Go Weedeating with Bobby Lane

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by Dan O’Sullivan

You’ve seen the grassbeds on your favorite shallow, weedy waterway, and you know that there are bass in there.  You’ve seen the anglers on the pro tours deftly picking apart expansive fields of grass and wondered how they find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Lane-Weed1As far as your eye can see, there’s nothing but matted weeds on the surface, a field of green larger than your high school football or soccer field.  For all you know it might be better to take up gardening with the aquatic foliage spread out in front of you.   Should you start blindly casting the edges, randomly punch the matted area or pick up a frog and make Hail Mary casts to try and find them.

It’s enough to make you scream in frustration.  The pros all tell you to be efficient, to pick your water carefully, using an organized plan of attack to make the most of your fishing day.  To start without a baseline of data is clock suicide for the tournament angler, and for the weekender, another random day with only one or two fish to show for your daylight to dark weed eating on the water.

Where should you start?  How should you approach it?

Ask Elite Series pro Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla.  He thrives in the grass

Why Grass?
To Lane, the grasses in his home lakes in Florida provide him all of the things that bass need most.  “Bass need places to hide, food, oxygen and comfort,” said Lane.  “Grassbeds provide them all of those things, and for someone who knows how to read the grass; they are needs we can take advantage of.”

Lane-Weed4Lane said that the right types of grass will give clue to a lakebed that bass prefer.  “Bass don’t like soft muddy bottoms as a rule,” he said.  “If you find the right types of grass, they’ll give you the clue to a clean, sandy or solid bottom.”

Finally, Lane said that his experience shows him that grass produces the highest quality bass.  “Grassbed bass are the healthiest fish,” he opined.  “They have the most food, the best oxygen so they grow the best; those are the bass I want in my bag.”

Where to Start
The Florida pro knows how daunting a five acre field of grass can look to the average angler, so he says to eliminate areas in a few ways.  “The first thing I look for is the color of the grass,” he said.  “Sloppy, dying grass has either been sprayed, or is dying for some other reason, so I don’t fish that grass very often.  If it’s brown or wilted, stay away, if it’s green, it’s healthy.”

Once he’s isolated a grassbed that is fresh, Lane looks for signs of life in the vegetation.  “I listen to hear if there are baitfish popping in the grass, or if bugs are flying around its surface, and bubbles are coming up around it,” he said.  “If there are baitfish swimming around it, then it’s likely a quality area to start fishing.”

Once he’s located that kind of mat, he then pinpoints his search by looking for combinations of grass.  “From what I’ve found, the biggest bass like it when two kinds of vegetation come together,” he said.  When I find mixed vegetation, I start there.”

He prefers to find areas of sparse grass that has clumps of the secondary grass mixed in.  “I like it when I find milfoil mixed in with pepper grass, or hydrilla mixed with coontail, or hydrilla and milfoil together,” he said.   “When I find those, I find that big bass relate to them.”

He will usually start with the area that has the secondary grass mixed in, especially if it forms a canopy.  “If there is a group of pepper grass that has larger matted clumps of hydrilla in it; that’s my starting point,” he said.  “I’ve found these types of areas from Florida to the California Delta, and they are the first areas I look.”

Lane-Weed6How to fish the Grass
He said he lets the season and weather conditions dictate how he’s going to fish the grass.  “If it’s a time of the year that the bass are known for being aggressive and it’s cloudy, I may throw a spinnerbait or a Rat-L-Trap,” he said.  “If it’s hot and sunny, I may have to throw a frog or punch for them, and I might have to throw a soft stickbait if it’s tough; I let the conditions dictate.”

His favorite two approaches are to throw a Berkley PowerBait Chigger Toad, or flip with a Berkley Chigger Craw.  “I’ll use these lures from spring through fall; any chance I get, because they generate the right kind of bites.”

Lane ties his Chigger Toad to 50-pound-test Spiderwire Ultracast braided line, and tosses it with a 7’3” medium heavy action Abu Garcia Verdict rod and 7.1:1 Revo STX reel.  The Toad is rigged on a 4/0 or 5/0 Extra Wide Gap Mustad hook, and he adds weight to front of the rig.  “I put weight on the front because it helps to push weeds out of the way of the lure, and makes more of a presence in the mat.”  He targets the densest parts of the cover by casting past the target, and retrieves it across the mat at multiple angles.

Lane-Weed3If he can’t get the fish to respond to the surface lure, he’ll go in after them.  He rigs the Chigger Craw on a 3/4 to one and a half ounce Tru-Tungsten Flipping Weight and a 4/0 to 5/0 straight shank Mustad hook.  He increases his line to 65-pound-test Spiderwire Ultracast and uses the 7’6” heavy action Verdict flipping stick.

He still uses the 7.1:1 Revo STX, but switches to a left hand version for flipping.  “I don’t have to change hands so much, and it helps me to not over power the hookset,” he said.  “I want my hookset to be more of a tight line sharp pull, not a slack line snap set, that’s what loses fish and breaks equipment.”

For flipping, Lane said he prefers to use a quick, in and out approach as opposed to the pitch it in and shake it technique.  “I’m looking for the kind of bites that react when the lure goes past them,” he said.  “The bigger fish do that, and if I can get five to six of those bites a day, that’s what I’m after, I don’t want to have to wait them out.”

Colors
Like most pros, Lane lets water clarity dictate his color selection for both baits.  He chooses black and blue flake or black and red flake if the water is dirty, then goes to Green Pumpkin or Watermelon Candy if the water is clear.  His one exception for the Chigger Toad is that he’ll choose Ghost Pepper if the bass are fully engaged in eating shad.

“I’m really looking for bass that are going to eat bream first,” he said.  “I try to use colors that give off the flash of purples or blues because I want them to think of a bluegill and react.”

Final Tips
Lane said his best advice is to have confidence in the decision to target grass.  “It may take all day for them to turn on, but they will,” he said.  “It could be the last hour of the day, but all of a sudden you’ve got a big sack in your livewell.”

He said he often finds it comforting to spend 15 minutes to a half an hour in the morning getting a small limit during times of the year that 12 to 15 pounds equals a successful day.  “If I’ve got an eight to ten pound limit in the boat, then I’m one or two big bites away from a solid day, and three or four from having a great day,” he said.  “I’ll sometimes try and pick up a quick limit with a Rat-L-Trap before going to the grassbeds; but, once I do, I’m totally committed; I’m there for the day.”

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