By Larry Larsen
To locate bass in the marsh, you look for the trashiest piles of stuff you can find," said bass guide Bob Stonewater. "If I can find a bunch of dead limbs, matted weeds and moss all tucked up in a little pocket, I know I'll catch bass there. When no one else wants to throw bait in a spot, that will be a productive one for me. If the spot is really slimy, then other anglers will leave it alone, and that's where I'll find fish."
Stonewater does a lot of shallow-water fishing in marshy waters less than four feet deep. In 35 years the DeLand, Florida, guide has fished practically every marsh or swamp in the state. He has specialized in shallow-water bass fishing and has developed a reputation for catching big bass from such areas. Even in the middle of the summer when water is hot, Stonewater will be fishing waters two to three feet deep and catching bass regularly.
Locating and catching fish may not be easy, however. Anglers may struggle against overly abundant weed growth, if they are not "in tune" as Stonewater is, with marsh-type environments.
Picking Spots With Potential
Some of Stonewater's prime shallow areas are points of grass where there might be subtle drop-off, downed trees, brush piles, small pockets or indentations in the grass, or lines between two types of vegetables. He wants to key in on spots having irregularities in plant edges, growth, health and so on. In fact, heavy, shallow-water cover often replaces depth in the "safe-and-secure" requirements of bass, and you have to learn to fish the weeds if you expect to catch a bunch of bass from such places.
He'll be looking for algae growth on the submerged weeds, indicating a high level of nutrients in the water. Such fertile areas with varied and extensive vegetation bases always have good population of forage and bass, according to the guide. If the weeds don't have algae or moss clinging to them, Stonewater often will look for better areas.
"In a marsh, like anywhere else, finding bass is the secret to catching them," Stonewater said. "Everything looks good in the shallows, but you can't get caught up in that. You have to identify the spots with the most potential and then, as my Dad always said, 'You have to keep your lure in the water.' My lure will be wet while I'm checking the prime spots for bass forage. I'll figure out how to present the lure in an effective manner."
Follow The Food
The bass' whole existence in the shallows, other than during the spring spawn, is related to food, according to Stonewater. The shallow littoral (or vegetated) zone is where the food chain prospers. It offers abundant plankton growth, insects and various types of larger forage, and that attracts bass. When you see algae, moss or other types of minute aquatic vegetation, know that they are the prime food item for most baitfish such as shiners and shad. In the same vegetation you'll find insects such as mosquitoes, gnats, worms, larvae and so on, and that is what bream and other types of forage fish eat.
When you are in the shallows, you have to be observant for signs of baitfish activity or that of other forage, says Stonewater. Be on the lookout for any kind of movement. Shiners may be bumping the stalks of weeds as they feed on algae growth. You might see a couple of tiny minnows skip along the surface, scurrying to get away from your lure, the boat, a larger predator fish, or something else like a swooping bird. If there is an abundance of bait in a pocket or hole, then there is a very good chance that there will be bass in the same area.
"You might only see the dimples on the surface of the water, which gives away the presence of a bass or its forage," Stonewater said. "You might look closely and see a tiny ring in one area against a mat of weeds and another a few feet away. With bream, you may hear popping sounds as they feed around the marsh bogs. You may not see them as they suck insects off the surface."Crayfish will hang out in the thickest cover in very shallow areas with floating vegetation bogs. They get up in the hanging roots of the weeds and matted plants, so they are hard for anglers to detect, according to the guide.
"Bass will move about the whole marshy area looking for food," Stonewater said. "They may go to a grassy pocket with abundant shiners early in the morning, to another deeper pothole with lots of bluegills midday, and top it off with a raid on a mucky crayfish bog in late afternoon. They know where they tend to find the food, and if the area you have identified has food, be sure the bass will know about it and be there sometime during the day."
Make Multiple Casts From Many Angles
So I usually make a few casts to the same spot from a different angler to trigger a strike. Or I might come back with a different lure, like a tube or grub, to get the fish interested.
The guide recalls that on many occasions he's gotten strikes on his very "last" cast---one made from a different angle. The different angle is what makes that one little piece of cover productive, according to Stonewater.
If bass aren't in a particular spot when you're working it and all other conditions (cover and food) are present, then fish will be there eventually. It's wise to come back to such a spot later in the day.
"When you do move into a marshy area, don't just start random casting," Stonewater said. "Think about where the fish will be and how they will be positioned in the water relative to the cover. When you do get a couple of bass, then develop the pattern for the fish in your mind. If you get one in a specific type of cover at a specific depth on one type of lure presented a particular way from a specific angle, go to a similar area and try to duplicate everything. Don't just randomly fish everywhere."
Just remember that weed-abundant marshes are fish magnets, even in warmer weather.
For information on catching big bass, contact Bob Stonewater's Trophy Bass Guide Service, 179 Glenwood Rd., DeLand, FL 32720 (386-717-6289)