Greg Hackney has made his living with a flipping stick in his hand. Sure, he’s well-skilled in a multitude of fishing techniques but given the chance, he’d sooner flip cover or frog it. Hackney is big on efficiency so his game plan is air tight- there’s not time for second-guessing. Given the opportunity, he’d rather be targeting the biggest bass in the nastiest places they live.
Grass Mats and Monster Bass
|Greg Hackney with monster bass. photo credit: sportsmantv|
In the summer time, matted milfoil is his favorite grass. Once the heat of summer gets done with it, the top of milfoil beds will morph into algae mats and become home to monster bass.
“What happens over an extended period of time is the algae actually kills the shade and the stems of the milfoil. What you end up with is a slimy green algae mat that is open underneath,” he said.
The key to fishing expansive vegetation is finding a unique area in the mat that does not resemble the rest of it.
“If you have pretty green milfoil matted to the surface and there’s a yellow algae mat growing in the middle of it, that will isolate the fish,” he said.
To Fish the Right Area - Pay Attention to the Clues
A good algae mat, or lily pads, will show signs of life. Seeing baitfish or sunfish swimming around is always a good sign. But, when bluegills are popping and smacking at the surface from beneath the vegetation trying to feed, that is a great indication that you are fishing in the right area. Since summer often brings hot and slick calm conditions, that smacking sound is distinct and unmistakeable.
It’s been Hackney’s experience that shad might hang out along the outside edge of a mat but never go inside it like bluegill, sunfish, shiners, and crawfish will.
“Bass are opportunists. Those fish that are in those mats are not bait chasers, they’re short-range ambush predators,” he said.
Structurally, there is always something different within the area that will attract concentrations of bass. It might be an area where water got deep, a turn, or a channel got close to it. Above the surface, everything might look the same but pay attention to the bottom composition. An area where a soft bottom became hard or if rock or wood was mixed in is enough to isolate quality bass.
“Fish are never random- NEVER,” Hackney said. “If you don’t see it, eventually if you spend enough time there, you will figure out why the bass are there.”
|Strike King KVD Sexy Frog|
Breaking Down Big Areas for the Best Fish
Initially, Hackney fishes a grass bed quite fast with a topwater frog just to get a bass to blow up and show itself. There are times when bass will relate to the edge of a mat but they often bury themselves 40-feet into the mat. Hackney sees a Strike King KVD Sexy Frog as a great tool to quickly and efficiently cover water.
|Strike King Rage Bug|
Many anglers only associate schools of bass with offshore structure. Hackney begs to differ.
“Those fish that live out there in those mats are school oriented. They are not isolated fish. Once you get a bite, it’s time to slow down,” he said.
|Strike King KVD Rodent|
He’ll start off frogging but he won’t hesitate to break down the area pitching and flipping the area with a Strike King Rage Bug or Strike King KVD Rodent with a heavy weight. When he’s just looking to get a bite, he’ll opt for a Strike King Rage Tail Menace Grub, it’s a compact bait with just enough action.
He’ll rig the Structure Bug on a 5/0 Strike King Hack Attack hook, the 6/0 with the Rodent, and a 4/0 hook with the Baby Rodent or Menace.
Since grass filters the water, the water clarity will usually be very good.
|Strike King Rage Tail Twin Tail Menace Grub|
Hackney likes the “Double Header” color when looking to imitate a crawfish while “Candy Craw” fools bass into thinking that the bait is a bluegill or a perch.
For Hackney, there’s no “soaking the bait” (working a bait or letting it sit in an area for a prolonged period of time). He’ll pitch it out letting the bait go to the bottom, but he won’t focus on the bottom depth range.
“After that, I’m fishing it up in the water column. Those fish will be suspended in that mat. Most of the time I’m fishing my bait from the surface to within 3-feet of it regardless if the mat is in 6-feet of water, and I’ll yo-yo the bait 3 or 4 times then I’ll reel it out and flip it again,” Hackney said. “More times than not, flipping mats in the summer time, it’s the initial drop that gets the bite. It’s a reaction bite- they get it quick."
|Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover jig rigged with a Strike King Rage Tail Craw trailer|
Mixed Vegetation is a "Bass" Bonus - Anywhere
Algae mats are generally a shallow lake deal; in their absence deeper weeds are where it’s at. In the South, it might be a mix of hydrilla and coon tail while in the North it could be milfoil and cabbage or milfoil and coon tail. Hackney always looks for something different when he’s looking for bass anywhere and an abnormality in the vegetation, like mixed species, can be key.
On Lake Champlain, the sweet spot might be a small area of cabbage growing outside a deep line of milfoil or it or a clump or coon tail growing inside it together.
Regardless of the irregularity, one thing is certain, they will concentrate the fish. Typically, Hackney has found such areas start in 6-feet of water and continue deeper depending on the lake.
