When you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with another angler, flipping the samebaits to the same cover, in what seems to be the same way, yet that guy consistently catches four fish to your one—it’s no coincidence. You’re just not bringing the same game.
That was me on a recent trip with Texas bass pro Matt Reed. We were lipping jigs and 10-inch worms to sparse hydrilla on Sam Rayburn Reservoir, and he was effortlessly making me look bad.
A lot of anglers—me included—have a hard time wrapping their brains around moments like this, because taken as the sum of its parts, flippin’ doesn’t look like much. The differences between the technique of a top bass pro and that of even a talented weekend warrior are hardly noticeable.
But they’re there. And I’m not talking about the ability to place baits accurately without a fish-spooking splashdown. That’s a given.
Rather, I’m referring to the host of hardly perceptible details that let truly excellent sticks home in on the best spots to place lures, dial in fish depth within cover, and incorporate actions that trigger more strikes.
Reed is an excellent example. His entire flippin’ program—from location to baits to tackle to lure action nuances—is an expression of a detailoriented mindset. Borrow a few of his tricks to catch more bass with this workhorse presentation.
Most of what’s preached about flippin’ centers on lure placement, with little emphasis on the actual mechanics of placing those baits, letting them fall and setting hooks. Reed makes these fundamentals the core of his presentations.
“I flip a lot differently from most guys,” he says. Rather than pitch the bait and point the rodtip up as the lure falls—a motion that pulls line from the spool and creates slack between the rodtip and falling lure—Reed lets gravity do all the work.
The result is more detected strikes, more hooksets and ultimately more fish that make it into the boat.
“I pitch in there and leave the reel in freespool while holding the rod in place at about the 3 o’clock position,” he says. “I let just the weight of the lure pull line off the spool and through the mat.”
This subtle difference brings two big benefits to the table.
First, it’s much easier to accurately monitor the lure’s rate of fall. More on that in a minute.
Second, you eliminate even momentary slack and keep your rod in position to make a good hookset, neither of which would be the case if you lifted the tip to make the lure fall faster through the cover.
“Flippin’ my way, if a fish hits on the way down, all I have to do is engage the reel and lean on him,” he says.
On the other hand, if you allow slack line on the fall and manage to detect a bite, you need to stop the lure and tighten up a bit to check it before attempting to set the hook. Therein lies the problem, says Reed.
“If you put even a little pressure on the line while the fish has the bait in its mouth, I think the bass is real apt to spit it, especially when you’re using a heavy weight or jig.”
Dial In Depth
As for monitoring the lure’s rate of fall, Reed uses a neat trick to consistently let him do this better than the competition. When fishing his typical 50- or 60- pound green braid, he colors the section of line above the lure—just enough to match the depth of the water he’s fishing— using a black magic marker.
The simple alteration makes the line itself part depthfinder, part strike indicator.
“If the colored section of line stops sinking before you know it should, or if it keeps going when you know it should stop, set the hook,” Reed says.
More than that, the colored line lets him pinpoint where in the water column he’s getting bites. Reed explains that bass in matted grass are either right under the surface, tight to bottom or suspended at a specific level in between. Usually, on a given day, all fish—at least all the active ones that arewilling to bite—will be at the same level, not scattered throughout the water column.
If you catch a couple bass four feet off bottom, chances are that’s whereyou’ll catch all your fish that day. The colored line lets you preciselyplace your lures in this zone.
But that’s not all. Reed explains that bass holding at a particular level usually respond best to a specific strike trigger.
When dealing with fish under the ceiling, Reed punches his bait through the mat, then immediately stops it. He holds it in place for an instant, then lets it continue to fall. This works for all styles of flippin’ lures, but its effect is most pronounced with skirted jigs.
“It makes that skirt flare when the jig hits the end of the slack line, and that triggers a reaction strike,” he says. “Most bites occur the instant you let the lure start falling again.”
If that doesn’t work, he sometimes lets the bait fall all the way to bottom after splashdown, then slowly lifts it up to just below the canopy.
When bass are suspended at middepths below matted vegetation, he switches gears slightly, stopping the lure at the level where he believes bass are holding, then shakes it in place to elicit strikes. His go-to lure for this presentation is a 10-inch Yum Ribbontail Worm with a rattle stuffed inside the body.
