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Bass--the basics of flipping and pitching.

Fishing tackle, equipment and even the boats we use today, have evolved over time and are constantly developing to meet the needs of anglers. Whether all these innovations actually catch more fish or not is debatable, and many's the time old school anglers will aver that the techniques of yesteryear would, if employed today, still compare, or even out-fish modern methods. With all the hype surrounding new lures and baits, one often forgets the basics. This article explores some of the fundamentals of bass fishing, and in particular flipping and pitching to structure--the be-all and end-all of a bass' world.

Perhaps the best place to start, is with the fish itself. If one reduces the bass' character to basics, and were to put it in a bowl shaped pool, totally devoid of any form of structure (including drop-offs, corners etc.), with crystal clear water and no form of shade or cover, it would die in a very short time. The bass' reliance on structure is paramount, and dominates all other behavioral characteristics. It is this single fact, that bass fishermen have learned to exploit.

It has long been accepted that a bass will gravitate toward even the most minute structure, and even a single blade of grass standing in open water is likely to hold a fish. Furthermore, such structure will be protected aggressively by the resident bass, attacking intruders (sometimes in the form of a lure) even when they are not in a feeding mood. The reason for this say the experts is that bass prefer conditions of low light, as it enhances their vision (up to ten times) and improves their ambush advantage. It is a fallacy that sunlight "hurts" a bass' eyes, and the fish's preference for shade is mostly strategic. Figure One (page 35) demonstrates how a bass would utilize marginal structure and the shadows created by such structure, and how the fisherman in turn would exploit this behavior.

In any given situation, bass will exhibit a preference for dense structure such as oxygen weed, or chicamba type weeds that are anchored to the lake bed and rise up to float on the surface forming a dense mat. Here, shade can be used by the fish to maximum advantage, and it is in this dense cover where most of the other aquatic life (including minnows) will be living and hiding. Submerged trees and rocks are then followed by drop-offs and other less significant forms of structure, which are in turn followed by oblique forms of structure such as dirty/clean water breaks and the like. So in selecting your targets, start with the dense stuff first. It is often difficult to get the bait through the surface layer, but once this is achieved, the results can be quite rewarding.

Pitching jigs or other soft baits--like the now very popular softbody frogs--is a skill all bass anglers need to master if they are to take full advantage of cover and fishing shallower water. The techniques, when mastered, offer a quick and quiet way to cover a lot of water. These techniques have their origins in a Chinese method of fishing with long poles and short lines, used to place a bait in a particular spot, usually through a hole in weed or other surface obstructions, not unlike that practiced by many bank fishermen in Africa today. This is basically a flipping technique.

Flipping is more of a short-line, close quarter method best done from a standing position as one has the extra height for a longer length of line and more control over the lure and hopefully the hook-set. In flipping, you do not "cast" the lure, but rather use a pendulum type motion and let the lure swing towards the target. With a little practice, the hand/eye coordination will come together. Hold the rod in your casting hand and press the line release or open the bail-arm depending on your reel. First, let the lure drop until it hangs about 1,5m from the tip of the rod and then with your other hand, pull off more line until your arm is fully outstretched. Let the lure swing towards your body and then use your arms and rod to swing the lure towards the target. As the bait passes the half way mark, release the extra line held by your other hand and lower the rod slightly. All this should be done as a single flowing movement.

Pitching is better suited to clear or open water situations. When pitching, with the tip of the rod pointing up, you should disengage the reel and let out enough line so the lure hangs down to about the level of the reel. Grab the lure with your free hand and hold the butt of the rod up near your shoulder with the tip pointing down. Your hand with the lure should be just about hanging down at your side. Now comes the tricky part. Release the lure and lift the rod tip at the same time so the lure accelerates through a downward swing toward your target. The lure should be just above the surface of the water when it reaches the bottom of the downward swing. When the lure is travelling parallel to the surface of the water you should let the line run off the spool. If you time your release correctly the lure will continue travelling parallel to the water. Don't allow the line to go slack, you're not trying to throw the lure forward but swing it, and don't allow the lure to hit the water during the swing, you will likely end up with a nasty overwind. With practice you'll be able to keep the bait just inches from the surface of the water, stop it exactly above the target and let it slip quietly into the water. Let line out as the bait falls through the water so it will drop straight down instead of penduluming back toward you. Reel in until the lure is about equal with the reel and pitch again. The advantage of this technique over sidearm or overhand casting is that you can learn to make the lure enter the water virtually without a splash, and your accuracy can be fantastic, not to mention that as the bait shoots along only centimeters above the water, reaching targets beneath overhanging trees and other vegetation is made possible.

