Flipping Good Grass – with Bill McDonald

Bucks Falcon Mercury

by Dan O’Sullivan

Bill McDonald Flipping - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Bill McDonald Flipping – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

FLW Tour pro Billy McDonald honed his fishing skills on the Ohio Rover.  This Greenwood, In. pro learned to love shallow water, and in particular, he learned to love fishing around grass.  Anytime you find skinny water, grass, and bass, you can bet McDonald will be there.

In fact, McDonald is so fond of grass that he used it almost exclusively to qualify for the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup.  In finishing fourth in the 2012 FLW Tour Opens series, McDonald said that every tournament but his second place finish at the Detroit River came on a big stick with a Flippin’ bait in the grass.

“It was that kind of season,” he said.  “It just seemed that every stop we made before Detroit, I could fish to my strengths, and it just worked out.”

What are those strengths, and how does McDonald chose where he is going to fish amongst seas of grass?

Good Grass
With bass, anytime you can find isolated objects for them to hide around, an angler could be in hog heaven.  If an angler could find a bank in prime areas that held two or three pieces of cover spread apart a bit; he would know where the bass would most likely be.  With a couple of exceptions, that’s not how aquatic vegetation works.

In the fall of the year, when temperatures turn cold, grass will begin to die off.  That will leave isolated patches of green grass behind for a time, and that can concentrate bass.  However, in the prime grass fishing times, it is not unusual to see field of aquatic vegetation matted on the surface.  This can be daunting for the beginning grass angler.

McDonald said it doesn’t have to be scary.  “If you think about the fact that isolated cover helps concentrate bass, then locating bass in grass is not as hard,” he said  “Look at grass fields and locate differences in them.  Mixed vegetation, stumps, logs etcetera, will all help keep bass in more precise areas.”

He said that bass would most certainly be scattered throughout, but an angler could be more efficient by focusing on those isolated areas with combination covers.  “I’m not saying to avoid the vast field of grass, but cover them quickly,” he said.  “When you get to combination areas, that’s when you slow down and pick them a part.  I’ll cover the edges with a Strike King Tour Grade Buzzbait, a Strike King Sexy Frog or a weedless spoon between them; but I really want to use the big rod.”

Bill McDonald Targeting the Grass - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Bill McDonald Targeting the Grass – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

He used this approach to dominate local tournaments on hid home lake, Lake Monroe, for years.  “Lily pads grew up on the lake, and everyone thought I was fishing the pads,” he said.  “I was of course, but the key to it was the wood that was buried up in the pads.  The mixed cover really held bass, and it took a while before people started figuring it out.”

Grass Gear
Like many grass fishing enthusiasts, McDonald favors stout gear for pursuing his passion.  He selects the rod he uses by the size of the weight he is Flipping with.  His first choice is the Dobyns Champion Series 766 Flip; a 7’6″ heavy, fast action rod.  He feels that model is best when he is using sinkers that weigh an ounce and a half or less.  If he steps his sinkers up over that, from an once and a half to two and a half ounces, then he turn to the Dobyns Champion Series 805 Flip / Punch for additional leverage.

He teams his Flipping rods with Lew’s Super Duty reels in a 7.1:1 retrieve for speed in retrieving the lure for the next presentation, and for keeping up with hot fish that rip through the grass after a hookset.  He most often spools his reels with 65-pound-test Seaguar Kanzen braided line, but has stepped it up around extra heavy cover or bigger fish.

His lure of choice has become a Strike King Slither Rig; a tungsten weight / skirt combination, paired with a Strike King Rodent.  “The Slither Rig has become my favorite Flipping bait in a lot of situations because of its weedlessness,” said McDonald.  “By using a Slither Rig and a Texas Rigged bait behind it, I can get through more over than I can with a jig, but I still have the bulky profile of a jig.”  He said he selects colors based on water conditions and prevalent forage, and most of the time he uses Strike King’s Hack Attack Flippin’ Hook to keep from bending out hooks on big fish.”

Grass Presentations
McDonald said that he has a set routine for his presentations when he is Flipping matted vegetation.  Like many other pros who specialize in Flipping heavy matted vegetation, he said it is important to allow the lure to work freely.  “This is a reaction bite,” he said.  “You want the lure to break through and fall quickly through the mat.  Anglers make a mistake by trying to thumb the spool too much and it slows the fall down.”

He said that he gets his best results by pitching the lure at the targets, letting it rocket to the bottom, then feel for a bite.  Most of the time, his bites occur on that initial fall.  If the fish do not respond to that presentation, he allows the lure to rest on the bottom for a moment – up to five seconds – then he seesaws the lure a little, allowing the lure to bump the bottom of the matted vegetation.  After that, he picks the lure up and pitches to the next target, repeating the process.  The whole Flip to Retrieve process lasts less than 10 seconds per presentation.

Bill McDonald with a Slither Rig Bass - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Bill McDonald with a Slither Rig Bass – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

Final Thoughts
The four-time FLW winner said that one final tip he would give all anglers looking to learn how to fish grass is to pay attention to their surroundings when using this technique.  “Learn to listen and watch your line at all times,” he said.  “If you hear the noise of popping and bugs buzzing, then you have a mat that is alive and should have bass in it.”

The other thing to watch for is movement around your line.  McDonald said that you will often see movement in the mat when a fish swirls on a bait that’s penetrated the mat.  “The biggest fish I caught on a punch bait was a 12-pounder in Florida while I was practicing for a tournament,” he said.  “I Flipped in there, and the mat bulged a bit and I knew I was going to get bit.  I set the hook and it was that fish.  If I hadn’t been paying attention, I may not have been ready for the strike.”

The last thing he recommended was for anglers to actually pull the hook into the fish on the hookset as opposed to dropping slack in the line and snapping the rod back.  “Today’s hooks and braided line make it so much easier,” he said.  “Plus, I think bass get missed on this technique when anglers let the heavy weight fall in their mouths.  I think the tungsten sinkers hit the bottom of their mouths and fish open them, which means less efficient hooksets; or missed ones altogether.”