Punching Rod Selection
What makes a good punching rod? You want a rod with a lot of backbone but it needs to have a parabolic bend at the same time. If the rod bends all the way through, it loads up and can help spring the fish through the mat. It has to be strong and able to withstand a heavy load of bass and grass without breaking.
But you still want a little bit of a tip so that you can feel some of the more subtle bites before they feel you.
And you need a longer rod so your bait doesn’t hit the water on the pitch, so you’ll have leverage on the fish and so you can get the bait through the mat cleanly by elevating your rod tip as high as possible.
Punching is also a lot of work and it will wear you out. If you make 2000 pitches with a 1-1/2-ounce weight in a day, you’ve picked up nearly 200 pounds by day’s end. Just counting the tungsten weight. Factor in a heavy poorly balanced rod and you’ll be begging for a break after the first half hour. A good punch rod is also well balanced and as light as possible while maintaining integrity in the other characteristics we talked about.
I use a Fitzgerald Rods Big Jig/ Mat Flipping 7’8” Heavy and it is the bomb. It embodies all these characteristics because it was designed by flippers, for flippers. Both Trevor Fitzgerald and Rich Howes have won Bassmaster Open’s punching, so they know a thing or two about it and know how to build a great rod for it.
Punching Reel selection
To go with the strong but flexible rod, you need a strong but fast reel. I use a Lew’s Super Duty in 7.5:1 gear ratio to punch and have been since the Wildcard when I first really got into punching. You need a strong reel for obvious reasons, but you need a little bit faster reel to retrieve line quickly between pitches.
Punching Line Selection
I always punch with around 65-pound test braided line. I usually use Sufix 832 65-pound test braid but have also experimented with Fitzgerald’s Vursa braided line in 70 and 80-pound test and have also been pleased with that.
Punching Weight selection
I prefer a tungsten weight without an insert but you must be certain the bore is clean so that your line doesn’t fray and break. The paint will also chip on cheaply made tungsten weights. The two I use are the VMC Tungsten Flipping Weights and the Fitzgerald Fishing Tungsten Flippin’ Weights. The Fitzgerald weights actually aren’t painted at all but have an oxidized finish so the color lasts longer. There are several schools of thought on painted versus not painted punch weights and if painted, what color to go with.
In my fishing personally, I’ve never noticed much of a difference on what color paint performs better, but I do prefer painted over non-painted. I stick with black weights all the time just to keep it consistent. Some really good flippers say that the flash of an unpainted weight will actually trigger some strikes and I don’t doubt it. But for me, it all goes back to the fact that most punching fish hit right away and the number of bites that non-painted weights might trigger is probably offset by the number of bites that non-painted weights might deter if you were to use non-painted weights always.
Since I like consistency in my setup, I just stick with black weights.
The other way to up your chances of breaking through cleanly is by adjusting your tungsten weight size. The threshold between pitching and punching seems to come around the time you have to move up to a 1-1/2-ounce weight. That seems to be the gold standard for flippers. But at times you may have to work your way all the way up to a 2-1/2-ounce weight to get through. I believe I’ve even seen tungsten weights heavier than that, though I’ve never used them.
In the Wild Card, I was punching some really thick stuff to try to fish fresh water that some of the other anglers weren’t fooling with. So I was having to use a 2-1/4-ounce weight with the BB Cricket to break through. Definitely test out the extra thick stuff if you’re ever fishing a tournament against a lot of other flippers. In the Wildcard, some others may have been doing the same thing but the only two of us that brought it up to reporters were the winner, Morgenthaler and myself.
Punching Hook selection
My hook of choice is a VMC Heavy Duty Flipping Hook but I’ve also had good luck with a Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover Flipping Hook. All hooks are not created equal and I have broken several other brands. These two I have a lot of confidence in. I always use a 4/0 straight shank hook when I’m punching. The 4/0 size gives you a plenty enough hook to tie into any size bass and is still small enough to slip through most mats and fit most flipping baits well. The straight shank is needed for the Snell Knot to do it’s thing. We’ll talk more about that later.
Punching for Bass: Peg vs Bobber Stopper
I prefer a rubber peg like the Top Brass Jumbo Peg-It to secure my weight when punching over a bobber stopper for a couple reasons.
One, I’ve never found a bobber stopper that won’t eventually move up my line throughout the day allowing the weight to separate from the bait making it less efficient at entering the mat.
Two, I like to keep my weight ever so slightly above my bait so that the weight doesn’t hammer on the nose of the bait over and over throughout the day causing my bait to move and tear. But don’t peg it too tightly because then the weight won’t be able to move and take advantage of the Snell Knot, which again, we’ll talk about in a minute.
Punching for Bass: Bait selection
The bait is something overlooked by many novice punchers. You don’t want to punch something like a Strike King Rage Craw with big flapping appendages because they hang on the vegetation. At least in particularly thick mats, you want a bait that is more streamline like my favorite bait to punch, the MISSILE Baits D Bomb. Or something even smaller in super thick mats like what I was pitching in the Wildcard, a Gambler BB Cricket .
In all honesty, there are times a fish sitting under a mat is so aggressive it would likely hit a bare hook if you could get one in front of it. So one of the reasons I like the BB Cricket is that it barely covers the hook and can get through almost anything.
Then there are times where the fish need a little more convincing, that’s when I go with the D Bomb or even the Baby D Bomb if I need to put what I consider a little better profile bait in front of the fish. You’re typically mimicking bluegill or some other baitfish under a mat and the D Bomb’s body style is a little more along those lines than a Cricket.
Again, the full-size MISSILE Baits D Bomb is my go-to. I use 3 basic colors. Bruiser Flash in tannic water and mix it up between Candy Grass and Green Pumpkin Flash in clearer water. And again I’ll back down if need be to a smaller bait like the Gambler BB Cricket or MISSILE Baits Baby D Bomb but I’m rolling with the full-size D Bomb 90% of the time.
Punching for Bass: Punch Skirt vs No Punch Skirt
If I’m on a fishery with a lot of punching potential, I like to have at least one rod rigged up with a punch skirt on it to where I can alternate between that setup and a similar setup with no skirt to see if one or the other yields more bites.
I don’t really have a preferred punch skirt but something like this is what I typically go with. Punch skirts also seem to work best in hydrilla, milfoil, or coontail that’s topped out but not forming a super thick mat.
Punching for Bass: The Snell Knot
Okay, so let’s talk about this Snell Knot I keep mentioning. It’s basically a knot that allows the hook to pivot perpendicularly to the pull of the line. Most people use a Snell Knot when flipping and punching. I do too. That being said, Brandon Palahniuk makes an interesting argument for its necessity here.