Eufaula Bass Punching Mats And Froggin’ Grass
Lake Eufaula has long been deemed the Big Bass Capital of the world. And though she is fishing a little stingy this spring so far, there are still more than a handful of big bites to be had on this 45,181-acre impoundment along the Chattahoochee River. The talk around town is that the recent spraying of vegetation has slowed the bite down and put a noticeable dent in the number of big fish we are used to seeing hauled out of this expansive fishery along the Alabama/Georgia border.
Not having the opportunity to frequent Eufaula on a regular basis, I base this assessment of the fishery on a few reports from friends who do fish the lake regularly, the results of the local tournaments posted online, and my own recent trip to Eufaula a few weeks ago. My trip was certainly hit or miss at best, with a few quality keepers, but a trip void of the two or three big bites I can usually count on during March and April.
In recent years, we’ve seen bags time and time again top the scales in local tournaments of near or even over 30 pounds for a five-fish limit. The ABA that was held there the day after my recent trip with my dad had a much more modest two-day winning weight of 35.51 pounds. But the guy who got it done, local angler and hammer Rodger Beavers Jr., caught two very consistent 17 1/2-lb. bags to seal the victory, which was an impressive feat based on what I saw on the water personally the day before their tournament started.
Still, anytime I get the chance to go fish Eufaula, I have a hard time passing it up. Being from up around Lake Martin in Alabama, Eufaula is the closest place I can run to for a chance to fish some of my favorite techniques a little earlier in the year. In this article, we’re going to take a look at those two techniques, punching matted vegetation and frogging, and hopefully give you guys a little something different to try out on your next outing on Eufaula if you’re not already a fan of these two approaches to shallow-water fishing.
To me, flipping heavy cover and frogging are two of the best ways to get a big bite shallow starting mid to late March and on into and through April. And with so much emphasis now on finding and fishing offshore structure with forward-facing sonar, the banks are actually opening up a bit, which is making it a little easier to have more of the shallow cover to yourself to try these techniques out. This will likely change up a little as the bass hit the banks to spawn, but realistically there’s always a good population of bass offshore as all the bass don’t move up at once, with some prespawn and some postspawn fish in the offshore brush throughout the spring.
But, that’s not the bite I go to Eufaula for—I’m there to beat the banks and fish the vegetation. That’s my favorite thing to do there or anywhere really, and again Eufaula offers the closest chance from home to give it a shot early in the year. And I don’t mean to minimize the chances of doing well in tournaments with this approach either. Yes, the offshore deal has really taken over in recent years. But this two-part shallow-water combo has helped me catch some fairly big bags at Eufaula in the spring in the past and helped me do fairly well in tournaments.
Selling out with the punch rod and frog helped me land a sixth-place finish in the 2020 Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier on Eufaula and a second-place finish there in the same event with 22 pounds in 2017. Both of these events were held in mid-March, but this bite is good on through April, as well. The key is looking for areas where bass like to spawn that have all the other critical components that will help them stick around a few more weeks after the spawn instead of shooting straight back out to deeper water.
Finding areas with fairly clear water and a good mix of vegetation seems to work best for me. Now, fairly clear is a relative term on Lake Eufaula, as a good spring rain can really wreck the water clarity overnight on a lot of the lake and keep it pretty stained for a while. Still, looking for protected areas or trying to find the water that will clear up the fastest is the best bet when trying to get back on a punching bite, though the frog can still work pretty well in the dirty water. And that’s not to say you won’t get bit punching in muddy water, but the bites definitely increase as you move toward clearer water.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term punching, the concept is pretty simple. It’s all about taking a 1-oz. to 2-oz. weight, typically a straight-shanked hook, and a soft plastic bait to create a compact lure that can be punched through thick vegetation in hopes of digging a bass out from beneath. You’ll hear the term mats a lot, too, when people talk about punching, which typically is used to refer to little clumps of isolated vegetation. These clumps can be made up of floating hyacinth, topped-out hydrilla or milfoil or really any other type of floating cover that has collected to form a mat.
