By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
A missed bite, a fish that jumped off or a broken line has cost all anglers a trip to the bank – or at least some bragging rights. The pros work toward developing a system that allows them to trust in their instincts and mechanics to capitalize on those bites that are sometimes few and far between.
Fish have grown wise to fishing pressure and are a great judge of authenticity, especially when it comes to bait presentation. There is a method to anglers' madness when they're spooling their reels and rigging their rods for pitching and flipping.
Feider’s Fluorocarbon Leader System
Seth Feider, the 2021 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, grew up fishing natural lakes in Minnesota. Lakes chock full of milfoil were the home of monster largemouth whose catchability was lessened by ultra-clear water due to the presence of zebra mussels, but also by increased fishing pressure.
When Feider was building his skillset, he flipped 65-pound braided line on Lake Minnetonka, the most pressured bass factory he fished. Early on, it was easy to flip a big jig or plastic offering into those weed openings and leave with sore forearms after catching numerous bass. Once the fish grew wise to those pursuing them, Feider realized his game needed to evolve.
Not wanting to lose the benefits that braided line afforded, such as strength and sensitivity, he deduced that tying on a fluorocarbon leader, as he does with his finesse applications, could be the solution.
Straight fluorocarbon still had too much stretch to get even small bass out of the jungle. Even worse, he needed to fish it on a cumbersome 8-foot heavy-action flipping stick to have any chance of getting them out. Feider quickly pointed out that as he evolved as an angler, efficiency became crucial. Fishing a rod that long and heavy, pitching every 30 seconds, was not only exhausting but also took a toll on his elbow.
Instead, he realized that fishing a 7-foot medium-heavy rod paired with 30-pound Suffix braid made flipping and pitching effortless. Braid also rips through vegetation and allows for sure hooksets.
Feider does not buy into the gossip that 30-pound braid is easily broken on a hookset. He adds a fluorocarbon leader to be stealthier and also to make the bait fall more naturally. Any time he’s fishing cover with a 3/4-ounce weight or lighter, he’ll use a 7-foot Daiwa Tatula Elite Brent Ehrler Finesse Rod paired with a Daiwa Zillion reel (8:1 gear ratio).
There’s only one catch – do not lock down your drag because the leader will break on a big hookset unless you leave a little slip in the drag.
“If I crack them really good, I need just a little slip to keep the leader from popping,” Feider said.
Tying an FG knot to join the fluorocarbon and braid between the reel and the first guide affords him an 11-foot leader when he cuts the business end at the butt of the rod and his bait even with his reel once it’s tied on.
“For me, it’s a system now,” Feider said. “Reel into them and a good hard pull.”
Alex Davis doesn't trust a braid-to-fluorocarbon knot in his flipping setup.
Davis Loads Both Barrels
Pro tournament angler and Lake Guntersville guide Alex Davis tried Feider’s system, but it didn’t work for him.
As with many anglers, Davis doesn’t like another knot being part of his approach.
“I don’t trust the knot that joins braid to fluorocarbon. And you lean into them instead of a (making) solid hookset. I also don’t like my drag to slip,” Davis said. “When you deal with a big fish here (Guntersville) and hook a bass close to 10 pounds, all hell breaks loose. I do not want fluorocarbon on there, not to mention a one-ounce weight will eat the line to pieces.”
Whether he's using braid or fluorocarbon, Davis keeps his system simple on two set-ups.
When fishing a 1-ounce weight or lighter, he’ll flip 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon around wood. Davis won’t fish braid around wood because he believes it lacks abrasion resistance.
When pitching stumps, he’ll opt for 15-pound line to get more bites and because there is less cover to get hung up in. Around pine trees and thick bushes, he’ll fish 20-pound line.
At a recent tournament on the James River, his landing percentage fishing braid around lily pads was 90 percent vs. 50 percent when fishing fluorocarbon.
Herein lies the rub for Davis.
“Do I want to get less bites and land more, or get more bites and land less? At the James, when flipping sparse vegetation, I used 50-pound Maxcuatro with a diameter of 40-pound. The smaller the line, the more bites I get, and that’s plenty enough to get one out,” he said.
At an event on Lake Kissimmee, he ended up in 4th place after Day 1 but estimated he had the bites for a 35-pound bag.
“I lost them because I was flipping some of the gnarliest cover you have ever seen, but I could not get a bite on the braid. I was fishing around people and no one was catching them. I was steady slamming on fish,” Davis said. “I think they can hear it. If I can hear braided line in my guides, fish can hear it see-sawing over lily pads.”
When he has no choice but to rig up with braid, he’ll fish a 7’8” Shimano Curado extra-heavy rod, a 1 1/4-ounce tungsten weight and 65-pound Power Pro line.
Greg Hackney does subscribe the theory that bass are repelled by the sound that braided line makes as it goes through cover.
A Line Hack of his Own
Greg Hackney doesn’t buy Davis’ theory about braid creating a repulsive sound to the bass.
“These new bass have ears, so they hear that, right? I’ve been fishing for 25 years professionally; I’m hard-pressed to change. When they flip with a leader, they break off three or four times during a 4-day tournament. They had to have it because they wouldn’t bite without it. I hear that all the time,” Hackney said. “I find that in fishing, the simpler you keep it, the better you do. You make it complicated, you make it harder on yourself. It’s still the same fish swimming around for eons.”
Hackney fishes fluorocarbon line when targeting isolated cover, when fishing shallow water or when he wants a slower fall rate. He also likes that the bait tends to spiral naturally, whereas braided line causes the bait to fall directly downward.
“I’ve run into situations, flipping in the North, that I had to go to fluorocarbon to catch them," he said. "Northern fish don’t crush the bait; they bite it. I fish fluorocarbon so I don’t pull the bait out of their mouth.
"I would flip up 20 bites and miss them, go back through with fluorocarbon, and catch every one of them."
Hackney rarely fishes fluorocarbon lighter than 15-pound test unless a spinning rod is involved.
“As I understand it, fluorocarbon has the same light-carrying capacity as water; word on the street is that it is invisible, so why would I downsize the line?” Hackney said. “I’ll only downsize the line to get better action out of the bait, not because the fish see the line.”
Hackney pointed to a recent situation when fishing the Great Lakes where he caught smallmouth on 6-pound fluorocarbon. He set his spinning rod down and picked up a 3 3/4-inch swimbait rigged on a 3/8-ounce head sporting a 5/0 hook and threw it on 17-pound line, and they crushed it.
“Why would I throw anything smaller than that? I’ve fished with them long enough to learn that it has nothing to do with line size; it matters how the bait looks,” Hackney said.
Anytime Hackney is pitching/flipping with fluorocarbon, he fishes his Team Lew's Signature Series 7'6” heavy-action casting rod. He only uses 20-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line.
When he switches to braid, mainly around reeds, bushes, pads, and matted vegetation, he’ll opt for the 8-foot model. But braided line comes with a word of caution from Hackney.
“When you go to braid, you must do things better and be better dialled in on the bite. Fluorocarbon affords stretch.”