Updated: Mar 8, 2019
Written by Jonathan S
So what is punching? Punching is the technique where you use heavy line, weights, hooks, and rods to get your bait through the thickest vegetation. It is a full contact method, and requires the beefiest gear you can get. However, please keep in mind there is a difference between flipping grass, and punching. A big difference.
Punching heavy grass is one of my favorite techniques, and when you are using this method, you are fishing to win. It's a grind, and not a numbers game, but the fish you catch are typically the ones you're hunting. I'm going to go through the basics of punching into their own category.
For rods, you must have a long, heavy rod. I would recommend 7'6" as the minimum length require, then up to a 7'11", or longer if that's what you prefer. A heavy, or extra heavy powered rod is absolutely required. Though when it comes to the rods action, there is some debate. I prefer a Moderate Fast action, though some people prefer Fast. When punching, you have to use braid, which has zero stretch. So I feel that a moderate fast allows the fish to stay pinned, and does not rip the hooks out.
Just like when fishing a jig or a Texas rig, you want a higher speed reel. Something in the 7.1:1 range, or higher. Efficiency is key when punching, so being able to bring the bait back in a timely manner is extremely important. It's also worth noting that an aluminum framed reel is ideal for this technique. Something like a graphite frame will flex under the extreme pressure, and cause it to eventually fail. I prefer Daiwa reels, but any reel that has a strong frame, and drag will work.
Braid is an absolute must for punching. Anywhere 65lb to 80lb will work. To get this out of the way now, heavy braid is not for heavy fish. Every time you say you're using 65lb braid, someone always calls it overkill, or asks if you're fishing for sharks. To be blunt, these are inexperienced anglers. The heavy braid is for the junk you're fishing in. It slices vegetation, and will allow you to horse the fish out of the mats. Anything other than braid is not going to suffice.
Instead of having two categories for hooks and weights, I am just going to condense it into one section. For weights, tungsten is a must. It has a smaller profile, and is significantly more sensitive. Some people even believe that due to its density, and tapered shape, that fish can't sink their teeth into it like they would be able to with lead. That's pure speculation, but not the strangest thing I've heard in bass fishing. As far as weight sizes go, you want to stick with the smallest weight you can get away with. If you can get a 1/2oz weight through the mat, then use it. However, I typically start with 3/4oz, and work my way up. My tungsten of choice is Elite Tungsten. I feel as if it is the best around. While it's not cheap, it is worth it. Cheaping out on tackle is only going to cost you fish, so spend now.
As far as hooks go, I like straight shank flipping hooks. Some people like Extra Wide Gaps (EWG), but I cannot stand them. You want a very stout hook, that has a good quality bait keeper. I'm a big fan of Strike King's Hack Attack Hooks, but a good budget option is the Berkley Fusion flipping hooks. Having the best terminal tackle is so crucial, so if you are thinking about getting into punching, do yourself a favor and get good tackle. All of my punching is done with a pegged weight, so things called Bobber Stoppers are important. Any kind will do, just make sure you get a larger size.
Baits and Colors
So what baits are you supposed to use for this stuff? Anything that is streamlined. You want something compact, without a ton of appendages. Soft plastics are such a hot topic, and personal preference, so I will list a couple great baits, then you can take that info and either pick some up, or use a similar type. First up, my punching box would not be complete without Strike King Rodents. They are an absolute staple in my boat, and will be for a long time. I also think that Missile Baits D Bombs and Reaction Innovations Sweet Beavers are equally as good as the Rodents. Definitely worth having some of them, too. Just keep in mind they must be streamlined. You can grab any bait, as long as it's not something with a ton of plastic that will get hung up. I do have some secret weapons I keep in my boat, but I will save them for another time. Can't give up all the goods! I should also touch on grass jigs, as people do use jigs to punch. I personally do not, however, if you feel that the grass is not insanely thick, and you can maneuver a jig through it, by all means, do it. It will get bit.
