Jul 10, 2012
Read the Reeds for Northwoods Largemouth
By Mike Pehanich
Reeds ( a.k.a. “tules,” “bulrushes,” “pencil reeds” and more) provide a home for largemouth bass on many Northwoods lakes that many consider inhospitable to the species. (Read “Reflections: Reed Bass and Reminiscence”)
Generally, reeds grow on hard bottom around the lake perimeter and on shallow offshore flats. (Unlike their hard-stem relatives, soft-stem bulrushes may grow on soft, silty bottom.) They can reach heights of five- to 10 feet, though the tallest growth usually occurs when the plants are rooted in four- to eight-foot depths, leaving much of the plant stem beneath the surface.
Exclusive SWF video with John Peterson and Eric Naig fishing Northwoods reed beds!
Now reeds fulfill an important function, filtering the water and converting dead lake matter into a plant form that provides habitat for fish and invertebrates. . They contribute vital bedding areas for spawning bass and other species and nursery areas for fry and fingerlings. As such, they can provide productive early season fishing areas when depth and other factors make them hospitable to bass.
Sounds good so far, right? But on many Northwoods lakes, it gets much better!
It doesn’t matter if the lake is 100 or 100,000 acres! On lakes with strong populations of other predators — particularly northern pike, musky and walleye – largemouth bass often are edged off prime habitat and structure in the mid-depth to deep areas of the lake for much of the season.
“Those toothy predators…they own the prime structure in the lake,” notes John Peterson, founder of Northland Fishing Tackle, who is as comfortable “jungle bassin’” as he is working deep structure for walleye.
The adaptable largemouth move into reed beds – as well as maiden cane and wild rice beds, which offer a similar type of shallow water cover — early in the open water season, and they will occupy this habitat with rock bass and other members of the sunfish family.
Find a “reed bass” lake, and you are well on your way to cracking the largemouth puzzle!
Now not every reed bed will be productive. At a glance, one reed bed may look like another on these North Country lakes. But subtle elements will make all the difference. Look for:
Depth –Reed beds with depth have much more to offer bass. If you can find expanded reed beds growing in four to six feet of water, odds are that they harbor good largemouth.
Access to depth – The next best thing to deep reeds are reeds with moderate depth and quick access to deep water.
Mixed vegetation – “Find transition areas in the reeds where other plants such as cabbage, lily pads, maiden cane or mixes of plants grow,” offers Duane Peterson, bass specialist and co-founder of Northland Fishing Tackle. These are high percentage areas – and, when productive, make for an easy pattern to replicate.
Thick clumps – Sparse reeds may attract some fish, but they do not offer largemouth the kind of cover they like for effective ambush.
On some classic reed lakes, especially in the Grand Rapids area and west through north central Minnesota, you may rarely find a largemouth any place other than a reed bed! Winnibigoshish, Cass and Leech are three such lakes, and, fortunately, I’ve had the chance to experience the outstanding largemouth fishing in each of them in recent years. Such are the reputations of these lakes as prime “destination” walleye, pike and musky waters that a report of a good largemouth catch is likely to prompt a response like: “Largemouth? Huh!” Or “I didn’t even know they had largemouth in this lake!”
Technique and presentation
Like I said, you are on your way to cracking the code when you’ve located the reeds. But you are not there yet!
Presentation is another matter. True, a number of baits may work in and around the reeds at times. But fishing among those tall, willowy stems that sway in the wind can be tricky.
The reeds will cull the field of presentations for you, telling you within a few casts what won’t work. Spinnerbaits and weedless spoons may take some fish around the edges or in thinner patches, but these baits require a horizontal presentation that will be all but impossible in a thick bulrush patch. Working baits vertically in a small pocket or against a thick reed clump is often your best alternative.Over the past three seasons, we have reaped three- and four-pound-plus bass from reeds, maiden cane and wild rice beds consistently. Our best results have come working skirted jigs with trailers and Texas-rigged Impulse Brush Beaver baits in the thick reeds and edges of clumps and fishing the Impulse Dip-Stick (a Senko-like stickworm) along the face and front-and side pockets of these emergent grass beds. See exclusive SWF videos on reed fishing strategies, tackle and techniques!
Fish the outside edges of reed beds to start. You can take a lot of bass without having to enter the jungle – on a good day, that is!
But often it takes accurate pitches and casts to seemingly unreachable places deep in the tangles – the pockets in the reeds and bases of thick clumps in the center or even back of the bed – to get to the bass.
When bass are in a chasing mood, you may see the bulge of a waking bass as it attacks your bait.
More often than not, though, you may need to drop the lure right on its nose.
How to catch them? Our choice is flipping and pitching jigs and other soft plastics or working those cigar-like stickworms.
Check out “Three killer presentations for bass in the reeds!” and accompanying videos with noted Northwoods anglers John Peterson, Duane Peterson, and Eric Naig.
See “Mike’s Excellent Grand Rapids, MN, Fishing & Dining Summer Preview” and “Extraordinary Places” video
Coming in July 2012:“Mike’s Excellent Grand Rapids, MN, Summer Fishing & Dining Adventure” and videos with John Crane, Brian Brosdahl, Tom Neustrom and Jeff Sundin.