grass holds serious bass potential, and when you connect with a whopper that collects its body weight in weeds on your line, you’ll just chuckle in victory as that braid slices cleanly through the impediment.

Top bait colors for bass fishing in thick grass

You can’t go wrong with the conventional wisdom of darker-colored baits for dim days and/or stained water and brighter colors — or at least bright, reflective flecks — on sunny days.

However, when punching thick mats, former pro J.T. Kenney finds most of his strikes occur as soon as his bait penetrates the grass, so color plays a minimal role in these reaction bites.

That being said, presentations in more-open grass scenarios can benefit from a little more color-conscious approach.

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Shaw Grigsby loves flipping the outside edges of grass beds.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Shaw Grigsby loves flipping the outside edges of grass beds.

Options are many, but pro Dennis Tietje considers color patterns that mimick bream good fallbacks.

“On colors, you get a double-dip by staying with green pumpkin and watermelon, because not only are those fish are eating crawfish, but they’re also transitioning to bream that time of year, he said. “Green pumpkin and watermelon really imitate a bream.”

As Tietje pointed out, bluegill present a wide range of hues, so experimenting beyond those two basic colors is a good bet. Observation, he said, is your best tool.

“You really have to look at your bream in your areas and match your bait color appropriately,” he said.

Brightly colored braid helps anglers notice subtle strikes while flipping and pitching, but it’s also pretty obvious to fish. So avoid spooking your quarry by coloring the last 6 feet of your line black with a permanent marker.

About David A. Brown 323 Articles
A full-time freelance writer specializing in sport fishing, David A. Brown splits his time between journalism and marketing communications