It's always exciting when heading to new bass water, you never really know what to expect. Andrew and I loaded up the kayaks and made the 150km drive south, pulling up at an isolated causeway with the promise of good things to come.
We made the decision to head downstream and slowly paddled our way into the first decent pool.
This pool looked a tad weedy, I thought. All good, though, because bass certainly love hunting around the weed beds, but the growth in this pool was pretty outrageous. It was literally shore-to-shore, with only a few ultra-tiny pockets of clear water remaining.
The very best you could do was plough your way across the weed like an icebreaker, come to a grinding halt just shy of a window-sized pocket, then lob your lure in.
There was no point winding, just a few bumps of the rod to make the surface lure jiggle were about all you could do. And, in fact, it was all you had to do!
While there may have only been two or three tiny pockets in the entire 100m-long pool, each held a hungry bass eagerly awaiting anything silly enough to land from above. Once we'd spun the three tiny holes, it was time to lean forward and plough across the weeds to the next totally clogged pool.
We fished a fair bit of water (weed?) that day, covering around 2km, and would not have found more than a dozen pockets you could actually cast to. Thankfully, each held a bass or two and we ended up pinning a dozen or so fish.
But my God! the density of the weed was crazy and by day's end we were both totally knackered.
While the above example of fishing the weeds was more torture than fun, most systems are seldom this congested and there's usually a sensible mix of open water and healthy weed beds.
In such waterways there's often a great correlation between healthy bass numbers and manageable weed beds to fish.
Heading north from home, there's another small river system that has veg aplenty, but this time it's lily pads.
These floating plants can provide great places and even when they grow quite thick they can still be manageable places to fish.
This one creek I'm referring to is more or less fully lined on both sides, so there's a distinct channel up the middle that's well worth sending a lure up.
Some areas, though, the pads cut the entire creek but this isn't such a bad thing.
Unlike weed beds, lily pads are floating and often have decent gaps between their stems. Usually these are wide enough so your lure can be swum between and even under the pads.
Super-dense weed beds, on the other hand, leave you virtually no other option than finding the edges or fishing those distinct pockets I touched on earlier.
Lily pads also tend to hold fish, rather than being just good places for the bass to hunt. They offer bass a combination of good shelter and good hunting grounds.
I guess lilies are effectively like floating trees, offering plenty of protection from aerial assault as well as the belting midday sun.
It's widely accepted that bass love hanging around structure. They are just one of those species that likes a little shelter – especially during office hours – with the bonus of not having to travel too far to score an easy meal.
I guess the most recognised habitat for bass is those lovely fallen bankside trees and submerged logs. This type of cover offers great protection from ambush from below and above the waterline and can house good numbers of bass in a small radius.
And while these are definitely hot spots well worth bombing, many overlook the more subtle forms of cover, like weed beds and lily pads.
These softer forms of cover are very underrated as fish habitat. I'd even go so far as to say I'd prefer to fish the vegetation than the hard cover, though that depends on the time of day.
Those shallow, sun-drenched flats where the weeds and lilies flourish are not ideal fish-holding structure. Sure, at times you'll find good numbers of bass holding station in and around the weeds and lilies, but bass usually tend to view these zones more as feeding stations rather than ideal places to camp for the day.
This is all good for anglers because we know when the bass are near the salad bar, they are there for one reason – to eat.
To me, fishing soft cover is all about surface lures. Obviously other lures will work well, it's just topwaters often suit the feeding nature and terrain so perfectly that I find it pretty hard to tie on anything else.
But I'm not silly. If the bass are not responding to my surface plugs I'll reluctantly tie on a shallow-diving minnow, followed by a spinnerbait of other jig style of lure.
My favourite type of surface lure for working weeds and lilies would have to be a stickbait, with the Stiffy Top Dog a firm favourite along with the Heddon Super Spook and Zara Spook and the Lucky Craft Gun Fish and Sammy.
These subtle surface lures can be worked to represent any number of small creatures, though trying to be overly specific isn't a key requirement. The key is working them so they look non-threatening and edible. Exactly what they represent isn't that important, just make them look tasty.
My approach is often to drift over to the greenery an hour or so before dark and start casting stickbaits on the outer edges and faces of the weed. The deeper fringes tend to be the first port of call for hungry bass.
As the light fades the fish become more adventurous and drift up. As the shadows start to creep, it’s a good idea to cast surface lures near and parallel to the cover.
More boisterous lures, like poppers and fizzers, are also standard fare for working the soft stuff.
Bass expect all sorts of prey items around the weeds, with frogs an absolute favourite. Anglers proficient with poppers can have them looking very frog-like. Fizzers tend to blur the line a little, but the frantic buzz of a well- tuned propeller can be way too much for any nearby bass.
While a tad boring compared with topwater lures, spinnerbaits are pretty well purpose-built for this type of fishing.
The old whirlygigs can be landed super-close and even in the vegetation and often will slide through the cover unhampered. The humming blade and the in-your-face nature of these lures really fire bass up.
The bonus is you can fish them deep, even crawling them along the bottom at the base of the weeds. I've had a few occasions when the best approach was winding so slowly the lure simply slid along the bottom. The bass seem quite happy to simply suck them up from the mud
Once you have spent a little time fishing weed beds and lily pads, you'll soon see how productive these locations can be. While perhaps not as reliable as submerged timber during the day, the salad bar really shines in low light levels.
Next bass outing, make sure you work some lures around the salad bar, you may be pleasantly surprised...Reads: 1526