Bass like to position themselves close to objects in the water. We refer to these objects collectively as cover, because these objects provide cover for bass to ambush prey. These objects, like grass clumps, stumps and dock posts also offer bass a defendable position (or cover), protecting them from any larger prey.
But there are a lot of objects in the water: rocks, brush piles, tires, pipes, bridge pilings and the list goes on, often in close proximity to one another. So, how do we prioritize all this cover? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Why we prioritize cover
Bass fishing, and fishing in general, is all about maximizing your chances of catching a fish. We throw specific baits in specific places at specific times, all to give us the best chance possible to catch a fish. For instance, what makes more sense throwing a shakyhead in a foot of water during the summer at daylight, or throwing a buzzbait given the same set of circumstances?
We go with the buzzbait, not because the shaky head won’t catch fish, but because the circumstances line up better to cover more water and get more bites with the buzzbait. We want to prioritize cover for the same reason, it gives us more chances to get bit.
A real world example
Look at this photo. It was taken of me by B.A.S.S. photographer James Overstreet during the 2013 Bassmaster Wild Card event on Lake Okeechobee. And there’s a lot of cover in it.
At first glance, you can easily see a lily pad field with a wall of reeds along the edge. But if you look closer, there’s hydrilla under the water, points in the reeds and clumps of hyacinth matted up in the reeds as well. I found this area in practice and had to dissect it carefully to try to figure out if there were any fish in the area and if so, where.
I started out in the lily pads and submerged hydrilla, throwing baits like a swimbait, ChatterBait, swimjig and toad. Then moved to the reed line and flipped around, eventually punching into the hyacinth mats that were clumped up in the reed points. And that’s where I found fish. And in all honesty, that’s where I expected to find them. But had I blown through the pad field right away, I might have missed fish that were cruising around in the sparser cover.
How to prioritize cover
If you’re in an area with lots of cover, it’s best to approach it from the outside in, especially if you’re still trying to eliminate water and develop a pattern. There are several reasons this is the case. For starters, if you don’t give the outside cover that’s nearest to you a chance first, then you’re going to get on top of it or drag fish across it, disturbing the area and lowering your chances of catching any fish out of it.
But if you work your way in, even if the cover furthest from you looks the juiciest, you’re likely to pick up some fish along the way and may actually find that the bass are in the sparser cover or relating to it more loosely than you anticipated. Remember, there’s often submerged cover as well that you won’t be able to see with the naked eye that will be holding fish.
As you do this, you’ll determine whether or not you’re getting bites in the outer cover or inner cover, and if you’re not getting bit in the outskirts, it’s okay to start zeroing in on the areas that are producing. The previous example of Okeechobee is a good illustration of this, as that photo was taken during the tournament and I had already ruled out the pad field and hydrilla behind me in practice. So, when the tournament day came, I went straight to the edge of the reeds where the fish were.
You can take this same mentality and apply it to all sorts of cover. Take dock fishing for example. To begin with, it’s best to flip the outer poles, and then skip further back up under the dock or flip the shallower poles. If you start to get bit on the shallower poles, start to focus on those. But if you go straight to them, you’re eliminating the other cover and disturbing it without ever giving it a try.
Look at a rock point the same way. Start off by dragging a bottom bait like a shakyhead or Ned rig across the tip of the point in the deeper water, then move to a jerkbait or a crankbait as you get closer to the point, and finally try a spinnerbait across the shallowest part. If you catch more on the Ned rig than anything else, then you know to stay out off the points and fish deeper. Where you would not have figured this out going straight to the bank with a crankbait or spinnerbait.
The same can even be applied to a single laydown. If you pitch straight to the trunk of the tree and catch one, you’re going to drag it right through the limbs and run anything off that might be taking cover there. And you’re more likely to get hung or lose a fish the further up into a laydown that you fish. But best case scenario, if you start in the end of the tree top and catch one, you can work your way towards the trunk after that and catch another.
The big idea is that you want to process the water you’re fishing as efficiently and effectively as possible. This is important from a big boat but likely even more important from a kayak or the bank, since you have a more limited area or range to fish and need to make the most out of your area.
So, start off fishing everything, and prioritizing cover as you do. But don’t be afraid to shift as a pattern develops and start keying in on exactly where the fish are after that, whether that’s the cover along the edge or way back in. At the end of the day, you’ll catch more fish and be a better angler if you learn to prioritize cover as you fish.
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