I follow two basic rules as far as punching goes. Keep in mind it's dark under those grass mats, so something that's full of glitter and very "loud" may not work as well. I stick to Black and Blue, or a silver/white color. I use black and blue if bream, bluegill/sunfish are common, then I may color the tips with a bit of chartreuse. I use white/silver if there's shad present. My home lake has no shad, so I stick to black and blue pretty much 100% of the time. If I'm on a new lake that does have shad, I will definitely have some whites with me.
To skirt or not to skirt
When do you use a punch skirt? That is solely dependent on your lake, and it can be a game changer. It can either be positive, or negative. Sometimes they had that "it factor" and can enable you to boat some giants. Other times, fish may totally shy away from them. It's a lake by lake basis, and always worth trying. I find that in the morning, or evening, when Bassquatch is lurking, that is the time to use a skirt. Keep in mind you don't have to match plastics to skirt. Try for the contrasting standpoint. Got a green pumpkin plastic on? Try a purple or black and blue skirt. Sometimes the color scheme that seems odd to you is just what the fish are after. The picture above is one of my personal punching setups, and one of my favorite punch skirts. It's one I make, using a Green Pumpkin Orange Fire Tipped skirt.
Now that we've gotten the necessities out of the way, we can go over the best ways to maximize efficiency and your fish catches. Let's talk the when, where, and why. We'll say you have just rolled up to a spot, and it's one giant expanse of grass. Kinda like this:
How do you even go about fishing this? It's grass as far as the eye can see. Now I'm not going to lie to you, this is a daunting task, and even the best "punchers" may find it takes them a bit to locate the fish, and no wonder. Look at that mass of nonsense. It's ridiculous. The best way to break this down is to find the edge. So here we are faced with the "where" portion of this guide.
Finding the edge can be the best place to fish. It can be that simple. Finding the edges with small abnormalities, such as a "point" of grass sticking out, or maybe there's something like a log, or a bird house, which I'm sure you've seen in some watersheds. Lone pieces of vegetation is also a killer spot to target. That's why you've got to cover them all. Like I mentioned above, punching is a grind. But we're fishing to win. Find the edge, then work your way around it, looking for abnormalities as you go. Before we get in the thick of it, what do you do when you actually punch the grass? When you make your initial pitch, and the bait falls through, lifting your rod tip a few times, bringing the bait up and letting it fall is a very commit method. Alternatively, you can gently shake the rod tip, making the bait pulse at the bottom. Similar to a Shakey head, in a sense. Giving the bait some movement will generate bites, and it's up to you to figure out what they want. Moving on..
Let's say they aren't biting on the edges, you haven't had any takes. Tough luck. So now it's time to move into this mess where the real fun begins. You are moving into the thickest stuff possible. For simplicity sake, let's say the far bank in the above image is west, and the wind has been blowing hard all day, pushing this junk into a mat. It's a serious clump of crap. That's what you target first. Again, find abnormalities, points, lone pieces of grass, rocks, etc. We've talked about it, so you know. Fish around the wind blown areas, and you will likely find success. It's a grind, so stay patient.
So, mother nature has thrown a curve ball at you. No, wait.. it's a slider. There is no wind. That above scenario didn't exist. The wind has not pushed a floating mat together, and it's all spread out. You're in the middle of it, what do you do? What you need to do is again, find abnormalities. But this time, you're dead smack in the middle of grass mat city. Not a lot of options for points, or lone pieces of grass. What you must find are what we call "high percentage areas". Look for a small pocket in a mass of clumped grass. Or if there's one giant opening, with a small island of grass, hit that. You need to find areas that a fish is likely waiting, because remember, bass are ambush predators. If there's a small opening, in a mass field of vegetation, if you make a quiet presentation to that opening, you may be in store for an aggressive bass.
Punching is all about making your own success. If you can learn to decipher high percentage areas, whether it's a large mat, a small mat, or just fishing in general, your fish catches will dramatically increase. Now keep in mind punching is a pretty advanced technique, so if you're just starting out, it may not be ideal for you. It's certainly fun, but it requires dedicated equipment a newbie may not want to invest it. Which is perfectly fine, master the basics, then graduate to the big boy of fishing. I hope this guide helped you out, whether the whole thing helped you out, or just a few things. My main goal is to help, even if it's just one person I've done what I set out to do.