These mats will often collect along shoreline reeds or out in the middle of an area around lily pad stems. The isolated mats are the best, in my opinion, and they are often only good for one fish. But at times you can find a few fish in a little wad by punching mats that span a longer distance of a dozen feet or even a hundred yards in places. What’s really good is when you can find an area with several isolated mats or a couple good stretches of matted vegetation. If the area has a good population of fish, you can take your time and pick apart all the matted vegetation in the area and do really well.
A second key to this approach is having a bait you can cover water with between mats. That’s where the hollow-body frog comes into play for me. Now you could use a swimbait, swim jig or other topwater perhaps as your bait to cover water between mats, but for me, the frog is just such a fun bait to fish and a big-bite getter. I can’t hardly go with anything else, and it’s in my hand most of the time when I’m fishing shallow on Eufaula starting late March and on through April and into May.
A popping frog is a good choice, but you really can’t go wrong with any hollow-body frog on Eufaula. I prefer the popping frog though for a couple reasons, one being that the water can often be a bit dirty on the lake this time of year, and I like the little bit of extra noise to help the fish locate the bait if I happen to be fishing in dirtier water or even around particularly thick vegetation. And secondly, a lot of bass are guarding fry still around this time of year, and the popping frog sounds like a bream or bluegill eating fry. So it’s a great bait to draw an aggressive strike from a bass that’s likely either guarding fry or trying its best to feed up after a grueling spawning process.
I don’t really like to fish the frog down the edges of hard lines of vegetation, typically preferring to punch those lines if possible. I do fish a frog this way early in the morning and later in the evening, but when the sun is high in the sky, I’d rather try to punch the fish out of the mats than risk having them run out on a frog and then turn off of it. Now on overcast days, all of that goes out the window. I’ll still punch a good bit when there are pretty mats around, but I’ll lean heavily on the frog then, choosing to throw it around more sparse cover like lily pads and reeds.
If you’re going to try your luck at fishing this way, I highly recommend having some pretty sturdy gear in hand. Again, Eufaula isn’t exactly fishing up to her normal greatness right now with the big bites, but there’s still a chance on any given cast out there to tie into one over 6 pounds for sure. And if you do get that kind of bite in some pretty thick cover, you’re going to need some fairly heavy-duty gear to get the fish out.
My favorite frog rod for this kind of fishing is a 7-foot, 3-inch Heavy Action Vursa Series Fitzgerald Rod. It has just enough of a tip to make actuate casts around vegetation and over into holes in the vegetation. And the tip makes working the bait less of a task than a stiffer rod would. But this rod still has plenty of backbone to pull a big one out of some nasty stuff. I like to pair that rod with a Lew’s Super Duty Speed Spool in 7.5:1 gear ratio spooled with 40-lb. Sufix 832 braided line.
When looking at the punching setup, it’s important to have a beefy setup once again. The Fitzgerald 7-8 Big Jig/Heavy Mat Flippin’ Rod has been the gold standard for me for six or seven years now. It has plenty of backbone to pull the big ones out but also a parabolic bend so that the rod loads up well and springs the fish out instead of just snatching them out. Stiffer rods can create a lot of slack and a big hole in the fish’s mouth, which leads to more lost fish. And going again with the Super Duty reel, I like to bump the braid up to 65-lb. test for punching mats.
If you want to go to Eufaula to try to catch a big one shallow, it’s hard to beat these two baits in April, in my opinion. The lipless crankbaits, buzzbaits, swim jigs, spinnerbaits, ChatterBaits and other shallow staples are all great, too, especially if you can stumble onto a shad spawn early.
But once the day gets underway, it’s just hard for me to get away from punching and frogging.
These two techniques give me the best chance to catch a big one fishing shallow the way I like to, and hopefully they’ll help you put one or two big ones in the boat, as well.
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