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Ontario Fishing Network

Volume 6,  Issue 3 - March  2006


The Importance of Weeds
   by Justin Hoffman

Vexilar Upkeep
   by Tim Allard

The Simple Rig for Smart Walleyes
   by J.P. Bushey

Today's Catch - Interview with Aaron Shirley
  by T.J. Quesnel

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"The Importance of Weeds"

By Justin Hoffman

When it comes to freshwater angling, weeds play an extremely important role in the livelihood of a fish. They provide shelter, oxygen, ambush points and a smorgasbord of baitfish - more than enough reasons to pay special attention to the green stuff when out for the day. Learn the true reasons why weeds are so special, and watch your catch rates grow in leaps and bounds

Give Me Shelter
Since fish don't have the option of owning an underwater home, making do with structural elements is the next best thing. Be it logs or fallen trees, rock cribs, or bridge pilings, most of these spots are premium real estate for the competitive nature of a fish. One thing that is found in abundance in most lakes, however, is vegetation, and believe me, the majority is teeming with fish.

Different species will use weeds for differing reasons when seeking shelter. In the case of the largemouth bass, shallow water lily pads and cabbage beds provide shade and cooler water temperatures. For walleye, a thick weedbed offers a dark environment for their light sensitive eyes. When dealing with panfish, seeking shelter under the greens is a way to stay protected from feeding predators.

Although many fish use vegetation as shelter, it usually is only a temporary stay. They may come during certain times of the day to laze about, or it may be used as part of a seasonal movement. Now, if food sources are plentiful, they may linger in the general area all season long, gorging on the free meals at their doorstep.

Breathe Easy
Vegetation has a unique component in its ability to provide oxygen. Much in the same way humans need it, fish depend on this gift of life to maintain their existence.

When figuring out the best weeds to tackle, pay close attention to the color. What you are looking for is the greenest, crispest looking vegetation you can find. The darker in color it is, the more oxygen it will ultimately give off.

Searching areas like this is paramount depending on the season at hand. Fall and winter, when many weeds are dying and decaying, will find fish staying close to those still holding on to their life-giving gift. As shallow water weeds die, fish will move outwards, taking up residence on the next sustaining weedbed they stumble across. Make sure you wear polarized glasses in order to spot these prime real estate areas.

Although I have discussed the merits of finding green weeds, this pattern hold true only for those plants that are still alive. Dead vegetation also holds fish, and although it is not giving off any oxygen, the shelter and ambush spots it provides overcompensates for that.

Slop, which is nothing more than washed up weeds that have been chopped up by an outboard, is a tremendous area to seek out largemouth bass. It may not be green and crisp, but boy does it ever hold fish. So, floating weeds are an excellent choice regardless of color, whereas anchored vegetation (including pad beds) go up in value the greener they get.

Waiting in Ambush
Fish seem quite lazy at times. Instead of chasing down prey, they lie in wait, ready to pounce on the next edible thing to swim by. If truth were known, conserving energy through an executed attack is not lazy at all (although it may appear so,) but rather a smart and efficient way to eat.

One of the most concealed spots in a lake to ambush prey is within the weeds. Predators can easily camouflage themselves amongst the plants, lying still until the perfect opportunity presents itself. And the main reason prey flock to the weeds is for the zooplankton and insects that they provide. (Kind of like leading a lamb to slaughter in my mind!)

Largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye and musky are the big four that use the ambush method for corralling food. This is not to say they won't aggressively chase down food (as they will), but ultimately prefer to save energy and play the waiting game.

Knowing this information can help an angler improve their odds when working over the weeds. First of all, look for the distinct weed edges. Think of this as a thick wall of vegetation, with open water space out in front. Fish will tuck into this 'wall,' while waiting for fish (or lures) to swim by this unobstructed channel.
Another good spot to target would be weed clumps. Again, toss baits right along the edge of the clump to find out what's lurking inside. Pockets or holes inside weedbeds are also optimum choices to target. Think of this as hide and seek. Anywhere you find a spot that can conceal a fish, yet allows it to have a clear view of prey, is a definite area to wet a lure.

Although oxygen, ambush spots and shelter are extremely important, without the addition of prey, weeds just wouldn't be so favorable. Vegetation attracts a wide range of prey species for fish - frogs, baitfish, and craws - which use weeds both for food and shelter. The better the weed area is, the more chance for prey to be present. This in turn equals more predators.

For baitfish, zooplankton and insect larvae are the attracting forces to flood the green stuff. They follow this tiny prey in, and then ultimately become food for the big guys. When it comes to frogs and craws, they call pads and sandy-bottomed weed areas home. And the bass and pike will be close behind.

If you find a promising weed area devoid of baitfish, there is a good chance the larger predators have moved on. They might stop for a short visit as the move around the lake, or even spend a lazy afternoon conserving energy, but they won't be there long unless food is at their doorstep.

Lures and Baits
It's no secret that weeds hold fish. That's pretty much a no-brainer. Whether you can catch them might be a different story.

Fishing in the weeds holds a different approach than open water fishing. Exposed hooks will quickly snag and foul, leaving you cursing unmentionable obscenities. There are some baits that are made for the weeds, and will do the trick for enticing those hidden fish:

  • Texas-rig plastic baits when working inside the weeds. For working the edges, an exposed hook should be fine.

  • Spinnerbaits and buzzbaits are two top choices. Upturned hooks run well through the weeds, and are relatively snag proof.

  • Weedless frogs and creature baits are ideal for pads, slop and weed clumps.

  • If jigging, stick with bucktail as opposed to plastic trailers.

  • Flipping jigs reign supreme in the weeds. They are undoubtedly one of the best baits for largies in the thick stuff.

  • Shallow running cranks can be worked over the top of emergent weed growth.

  • Lipless crankbaits are ideal for 'ripping' through and above vegetation.

Seek out the weeds this season, and see what lurks within. The fish will be there if you do your homework, and the catching can be easy if you know what tools to use.