Brush holds bass. It’s a simple fact. The baitfish and other forage that bass feed on seek shelter in brush, and the bass know this. Though the cover may prove an effective refuge from stripe and other large predators, the agile and smaller bass can come right in and pluck off the prey, like berries off branches.
Dragging shakyheads, jigs and other baits through brush like this draws strikes from bass who have setup shop in the cover, waiting to ambush anything that comes along. You can also catch lots of fish cranking brush, letting the bait collide with the cover as it dredges its way a long the bottom.
But there’s another way to fish brush as well, and that’s by fishing baits over or around the cover. In this way, you can draw fish out of the cover to the bait, and this sometimes helps your landing ratio, as the bass have less of a chance to bury up in the cover and free themselves.
Let’s look at three baits to use over and around brush.
A jerkbait is likely the number one bait for catching fish over and/or around brush. The nature of fishing a jerkbait lends itself perfectly to this technique. Because the cadence of a jerkbait has built in pauses, it gives the fish time to see or feel the bait, move out of the cover and towards it, and then ultimately chase it down.
Jerkbaits have been a great bait for drawing fish out of brush for decades now, but they’ve become even more relied upon for this style of fishing since the invent of forward facing sonar. Pairing a jerkbait with this technology allows an angler to precisely cast his bait very close to the cover, without making contact, something that is critical for drawing the fish out and getting it to commit, and is hard to do with the naked eye.
If you throw your jerkbait too close to the brush, you’ll likely hang it. If you throw it too far from the brush, the bass will either not be clued into its presence at all, or the fish will have to swim out of the brush an uncomfortable distance and then shy away from the bait at the last moment. The perfect cast is critical, but it’s also something that becomes easier to accomplish with time.
A topwater is another great bait for fishing around and over brush. For brush that is partly exposed above the water, a walking topwater, popper or hollow body frog is a great selection. But even for brush that is submerged several feet below the surface, the drawing power of a topwater has an uncanny ability to create strikes.
Bass will swim a dozen or more feet straight up to eat a topwater, especially on clearer highland reservoirs with a healthy population of shad or herring. Often times in these situations, there will only be two ways to get bit around deep brush, and that’s by pitching a dropshot to the cover and allowing it to get deep into the brush, or by throwing a topwater overhead.
You’ll typically need a bait that has a fairly large profile and is capable of moving enough water to draw a fish’s attention. Surprisingly, large reeling-prop baits like Whopper Ploppers aren’t the ticket here. You want something more along the lines of a Spook or pencil popper. The slow cadence of these baits do a better job of luring fish to the surface while giving them ample time to catchup to the bait as well.
This section encompasses a fairly wide range of baits, anything from a small paddle tail swimbait rigged on a light jighead all the way up to a large glidebait. In either case, these baits have exposed hooks that you don't want to allow to get down into the brush, but like topwaters and jerkbaits, they have the ability to pickoff bass that are hanging in or around the brush.
The latter needs to be the case for the smaller swimbaits. If a bass is actually hunkered down deep in the cover, a 3-inch bait on a 1/4- ounce jighead is rarely enough to pull the fish away from the cover. But if you see bass hovering above or around the cover, this is a fantastic bait to throw to pick those fish off.
For bass that are deeper in cover or hanging in and around shallow brush in particular, glidebaits can be really effective at drawing those fish out. These bigger baits are also great to throw first if you’re fishing around brush that has several fish in it, since they’ll often call up the biggest in the bunch. You’ll still catch some small fish on a glidebait, but you have a much better chance catching the bigger bass before busting up the school if you start with a bigger bait.
These aren’t the only baits you can use to catch fish around brush, and they’re not even necessarily better or more effective than the baits you would use to get down into the brush. It’s more about having a well-rounded arsenal for targeting bass relating to brush in any manner. It’s becoming increasingly important to be versatile with the ever-expanding popularity of bass fishing and the ever-increasing capabilities of our electronics. Hopefully these three techniques will help you be just that, more versatile.