Typical modern-day flipping and pitching rods would be between 2,3m-2,4m (7'6" up to 8') of a firm or stiff action, and would ideally be fitted with a baitcasting reel. The longer rods give a greater sweep when striking, and afford more control when extracting the fish from the structure.

Because this method is used primarily in dense structure (brushpiles, weedbeds and trees), where the jig is placed in the thickest of bass habitat, line must be strong. Anything less than nine kilogram mono (20 pound) line would be insufficient, with 11 to 14 kilogram (25 to 30 pound) being the norm. Although some anglers still prefer monofilament lines, most use braided lines for their superior strength (60lb-85lb). The fish is usually suspend in the submerged branches of the tree, and as the jig enters the water and sinks down to where he is lying, he will see the lure first, not the line. The fish merely opens his mouth and inhales the bait--line visibility is not a factor in this situation.

Use a 5/8 ounce jig-head dressed with living rubber--similar to that seen on spinnerbaits. Many experts believe colour is not a major factor, and some trim the rubber skirt so that when flared in the water, it reaches to the end of the hook only. For added body and visibility dress the jig with a scented plastic bait trailer. Nowadays, most jigs are standard with the plastic bristle type weed-guards, and apart from ensuring that these are correctly aligned to cover the hook, no modification is necessary. An interesting tip, is that after some hours in the water, the bristles on the weed-guard absorb water and may become "soft". When this happens, it is time to replace the lure, allowing the saturated one to dry out ready for re-use another day.

With the boat approximately five to ten metres from the chosen structure, an initial pitch should be made to the outer points of any target, picking off the "easy" fish first, with the final target being in the middle of the brush or tree. Many fishermen fail when using this method because they are unable to identify the bite, although they do invariably feel it and mistake it for a snag. Imagine, the lure drifts down through the branches finding its own path while the angler free spools line. Once the lure stops, engage the reel and take up the slack, but do not pull on the bait. If resistance is felt, SET THE HOOK! It is almost impossible for the jig to become hung up on anything during its decent down through the branches, and 99.99 percent of such resistance felt on a lure, is a fish. Where anglers go wrong, is they suspect a snag and expertly jiggle the bait out of the fish's mouth BIG mistake. If the jig stops dropping before it should, or resistance is felt when the slack is taken up--STRIKE. Remember, the fish does not need to "smash and run", because you are virtually dropping the lure down onto him, he merely opens his mouth and latches onto the bait. He will drop it just as quickly if he detects you on the other end.

Once the sun has passed its apex, any form of structure in the water will cast a shadow. The bass is likely to turn side on to the sun, shielding the offside eye from its rays. The sun-facing eye is then positioned in the shade created by the chosen structure. The astute fisherman, using this information can then approach and present his bait to the best advantage. Boat placement is important (always approach into the wind as this gives better control using the electric motor), and casting accuracy. Most waters are characterised by prevailing winds. A plan of action that incorporates sun, shadows and wind direction for any given time, can improve catches significantly. Avoid drifting uncontrollably onto a likely or known spot, and rather plan "hot-spots " to be fished throughout the day.

These techniques do not require one to "play" the fish like you might in open water. If you let a bass get its head and swim deeper into cover, you are going to get wrapped up. Your aim should be to start the fish moving upwards and outwards, i.e. towards the boat, from the first instant of the hook-set.

Experience has shown that 10-15 percent of strikes come on the initial cast. It is worth presenting the jig to the same spot a couple of times, as inactive fish may eventually hit the jig where they have ignored it or been unable to get to it on the first presentation. The beauty of this type of fishing, is that the lure is in the strike zone for 90% of the time, whereas a passing spinnerbait or plug will only be in the strike zone for 10 to 20 percent of the retrieve. Once the jig is clear of the structure, swing it back and pitch again, getting it back to the prime target as quickly as possible.


--Use your wrist, NOT your arm.

--Concentrate on the spot you want to hit, not on what you want to miss.

--Use plenty of scent when trying to penetrate thick cover--it acts as a lubricant.

--Stick to basic jig colors (black/blue, brown/brown, black/chartreuse).

--Use a plastic worm with a glass bead between the worm and the weight for inactive fish.

--If you think it's a strike, reel down until your rod is in a hook-set position before you check.

--A strike is anything different(something you wouldn't feel in a bathtub!).

--Tighten your drag all the way down for better hook sets.
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Title Annotation:Bassin'
Publication:African Fisherman
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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