Weighing - In on the Perfect Fishing Bait
When fishing cold water, Hackney prefers just enough weight to get through the mat so that it moves slowly as it falls. During the summer, warmer water makes bass more active. He doesn’t want the weight on his Texas-rigged bait to be so light that he has to wiggle it through the mat nor so heavy that it plummets to the bottom.
|Bass Mafia Terminal Coffin|
“I want it to go right through. If I have to wiggle it through with a 1-ounce weight, I’d probably go to a 1 ¼-ounce,” he said. He’ll fish the lightest he can while still fishing his style efficiently. History tells him he’ll successfully land more on a 1 ¼-ounce ounce than a 1 1/2-ounce. The heavier the eight, the easier it is to knock the mouth of the bass open on the hookset.
Hackney always “reel sets” when fishing a jig or Texas-rigged bait. Basically, once he gets bit, he’ll reel the slack out of the line quickly until he feels the weight of the fish and lean back into his hookset. Setting the hook with slack in your line is a major error- too many lost fish and snapped lines.
|Bass Mafia Money Bag|
One thing is for sure, Hackney hates chipped worm weights. Especially with the cost of tungsten, he uses the Bass Mafia 3700 Terminal Coffin to store all of his tungsten bullet weights. Hackney prefers to keep his hooks in the package. He’s not keen on using a hook that’s been bouncing around in his tackle box against others possibly causing a burr in the hook or dulling the point. One lost fish could cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead, he stores his hooks in the original package in a Bass Mafia Bait Casket as it can hold plenty, keep them water proof, and protect his hooks in the roughest of rides. Anytime he’s pitching soft-plastics, he’ll store his Strike King Rage Bugs, Craws, or Rodents in the clear plastic Bass Mafia Money Bag so that he can easily see the baits that he needs yet by keeping them in their original molded packages, they keep their original shape without any kinks in the plastic that can impair their action.
Jig vs Big Weight
|Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover jig|
The only time Hackney won’t flip a Strike King Greg Hackney Hack Attack Heavy Cover jig in the grass is when it won’t penetrate the grass. “I always throw a jig first over any piece of plastic. When I have to go to an 1 ¼-ounce weight or larger, I can’t get a jig through there,” he said.
History tells him that the hook up ratio on a jig is much better than fishing a heavy weight. “If I get 9-bites on a jig, I’ll catch 7 of them. If I get 9 bites in that grass on that big weight, there’s days I’ll be lucky to catch 5 of them,” Hackney said. He doesn’t believe that bass can tell the difference between the two baits, but again, it’s all about efficiency for Hackney and if he’s fooling with his jig to get through the grass, he’s wasting time that he could have made multiple presentations to big bass willing to bite.
There are two exceptions to his rules. He’ll never fish deep grass with a soft-plastic, always with a jig. He’ll never target smallmouth with a jig though. “Smallmouth get a soft-plastic better than a jig- they’re a weird fish!” he said.
Learning the Ropes
Hackney admits that he caught a lot more fish from matted vegetation with a frog long before he began flipping.
“I would frog all summer long. I was 25-years old before I started flipping a big weight and learned about that technique. Flipping and pitching has all come around the last 10-years- it’s still kind of a new technique,” Hackney said. “I look back on that time period and think back to all those times I couldn’t get them to come up on a frog but I could have been shelling them on a big weight!”
There are times when the two techniques perfectly meld together, like at the 2015 Bassmaster Elite event at the St. Lawrence River. “I frogged for 3 days and then caught my biggest sack all week flipping on the last day. They were the same fish, and while I didn’t catch near as many the last day, but I caught the biggest one, near 20-pounds,” Hackney said.
Flipping and frogging catch the same size fish he pointed out.
Big Bass Behavior
When probing these areas, should you catch a big bass, do not leave the area too quickly Hackney says.
“More times than not, birds of a feather flock together. Bigger fish stick together because they’re on bigger bait,” Hackney said.
When Hackney finds a wad of 3-pounders, he believes that a 5-pounder could be nearby. But, whenever an angler is on a group of 1-pounders, they should consider a 3-pounder a gift.
Smaller fish really don’t teach you anything because you can catch them anywhere.
|Quantum Smoke PT S3 fishing reel|
Ready for Battle
Hackney flips a 7-6 or 7-10 Quantum PT casting rod paired with a Quantum Smoke PT S3 fishing reel that sports a lightning fast 8:3:1 retrieve. He acknowledges the reels’ smaller spool capacity but reasoned he doesn’t need a lot of line to flip and pitch with. But, he does night that super quick retrieve to bring big bass to the boat or to take up line to get his bait back to the boat after an unproductive flip.
He finds that 50-pound Gamma Torque braid offers better hooksets and cuts through vegetation better. Hackney always flips a jig on 50-pound to achieve a faster rate of fall. He never worries about breaking off 50-pound line.
When flipping an ounce or heavier weight or whenever he’s throwing a frog, he’s more confident fishing 65-pound test.
Watch Strike King video Hack on Jigs vs Plastics