The Finer Points of Punching Mats

Fishing Techniques
Punching mats

Two bass fishing tactics are commonly used to pull big bass from massive grass mats, throwing a hollow body frog for those fish willing to smash through the “roof” and punching through the grass for those holding below. If bass aren’t hitting the top, the choice is already made. So put up your dukes and start punchin’.

Endless grass mats make it seem like B.A.S.S. Elite pro Terry Scroggins is searching for a needle in a haystack. Scroggins’ big weight hits the dense mat with each pitch, punches a hole, and pulls his Big Show Craw down beneath the grass. Then, he lifts the bait a time or two to see if anyone is home, pulls the bait back out of the same hole, and then pitches to another spot. The approach appears random, but Scroggins is highly intentional about his lure choice, the spots where he flips it, and each presentation.

A Florida-groomed pro with five B.A.S.S. wins and more than $1.5 million in career earnings, Terry “Big Show” Scroggins understands the idiosyncrasies of matted grass. He knows that bass live under those mats and that the best way to get them out often is to flip a heavily weighted bait so that it punches through the cover.

Tennessee River guide and Bassmaster pro Jimmy Mason also relies heavily on grass-punching strategies. Mason guides primarily on lakes Pickwick and Guntersville, supporting extensive matted vegetation.

Punching is a prime technique anywhere vegetation stays matted on top and usually is most effective on sunny days when bass seek the shade of a roof overhead. However, during the cool season, Mason thinks punching first on post-front, bluebird-sky days because the sun heats the mat, and the water beneath the vegetation tends to be just a bit warmer.

Grass mats are often thick on top but more open under the roof, influencing lure selection. For the easiest descent through the mats, lures should be slender without big appendages that can grab the grass and stop its descent.

Likely forage under a mat is critical for Scoggins when deciding which bait to punch. In Florida, crawfish abound beneath many mats, so his bait of choice often is his namesake Big Show Craw. Where bluegills are the primary forage, he’s more likely to use a YUM Tube or Big Bite Baits 3.5" tube. A compact creature-type soft plastic like the Wooly Bug is a blend of the two styles, and he often tries it first when unsure of the preferred forage.

The size of the bass present also influences lure choice. When Mason is targeting heavyweight bass, he prefers the Big Bite Baits Tube.

“I don’t know exactly what it is about that Big Bite Baits Tube,” he said, “but it attracts big fish.”

Punching mats

Both professional anglers select dark colors for punching. The grass roof cuts light penetration so bass can’t see baits well, and dark-colored baits provide a better silhouette. His two go-to colors are green pumpkin and black and blue.

Other requirements for punching bass in the face include a heavy sinker (1 ½-ounce, often pegged), strong straight-shank or offset worm hooks, heavy action flippin’ rods, and 60- to 80-pound braided line.

Finding bass in grass mats is much like locating them in another cover. Look for something different.

“Look at the grass mat just like you‘d look at a shoreline,” Scroggins said. “Look for the little points and pockets, greener spots, mixes of grass types, and other cover poking through. Anything different can hold fish.”

Not all distinctions are visible from above the surface, but topo maps, GPS mapping, and graphs reveal bottom breaklines, ditches, points, and other features that may hold fish. Mason typically approaches grass mats methodically, beginning along outside edges and moving to scattered mats and eventually into the thickest stuff. He watches and listens continually for movement beneath the mats that suggest feeding fish and pays careful attention to every detail whenever a fish strikes.

Because mats commonly cover extensive areas, it’s critical to refine the pattern as the day progresses. Move quickly and make a lot of punches at various locations until a fish hits, then slow down. Bass commonly congregate under mats, so an area that yields one bass often holds more. When one strikes, make your next pitch to that exact spot. 

Mason says that many of his clients unfamiliar with punching mats miss fish all day long the first time. In addition, detecting strikes can be challenging.

“First, make sure your bait goes through the mat,” he said. “When it does, let it fall to the bottom. Pay attention because aggressive fish might grab it before it gets to the bottom.”

Once the bait finds the bottom, both anglers advise experimenting to determine where the fish are holding in the water column. Mason hops the lure a time or two, then lifts it almost to the surface and smacks it against the top of the mat a few times before dropping it again.

“They might be on the bottom,” he said, “but they also might be barely under that mat. When that’s the case, smacking the mat with the bait triggers strikes.”