The report on the chalkboard at the local marina read like an idiot’s guide to fishing. Find a brush pile in 18 feet of water, drop a jig down to it and crank up a boatload of bass.
Of course, nothing is as easy as it ought to be. By the end of the day my friend and I worked over the only two brush piles we could pinpoint and managed to catch three small bass before we threw our hands up in frustration.
Despite our scant success, finding and fishing brush piles doesn’t have to be a lesson in futility. With a little practice, anybody can cash in on these sunken treasures.
A Needle In A Haystack?
The first hurdle to pulling quality bass out of deep brush is simply finding these hidden hotspots. Thankfully, modern technology has made the search a little easier.
The trick to finding sunken brush is to learn how to use your depth finder.
“The first thing I would do is get my hands on a good map,” says Lake Anna, Virginia guide Chris McCotter. “People who go through the effort of planting brush usually put them in high-percentage areas that aren’t that difficult to find.”
The first place the full-time guide would search for submerged brush is on humps close to a creek or main river channel in 16 feet to 25 feet of water. Such places are almost always bass magnets and those spots with brush are even better. Points that jut into the main lake, particularly points near a creek or river channel, are prime spots as well.
The trick to finding sunken brush, insists McCotter, is knowing how to use your depth finder.
“Don’t just leave your depth finder on the ‘auto’ setting. You won’t get the resolution you would if you actually set it to a tighter depth range,” he adds.
Check Out Docks
Another great — and simple — place to find sunken brush is around docks. The combination of large, algae-covered wood pilings, the shade provided by the platform and the tangle of limbs of a brush pile will hold good numbers of largemouths when other docks won’t.
“There are plenty of clues that will give away a brush pile under or just in front of a dock,” notes McCotter. “Look for a minnow bucket, rod holders or lights. Any of those might indicate a dock owner that likes to fish for crappie and anyone who likes to fish for crappie will likely sink some brush in front of their dock.”
It’s important to remember that in a lake that’s several decades old, brush piles are often scattered throughout those high-percentage areas as anglers create their own hotspots season after season. Sunken wood will stay intact for years, so finding a few of these bass magnets are often as simple as spending a few minutes idling across a point.
“If all else fails, ask someone who works at the local marina,” he shrugs.
Pre-Spawn Brush Equals Post-Spawn Brush
In late winter and early spring, Lake Fork guide Lance Vick looks for brush on secondary points and flats in the backs of coves as bass stage for the upcoming spawn. Cover in anywhere from 12 feet to four feet will hold pre-spawn bass.
Although largemouths will hold on bare points near creek channels during the pre-spawn period, they prefer some type of cover. Brush piles offer not only a place to hide and ambush bait, they also offer a security blanket that largemouths seem to need.
And they tend to concentrate bass in small areas. On a brisk day in March last year McCotter and a client wrestled 17 bass from one brush pile in a matter of a few hours.
“The brush pile was in 27 feet of water and the temperature was about 55 degrees,” he recalls. “The fish had been pushed back out to deep water by a severe cold front that had passed through and they were just ganged up on the brush.”
If the bass are holding on shallow brush, Vick likes to pull spinnerbaits over the cover. He also favors Carolina-rigged lizards and jig-and-pig combinations.
“The nice thing about Carolina-rigged lizards is that they can be used on brush in any depth and they are deadly in the early spring. You can also cover lots of water with them and they are relatively snag-proof,” says Vick. “Jigs will go through the thickest brush there is, as well.”
Search Isolated Brush
As the fish move up to shallow water to spawn, McCotter will search for bedded bass around isolated brush in anywhere from two feet to six feet of water. Although spawning females prefer to fan out a nest against rocks or stumps, they will utilize brush, as well.
After the fish move off their beds, they tend to migrate right back to the same spots they used during the pre-spawn period. The only difference is that the water is a little warmer and the bass are more eager to chase faster-moving bait. Again, bait selection varies mostly with depth, clarity, temperature and weather.
“I’ll use a crankbait like a Fat Free Shad that will dive deep enough to get right into the brush. In fact, if you aren’t knocking the brush with your lure, you might as well forget it,” insists Vick.
While crankbaits are part of his mainstay, his first pick for just about all brush pile applications is a Carolina-rigged Lake Fork Trophy Tackle Ring Fry. The 5-inch bait tempts bass when other soft plastics don’t.
When the water starts to sizzle, bass seek a respite in deeper water. And they often favor wood cover. The perfect summertime brush pile, both guides agree, will be in 16 feet to 25 feet of water near the edge of a creek channel in the main lake or on a main lake point. The deep access offers bass the security they always seem to want and the brush gives them a perfect place to ambush passing shad.
“In the summer, bass aren’t going to be feeding all the time,” explains Vick. “On Lake Fork, they tend to turn on in the mid-morning or late in the afternoon, so if you aren’t getting bites, don’t assume the fish aren’t there. You just have to be there when the fish are hungry.”
A simple technique he’ll use to coax inactive bass into biting is to pull a Ring Fry into the brush and leave it there for several seconds. Sometimes Vick will add a little shaking motion to it, which often triggers curious, but otherwise inactive bass into hitting.
When the fish are actively feeding, he’ll pull a deep-diving crankbait right through the mess, banging into as much wood as he can.
“The more the better,” he says.
McCotter’s summertime go-to bait is an 8-inch red shad plastic worm rigged on a one-quarter-ounce weight. He also likes jig-and-pig combinations, particularly in murky water.
“The size of my weight or jig largely depends on things like the depth of the brush and the amount of wind,” he notes.
When the water drops into the mid-40s or below, bass typically move back to those same spots that they favored in the summer. And as most readers know, cold water calls for slow-moving baits, particularly those with a large profile. Jigs, large plastic worms and Ring Fries all coax brush pile bass to eat in the winter.
Finding and pulling bass from sunken brush really doesn’t have to be a daunting task. In fact, when you can’t buy a bass from the obvious, easy-to-find places, brush piles can be your ace-in-the-hole.
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