Bass love cover. Cover basically refers to any object in the water, either natural or manmade, that bass and other fish can use for protection or to feed. Cover can be as small as a single stick on a shallow bank or as large as the face of a dam in 100 feet of water. And really even those two extremes don’t illustrate the term completely.
Anytime you’re targeting cover-oriented bass, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. Let’s look at some of those today.
Shady side -
By and large, bass will typically position themselves on the shady side of cover. This is likely for the simple reason that they don’t have eyelids. That’s my best guess anyway, as I wouldn’t want to sit out under the sun if I couldn’t shut my eyes… ever.
Shade is also key for regulating a bass’s body temperature in the warmer months. Bass are coldblooded. So if they sit out in the sun when the water temperatures are already in the 80s and 90s, their bodies will absorb the sunlight and they’ll get even hotter, making it hard for their biological systems to operate.
There is a time when this isn’t the best practice though. Bass will often position themselves on the sunny side of cover in the winter months, when the water is particularly cold. This, too, is done to help regulate their body temperatures— allowing the sun to warm them and keep their body temperatures as high as possible in the colder water.
When fishing around cover most of the year though, it’s best to throw to the shady side first with isolated cover, and to focus on the shade lines created by vertical cover like dams, bridges and bluff walls. Still throw to the sunny side of cover before moving on, but focusing on the shady side will be the best way to present your bait to the highest percentage area first.
Fish as close to cover as possible -
When targeting cover-oriented bass, you’ll need to go ahead and accept the fact that you’re going to get hung, sometimes. The way my dad put it to me as I was learning to fish, “If you’re not getting hung every now and then, you’re not throwing where the fish are.”
Understanding that bass often hang really tight to cover is an important step in building the boldness to cast into the tight spots. But it’s not only the orientation of the bass that makes fishing close to cover important; it also has to do with triggering a strike.
Take a crankbait for example. As a crankbait collides with cover, the otherwise consistent action of the lure is interrupted by a burst of irregular movement. This erratic action is often enough to generate a reaction strike from a bass. You can trigger reaction strikes with slow moving baits too. If you drag a jig up over a limb for example and allow it to fall on the other side, a bass positioned beneath the limb is likely to instinctually react to the falling bait.
Maximize your opportunities -
We already talked about throwing to the shady side first, in an effort effectively and efficiently fish cover. And fishing close to cover is another way to maximize your opportunities. But there’s still a little more to consider when targeting cover-oriented bass.
It seems elementary to say this, but you should do all you can to prevent hanging your lure in the cover. Duh, right? I mean, no one wants to get hung. But you have to remember the context of this conversation; that you are intentionally throwing as close to cover and as deep into cover as you possibly can.
But there needs to be a balance here. The best place for a fish to position may be right in the middle of a piece of cover, but the chances of getting hung there are high. If you throw right to the middle first and get hung, now you have to disrupt the entire area to retrieve your bait. Instead, pick the best parts of the surrounding cover apart first, as you work your way to the area where the fish is most likely to be.
This will often result in multiple fish catches, where you catch a bass in the limbs of a laydown for instance and are then able to throw over the limbs and to the trunk of the tree to catch another. If you were to throw straight to the trunk in this hypothetical, you might hang your bait up or even get a bite and lose it in the limbs of the tree. Or, if you were able to successfully maneuver the fish through the rest of the limbs, you would probably still spook the other fish, limiting yourself to only catching one fish in the tree.
Picking the right bait -
Picking the right lure is another key component when targeting cover-oriented bass. There’s no real rule of thumb here. Sometimes, soft plastics rigged weedless are the most effective and efficient lures for fishing through a laydown. Other times, a squarebill with two exposed treble hooks could be the best choice.
Generally speaking, vibrating jigs tend to hang a little more than other lures when fished through woody cover. Jigheads are liable to wedge down into the cracks between bigger rocks, resulting in snags and lost lures. Crankbaits come through wood pretty good, but most other treble-hook baits tend to hang.
Spinnerbaits should be reeled steadily through cover and only paused or pumped after they’ve cleared the cover; this keeps the exposed hook of the bait pointed upward as opposed to rolling to one side or the other and snagging, like it would if paused in the cover. And most baits can be ripped free from submerged vegetation if they begin to hang.
If you focus on these simple tips when targeting cover-oriented bass, you’ll find that there are lots of fish to catch around cover and that fishing around cover isn’t nearly as daunting as you may have once thought.
Remember to targeted the shady side first, unless the water is cold (below 55 degrees). Get your bait as close to the cover as possible, while still making sure you give yourself the best chance of turning a bite into a bass by dissecting the cover. And pay close attention to your bait selection, learning over time which baits work best around different types of cover. If you do these things, you’ll see a steady improvement in your ability to target cover-oriented bass.
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