Punching Big Bass In The MouthPunching Big Bass In The Mouth Punching baits through heavy cover where big bass has always been a challenge...until now.
By By Mike Gnatkowski gnatoutdoors.com
Punching, flipping and pitching have been around for a long time and are well known techniques for bass, but developments in weights, lines and rods the past few years have refined the technique and made it an even more deadly method for trophy bass.
Many will claim that punching was developed on the deltas and estuaries of California, but Florida is the undisputed capital of punching for bass.
“I’ve done more punching in the last two years than I’ve done in my entire life!” joked bass fanatic Joe Balog. “A move to Florida in 2015 precipitated that. Florida is without question the capital of punching. Part of the reason for that is grass grows year round down here and you have a lot of matted, thick vegetation where you can flip and pitch everyday and never cover it all.”
Balog said there’s grass everywhere you fish in Florida, but it falls into three categories that you need to make note of. “The first category is matted vegetation, those really thick carpets of hydrilla or Florida elodea that are attached to the bottom. The second type of vegetation is floating vegetation like hyacinth, pennywort and water lettuce. A third type of cover is what I call mud mats. A lot of people in the south call them tussocks or hummocks. These are floating islands that have broken away from the mainland and are free-floating sanctuaries for giant bass. A lot of times they’re only the size of a truck, but they’ll have grass, cattails even trees on them and they are a magnet for big bass.”
Targeting these types of seemingly impenetrable bass havens has gotten easier with the advent of tungsten weights, braided lines and new longer rods specifically designed for punching. These dense jungles attract and hold bass because they’re avoided by many anglers because of the difficultly of fishing them, but that is changing. Bass retreat to these sanctuaries when there’s excessive fishing pressure because no one bothers them there and there’s plenty of food to be had.
The advantages of punching are two fold. Punching allows you to put baits where bass aren’t use to seeing lures and fast-sinking baits stimulate reflex bites. Bass that are hiding under these dense mats of cover are not stalking; they’re not defending themselves. Punching triggers a reaction from a bass. When the lure plunges through the cover a bass immediately inhales it to see what it is. Realizing that it’s hard and not something to eat, the bass instinctively spits it out. Typically the angler has but a second or two to set the hook.
Punching requires a heavy 1- to 2-ounce weight that is rigged Texas-style, a strong, sturdy hook and compact bait that can penetrate the thick cover. “You need enough weight to get though the cover, but not too heavy that you can’t maneuver and manipulate the bait,” offered Balog. “You’re not going to penetrate the cover every time you cast. It’s just the nature of the beast, but you need to use enough weight that 70% of your cast are going to bust through the cover or you’re spinning your wheels.” Balog said he uses a 1-ounce weight almost exclusively when fishing hydrilla and similar cover. He stressed the need to match the weight to the vegetation. Balog said he finds himself using a 1-ounce weight probably 70% of the time, a 1-1/2-ounce weight 25% of the time and a heavy 2-ounce weight 5% of the time when punching. “It’s important that you match your weight to the vegetation.”
Even the way of rigging your weight for punching has changed in recent years. Time was you would use a toothpick to peg a weight when using monofilament, but toothpicks won’t work with braided line. “We’re using a bullet-shaped tungsten weight and pegging it with a bobber stop and rubber toothpick. Sometimes you have to use two toothpicks depending on the size of the weight. If your local tackle store doesn’t have rubber tooth pick you can find them at tacklewharehouse.com” said Balog.
Today’s new wave of non-stretch braided lines is a godsend to anglers who like to punch. Braid is strong, thin and ideal for punching. “I use Suffix 832 braid in either 50- or 65-pound 100% of the time when I’m punching,” said Balog. “When you’re using braid and a heavy power 7-1/2- to 9-foot rod you need a stout, strong heavy-duty hook, like a straight shank VMC flippin’ hook. When using this kind of tackle it’s pretty easy to bend or flex a lesser hook.”
Baits for punching need to by compact to penetrate heavy cover. “Most of the time I find myself using a crayfish or beaver-style bait when punching,” shared Balog. “Bass like certain profiles depending on the body of water. It might not be important on a particular body, but make all the difference in the world on another. It pays to experiment with the profile action. It might be a subtle change between flappy versus subtle that means getting four bites versus none. In general, I find a 4-inch bait to be pretty standard when I’m punching.”
“There was a time when guys would use long cane poles to punch when fishing heavy vegetation,” said Balog. “Of course, no one does that now. Up until recently an 8-foot rod was pretty normal and accepted for punching, but the trend now is to use even longer rods. I’ve been field-testing a new 8-foot 11-inch St Croix Rod that is incredible. It has just the right taper and bend for punching. It’s strong, yet give you the leverage and control you need. I can definitely see how it’s helping me catch more fish.”
“The length helps me cover more water, lift the bait and reach more spots that I couldn’t target with a shorter rod. When punching, you want to just pull instead of planting your feet and setting the hook and you want to set the hook the instant you feel the bite before the bass drops it. You can do that and more with this rod.” Balog used the new rod to recently catch his personal best Florida largemouth, a 11-1/2-pound giant.
Look for St. Croix’s new punching rod to be unveiled at the 2017 ICAST show.
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