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Flipping Over the Potomac

by Mark Letosky

Flipping Over the Potomac


By Mark Letosky


Over the last several seasons, many of the Potomac River's best tournament anglers have been coming to the scales with large sacks of fish on a consistent basis when everyone else is struggling. When asked how they caught them they comment "I caught them flipping the grass". It did not take long to realize this was a technique and that I needed to learn quickly. Therefore, I dedicated my last season to learning how to flip the matted grass to become more productive and lucrative come weigh in time. Admittedly, this article is an overview and not meant to be a comprehensive guide for the advanced angler. It will arm the novice angler with enough information to refine the technique with a little practice time on the water.


Seasonal Search


The flipping season starts coming on strong on the River when the hotter weather starts settling in over the region. I have found that Mid June to the end of October is the prime time for this technique on the river. This is when the grass starts to top out on the surface and the large grass beds begin to develop aggressively. Bass are in the grass for two primary reasons. They are searching for a good roof over their heads to cool down and a place to ambush prey for an easy meal.


The Potomac has miles of grass and making a decision on where to start the search can be a complex problem. Therefore, in narrowing down my search, I'm looking for a grass bed not only being thick but also having some character. By character I mean, a grass bed with multiple kinds of aquatic vegetation, deeper water directly adjacent to its edge and a section which may have several visible points within a 100 yard stretch. Once I have found these variables, I start reading that section of the grass bed and looking for the absolute thickest section as my starting point. The fish will usually key on specific areas within the grass. This is heavily influenced by the Potomac tide cycle and water flow. Fishing floating mats or thick topped out aquatic vegetation is extremely tough fishing, tough to break through, so you really have to gear up for it when that opportunity bite occurs.


Having the Right Equipment


In fishing the thick Potomac grass, having the proper equipment is a must. I prefer a long, powerful rod with plenty of backbone. While I am not advocating any one rod brand, the 7 foot 6 inch heavy action, Shimano Crucial is a good investment. I have also found that moving up to an 8 foot rod helped me with hookups and also helped with the fatigue factor when you commit to an 8-9 hour day of grass flipping. I would recommend your rod choice be paired with a quality high speed reel in a 7:1 ratio as this allows you to catch up to the fish much easier after the hook set. The new Abu Revo series reel does the job very nicely. There is only one line choice to spool on your reel and that is braid. A minimum of 65 pound test, while moving up to 80 pound test is recommended. Braid has several properties that make it great for grass fishing. First, it has zero stretch and you will to feel the bites better. Second, it has a smaller diameter, so it actually cuts through the grass on the hook set and while fighting the fish. Finally, the stuff is just plain strong. If the fish does bury in the grass, you might be bringing up a 5 pound fish and 10 pounds of weed and you don't need to worry about breaking it off.


Terminal tackle is fairly straight forward, having a range of tungsten weights from 1 -1 ounces and on the business end of the line a 4.0 super hook is highly recommended. Punching mats takes a toll on the bait and exploring with hook brands is recommended as some hold the bait better than others. Trying to gain some level of efficiency and rhythm without having to fuss with the bait on every cast has helped me maintain focus.


An often over looked piece of equipment in this battle is the trolling motor and batteries. They bear the majority of the abuse fishing the heavy grass and a 36 volt system with a good overnight charge on your batteries is an absolute must.


The Technique


In my quest to learn and master the grass flipping technique, I observe that the majority of anglers fish the safe zone on either the outside or inside edges of the grass line. Done get me wrong, at times, fish position themselves there but if you want to consistently catch bigger fish, mixing it up in the middle of the thick stuff will reward the dedicated angler. Since matted aquatic vegetation limits the amount of sunlight penetration and acts as a natural filtration system; I tend to use more natural colors. I believe Green Pumpkin and Watermelon Candy offer a good contrast in the dark, clear water environment. If the water has a stain to it, I'll switch to darker colored bait like Black/Blue or Junebug. Soft plastic crawfish imitations such as, the Berkley Chigger Craw, Zoom Super Speed Craw and Kicker Fish Kicker Kraw are common go to baits. In any water clarity, I like pegging the weight with just a little play and insert a glass bead between the hook and weight to give off a subtle clicking noise.


Now comes the hard part - reaching the bass. I prefer making short pitches to maintain a vertical presentation and keeping in constant contact with the bait on a controlled fall through the grass. Engaging your reel as soon as the bait hits the water with your thumb on the spool will help with controlling the fall of the bait. This is certainly not a finesse technique when pitching a 1 oz. weight. I'm looking for a quick reaction bite from aggressive fish. You really don't need to worry about making a silent entry, at times when the tide is lower and the grass is really matted, letting the bait crash though will assist in penetrating the vegetation. By tossing the bait straight up into the air 10 or 15 feet and give it slack line on its way down will help the bait punch through the mat when it hits. Sometimes the bait will sit on top or stop part way through the mat. In that situation, shake the rod tip to help vibrate the line and weight, which will usually allow the bait to fall through the mat.


The grass may look solid on top of the water, but it has plenty of openings and travel lanes in which bass move around and ambush prey. After a little practice you will develop a feel when the bait is falling, the underside of the grass mat and the thud of the weight hitting the bottom. If you feel a thump, see the line jump or feel something heavy or out of the ordinary, set the hook. I found that in most cases, soaking the bait is not helpful. Popping the bait one or two times off the bottom and if you have no takers, reel up and start a new pitch remembering to keep a watchful eye open for the thickest grass available as your next target.


Conclusion


Knowing that it is not a numbers technique, it really requires you to work hard for your fish with the goal of getting 5-10 good bites during an 8-9 hour day of grass flipping. Flipping a heavy weight of up to an 1 ounce, constantly clearing grass from your trolling motor takes a toll mentally and physically and certainly provides a unique challenge for the dedicated angler to stay focused throughout the day. Fishing the Potomac grass effectively takes some time to learn how to "read" the grass and a great deal of patience and commitment, but I have found that it can be most rewarding and somewhat addicting looking for that next big bite.


Special thanks to my long time fishing friend, Roy Cooley-Sassano for his editorial contributions.


Mark Letosky


mletosky@msn.com


Published on Bass Fishing Home Page with permission

Gerry is the creator and editor of the Bass Fishing Home Page. He frequently fishs the Virginia's Occoquan Resevoir and Potomac River.


     

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