By Darl Black

Bass guide and tournament angler Jimmy Mason spends almost the entire year fishing grass. His home waters are the vegetation-rich lakes on the Tennessee River in northern Alabama, but he gets plenty of experience on non-grass lakes via the tournament trail. Given a choice, he’ll pick a “grass lake” over a “non-grass lake” any day.

The term grass lakes should not be construed as grass covering the entire acreage of the lake from shore to shore.  On grass lakes, there will be many areas where grass does not grow, either due to bottom content or water depth. The main river channel in the upper reaches of the impoundment and the lower sections of the lake nearer the dam are typically grass free, while shallow flats are grass-rich.

On the Tennessee River lakes, shallower weeds like milfoil grow to 6 or 7 feet, while hydrilla grows to 13 feet. Depth varies based on the water clarity of the particular lake.

“If you ask me if grass really equals largemouth bass, I can tell you that based on my experience the answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’”
grass bass
To support his position, Mason offers six points for skeptics to consider:
1.    The list of best lakes in the US is comprised of predominately “grass lakes.”
2.    There is a higher survival rate of bass fry and fingerlings when grass is present.
3.    Grass affords small juvenile bass protection from fishing pressure and sanctuary from natural predators.
4.    Grassbeds provide a cornucopia of food (including insect larvae, shiners and y-o-y sunfish) for bass of all age groups.
5.    Grass is a great filter, so the water quality is generally better in grass lakes.
6.    Grass lakes have a higher population of big bass.

According to Mason, anglers on the Tennessee River lakes can fish grass almost the entire year – although the type of grass targeted changes according to the season. Mason explains that in early summer, he fishes shallow-growing milfoil. In mid-summer, he focuses on the deeper hydrilla areas. When baitfish return to the shallows in the fall, it’s back to milfoil beds. However Mason points out that this year hydrilla was slow in growing, so eel grass became an important cover for bass.

“The post-spawn is the only season when I don’t focus on grass. On grass lakes, the bass are likely deepest on points shortly after the spawn. But as soon as the vegetation starts to mature, grass-oriented bass move back to it.”

Mason’s seasonal fishing patterns follow the growth of vegetation.

“In the early summer I target a mixture of milfoil and hydrilla on points, bars and the mouths of bays. In the early morning I fish an XCalibur Zell Pop or Heddon Super Spook over the top of submerged grass. Then as the day gets brighter, I’ll switch to a Yum 10.5-inch Mighty Worm.

“As grass tops off later in the summer, I rely on three baits: a buzzbait to fish the edge of grass growth, a Booyah Pad Crasher Frog to fish over the matted grass, and YUM Christie Critter with a 1-ounce weight to flip the turns and points in the grassed.”

In the late fall, shad stack up in the grass about the same time that seasonal winds blow the surface matts around, thereby exposing open water above grassbeds.

“With preyfish-filled milfoil beds, it is time to break out the shad-imitating baits. Nothing imitates a shad better than a ½-ounce double willowleaf Booyah Spinnerbait,” Mason said. He continues to focus on grass well into December.
hydrilla
“Some years I’ve fished grassbed remnants through the winter months. Typically during January, the wind and rain break up the mats and old growth. But by mid-February, I’m looking for areas of fresh green growth that will be 3- to 9-inches high. This is the time for a suspending jerkbait fished with a long pause.”

Fishing grass is a challenge because the density patterns of various vegetation species are different from year to year due to changing weather and water conditions. Rarely does grass grow the same in every location in back-to-back years.

Mason points out that it is important to refer to your electronics maps in order to identify the contours under the grassbeds.

“Bass in the grass relate to ditches and rises in the same way as if the grass was not present. The structure is there, just covered with grass.”

However, when a severe cold front pushes through the area, Mason says that the grass bite dies. The post-cold-front days are only time in the summer and fall that he switches from grassbed presentations to targeting bluffs, offshore cover and flipping hard cover.

“Grass is not important in the tail-race areas below the dams – there is too much current,” explains Mason. “The grass will start showing up probably five or six miles downstream. But areas where grass-covered points jut into the current become a key site for bass to ambush prey.”

As hard as it is to imagine, not all lake users look at grassbeds with salivating mouths and involuntary hook-setting arm twitches. In many impoundments, governmental agencies either cut aquatic vegetation, treat it with herbicides, or both. Recently, the Tennessee Valley Authority began treating areas of vegetation on Guntersville, one of the nation’s best bass fisheries.

“The grass flats on Lake Wheeler used to produce huge stringers of bass until they poisoned the grass in the mid-90s,” Mason said. “The grass never recovered from those treatments, and the bass fishery dropped dramatically,” Mason said.

“I understand the need to treat grass around docks, marinas and ramps,” says Mason. “But my problem is with treating shallow flats some distance from the shore simply because the government authority has money allotted to do it or someone doesn’t like to look at grass. I try to explain to those people that Guntersville never looks better to bass fishermen than when hydrilla is out there!”