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Punching Through Heavy Cover Best Way for Big Bass This Summer

Posted 6/8/2015

No matter where his busy tournament schedule takes him, Randall Tharp nearly always spends at least part of each practice day searching for thick cover where he can use his favorite technique, a heavy tackle presentation known as “punching.” The reason is easy to understand: punching has helped the Yamaha Pro win the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup,® along with half a dozen other FLW® and Bassmaster® national events.

“I believe big bass like a roof over their heads, a dark place where they can hide, and punching is one of the best ways to pull them out of that cover,” explains Tharp, a Florida resident who has been using this presentation for years. “Wherever there is some type of canopy on top of the water, whether it’s matted milfoil, hyacinths, fallen tree limbs, or just floating debris washed into a pocket, punching lets you penetrate that canopy quietly and efficiently.

“It’s a form of flipping, only with a much heavier sinker that pulls your lure straight through that surface cover and into the open water below.”

Everything about punching is geared toward larger bass. Tharp uses a 7’11” extra-heavy action rod, 40 to 65-pound braided line, a sinker weighing between ½ and 2 ½ ounces, and a flatter, beaver-style lure that imitates either a bluegill or a crawfish, rigged with a straight shank 4/0 flipping hook.

“Years ago, we used heavy jigs for this style of fishing,” continues the Yamaha Pro, but today there are special skirts, known as ‘punching skirts,’ designed to fit on your sinker, so the lure maintains a bulky, compact appearance but is totally weedless and more efficient.

“I like to use the lightest sinker I can, but if it doesn’t punch cleanly through the canopy, I won’t hesitate to change to a heavier weight. I want my lure to go straight through the cover immediately, not get snagged or stopped by anything. Even though I don’t believe these bass are as spooky as other fish normally are, I still want my presentation as quiet as possible.”

 Tharp normally lets his lure fall straight to the bottom, then pulls it up to the underside of the canopy and shakes it. In warm water, he only shakes the lure for a few moments before reeling in for another presentation, but in colder water he may leave his lure in place for as long as a minute.

“Your first bass normally tells you where they are under the canopy, and how they want your lure,” he explains. “Sometimes the fish position themselves right underneath the canopy, but other times they’re holding on the bottom. This can change, too, between early morning when the water is cooler and late afternoon when it’s often several degrees warmer.”

Tharp catches the majority of his bass this way in water less than five feet deep, but he’s caught them as deep as 20 feet, even though matted vegetation covered the surface. When he won the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup® championship held on Louisiana’s Red River, he punched hyacinth mats and caught bass in less than a foot of water. 

Unquestionably, one key to Tharp’s success using the punching presentation is tying a snell knot on his hook. It takes a few seconds longer to tie, but this particular knot creates a cam-like action that springs the hook upward practically 90 degrees so it more easily penetrates the roof of the fish’s mouth. Not many tournament pros use the punching presentation, but when they do, they use a snell knot for this reason.

“I don’t think there is a lake in the country where this technique won’t work if you can find some type of cover that forms an actual canopy on the surface,” concludes the Yamaha Pro. “I have even caught bass on Table Rock, one of the clearest lakes I’ve ever fished. In a little cove I found a mat of floating debris the waves had washed up against a rocky shoreline. 

“We usually call it ‘sawdust,’ because it’s a thin mixture of pollen, leaves, sticks, whatever floats. On my first punching presentation, I caught a 4½ pounder, so 

you know fish will move to that type of cover whenever they can find it.” Y