“It’s not a vicious shake, but I move it pretty good,” he says.
Finally, when fish are belly-to-bottom, Reed lets the lure fall all the way down on the initial drop, bounces it two or three times, then quickly picks it up and flips back to a different spot in the cover. The fast, minimalist approach stems from his desire to simply cover water and put the bait in as many places as he can until finding a concentration of fish.
The need for a rapid fall in this situation plays into his trailer selection process as well.
“In instances like that, I don’t like using a big trailer—it shouldn’t extend much past the jig skirt,” he says, explaining that even heavy jigs can slow down or stop in the surface mat if tipped with a large trailer that tangles in the vegetation.
Regardless of how deep bass are holding, Reed says finding the ideal rate of fall is critical to triggering strikes.
“That’s a huge key. Some days you need to use as light a bait as you can, but a lot of days you need to go heavy to get bit. You have to realize that you can’t do anything that will make a lure move too fast for a fish to catch it,” he says.
To that end, he usually starts fishing with a 1/2-ounce weight or jig, and bumps up to as heavy as 1.5 ounces until he gets bit. Again, the colored section of line helps him monitor how fast his presentations are falling, and tweak them accordingly.
More Fish From Less Cover
Like many presentations, catching numbers of fish in a short timeframe requires capitalizing on opportunities. In the case of flippin’, Reed believes that hooking and landing fish quickly, and then immediately getting baits back into the strike zone is vital.
“When you get that first bite, you need to throw right back in there,” he says. “If you take your time, you might just catch one; if you hurry, you might get four or five.”
That’s because all the fish in a vast expanse of matted grass often group up in a tiny area within the cover.
“They might all be in an area the size of your front boat deck,” he says.
Reed adds that the bite itself can alert an observant angler to the number of other bass present in the immediate area.
“If they hit hard and run, there’s probably multiple fish in that little area,” he “If they just suck it in and sit there, there’s likely just one.”
He emphasizes that if a strike indicates other nearby bass, it only intensifies the need to fight the first fish quickly and throw right back into the spot to keep the remaining bass fired up. The other side of the coin—if you flip back in and lose a fish, you’ll slow the bite down considerably.
Aside from his actual flippin’ technique, Reed plays close attention to his tackle, giving a critical eye—and ear—to factors other anglers miss.
For example, although his choice of 50- to 60-pound braid isn’t unusual, how the braid sounds often means more to him than its strength and no-stretch properties.
“You know the sound you hear while reeling in most braids—the humming you get as the line slides through the rod guides?” he asks. “Well, fish hear the same thing underwater as line grinds against vegetation and other cover.”
To minimize this, he fishes the smoothest braid he can find, namely Offshore Angler Magibraid. He insists that a slick line’s reduced noise results in more bites from pressured fish.
Reed’s rod choice also plays a significant role in his ability to put fish into the boat. Although flippin’ definitely calls for a rod with the backbone to drive hooks deep into the jaws of big fish buried in thick cover, he says most anglers take that concept too far. Instead, of the typical heavy-power stick, Reed opts for the softer action of a medium-heavy.
“If you hit a fish with a heavy-power rod when using thick braid, you’re going to rip a huge gash in his head, and you’ll lose the fish the second you get even a little slack in the line,” he says. “I want something with some give to it.”
Details Pay Off
Flashy new lure styles and off-the-wall presentations might make news and serve up bait-shop conversation fodder, but day after day, season after season, adjusting the minutiae of your technique is what will put more bass in your livewell.
Flipping, as deceptively simple as it might appear, is no exception.
The problem with matted vegetation is that it’s visible from a considerabledistance, which means it attracts loads of angling pressure and a hail of baits that educates bass in a hurry.
To cope, Reed targets hydrilla that’s matted, but well under the surface. It has all the characteristics and attraction to bass as normal hydrilla mats, but it stays under the radar of most anglers.
“It will canopy just like a surface mat, but it’s just under the surface, which means it doesn’t get fished by everyone that drives past it,” he says.
When flippin’ such grassbeds, Reed picks apart the usual points and cuts, but he takes a left turn from the mainstream bass crowd that preaches the importance of putting lures into holes and sparse areas.
“They are so wrong,” he says.
“I flip to the thickest parts of the grass.”—RG