Breaking Down Vegetation with Brandon Palaniuk
When it comes to bass fishing, especially for largemouth bass, fishing around aquatic vegetation is always a good place to start. Bass love grass, and fishing in, around, and through vegetation is a surefire way to up your odds at catching fish.
The problem with some fisheries during the warmer months is that vegetation can be everywhere. Locating bass populations within vast expanses of grasses is the aquatic version of finding a needle in a haystack.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brandon Palaniuk has learned over the years that the water will give him subtle clues and point him right to the high-percentage areas. His approach to breaking down aquatic vegetation includes fishing the most likely areas first and he adjusts what he is looking for based on the type of grass and season.
Large sections of matted vegetation are commonplace during the summer months and give a bass angler plenty of cover to target. Some of the best ways to do this are techniques like punching or a frog on the surface. When faced with a large area to cover, Palaniuk looks for slight differences.
“If you see tons of matted vegetation, it can be overwhelming when deciding where to start,” says the Idaho pro. “The first thing I will look for is a mixture of different types of grass. A mat is a canopy for bass and gives them shelter and a mix of two types of vegetation will often create this as different grass species grow and die at different rates.”
His thinking is that vegetation that is arrives later in the spring will also produce oxygen levels later into the summer months.
“I always want to seek out the cleanest and greenest grass I can find,” he says. “The vibrant-looking grass is healthier and produces more oxygen which is crucial in the summer months. It also helps to keep fish cool, which is part of what makes mats so great. They provide a little more warmth for bass early and late in the year and help them cool down in the summer; no other type of cover can do that.”
For the most part, Palaniuk prefers to fish matted vegetation by punching through it with a big tungsten weight, creature bait, and stout hook. For this fishing method, a braided line is a must.
“I like 65-pound Stealth Gray Seaguar Smackdown for punching,” he said. “This is close-quarters fishing and the smoothness of Smackdown braid is crucial. You want to be as quiet as possible and don’t want any sound from your braid going through the guides.”
Another option for fishing matted vegetation is with a frog and Palaniuk looks for thinner mats that allow the bass to crash through during the attack on your bait.
“I look for those thin ‘cheese mats’ that we all love for frog fishing,” he says and adds that he drops down to 50-pound Seaguar Smackdown braided line. “The smaller pound test allows me to get a much better casting distance and helps when fishing pressured areas. Smackdown is excellent for casting distance and accuracy because it is so thin and smooth. If you can cast the frog farther than other anglers, you can reach those unpressured fish way in the back of the mats.”
Reeds, Cattails, and Pads
Matted vegetation isn’t the only vegetation that acts as a bass magnet — lily pads, reeds, and cattails are all part of Palaniuk’s plan for summer bass.
“With standing vegetation like reeds and cattails, I am also looking for little differences,” he says. “Stretches of them often go on for miles, so I focus on the places where they create little debris mats. There could be some grass that blew into them, or it could be where a few of them have folded over.”
He again prefers to punch through these matted areas but will opt for simply pitching and flipping other areas, noting sections with tighter clumps of reeds or cattails.
“Another big key is to pay attention to contour lines on your map to find the best areas,” he says. “Even though this is shallow water power fishing, a lot of times fish want quick access to deeper water. I watch for places where there are flatter sections with reeds but still keep bass close to deep water.”
Lily pads are another primetime location and Palaniuk generally sticks with flipping and pitching with 50-pound Seaguar Smackdown braided line and a creature bait.
“Lily pads are another type of vegetation that grow in big areas,” he says. “They grow in clumps, and I look for places where they are tight together. One of the biggest keys when flipping and pitching them is to pay attention to where you flip, so the line doesn’t get in the cracks between the pad stems. Braided line will slice right through the pads, but those stems and stalks will get you hung up every time.”
While anglers can easily see many types of bass holding vegetation above the surface, there are just as many forms that grow from the bottom and do not always reach the surface.
For common grasses like hydrilla and milfoil, Palaniuk looks for differences in the vast fields of vegetation.
“Contour lines are again very important so you can find places where the bottom tightens up from deep to shallow water or where it makes a point in the grass,” he says. “A harder edge on the grass will also help congregate fish better than in sparse grass. If you can find subtle points or ditches in the grass, those are going to be other high-percentage areas.”
Palaniuk generally likes to cover water with a vibrating jig and opts for fluorocarbon lines for fishing these grass lines. “I use 15-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon most of the time,” he says. “If I am fishing shallower grass where it is thick, I’ll go up to 17 or 20-pound test.”
Another way Palaniuk fishes weedlines is by pitching a jig, anywhere from a ½ ounce to a full ounce, as he replicates his punching approach, just in deeper water.
“I use braid to fluorocarbon a lot when I am fishing deep milfoil later in the year and pitching that jig and letting it fall through the grass,” he says. “I’ll rig up 50-pound Seaguar Smackdown and use a leader of 20-pound Gold Label.”
Fishing around vegetation is a summertime tradition for bass anglers and can lead to some excellent days on the water. Knowing how to break down different types of vegetation and focusing on the high-percentage areas can speed up the process of finding bass in a sea of green.