UPCOMING EVENT: Costa FLW Series - 2019 - St. Lawrence River

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

John Cox’s Mat-Punching System

John Cox’s Mat-Punching System
John Cox

While John Cox might seem to some observers to have a very simple approach to bass fishing, he’s actually one of the best at refining various techniques, particularly when they fall into his shallow-water wheelhouse.

His approach to punching grass mats, for instance, is a model for how to efficiently get more bites in the thickest cover and successfully haul more bass out of it. From each tackle component to every procedure, Cox is dialed in on the mat-punching game.

 

Equipment is king

Mat punching requires some of the most specialized equipment in bass fishing, and each component must be carefully considered and matched to the rest to increase the odds of successfully landing fish in heavy cover.

To some degree, tackle selection is a matter of personal preference. Cox’s system is borne of a lifetime of fishing in grass-choked Florida lakes. This is what works for him:

Reels – Cox fishes an Abu Garcia REVO STX baitcaster and advises anglers to buck the current trend of using the highest-speed reels on the market. He sticks with a 6.6:1 or 7.3:1 retrieve ratio.

A reel with a slower retrieve ratio takes up less line per turn than a comparable reel with a faster retrieve ratio, which Cox equates to a low-gear, high-torque effect for winching bass out of the grass.

“The reason you want a little bit slower reel ratio, I think, is because it gives you power for when you have that fish on,” he explains. “You get more turns on the handle instead of having to pull with the rod.”

 

Rod – Cox’s MHX 936 Flipping & Pitching rod is 7 feet, 9 inches long and rated extra-heavy power, which is about typical for a punching stick (though maybe a tad short for some pros). Its moderate-fast action strays a bit from the traditional “broomstick” standard but is along the lines of the modern trend in punching rods. The action complements low-stretch braided line and is carefully selected to deal with a bass that buries up in the grass once hooked.

“You want something that has a lot of bend but has enough backbone so when you really get to leaning into it, it loads almost all the way to the reel,” Cox says. “You almost have them on a big rubber band. You want them to be able to pull that rod to that point so it won’t rip the hook out, but you almost have the maximum amount of pressure on them.”

Keeping the pressure on, but still allowing the fish to surge prevents the bass from working a hole in its mouth when it’s pinned up against the mat.

 

Line – Since Cox signed with the Pure Fishing pro-staff last winter, he’s been expanding his knowledge of braided line. Just like there are different classes of fluorocarbon suited for different techniques, he’s also learned when to apply various types of braid.

The two most common categories are four-carrier and eight-carrier braids. Four-carrier braid is made with four strands woven together, and eight-carrier is made with eight strands. Berkley, a Pure Fishing brand, recently released X5 Braided Line and X9 Braided Line, with four and eight strands, respectively, wrapped around a central fiber to become five- and nine-carrier braided lines.

Generally, the more strands, the rounder and smoother the resulting braided line, which is great for long casts and techniques where a more supple line is important. In other words, not punching.

“That’s something I learned in the last couple years,” Cox says. “Berkley’s X5, which has four strands wrapped around one, is thinner in diameter and more sensitive, to me, than an eight-carrier, or something that’s smoother. It’s not as smooth as an eight. It’s a little more rigid, but it feels like it has a lot more cutting power. It seems like when that fish moves it actually cuts a lot better through the vegetation. It’ll open up more, and the fish will come out, and you can get it. That’s compared to fluorocarbon or a slick eight-carrier. To me it’s night and day. That smoother line doesn’t cut. It won’t be able to rip through it.”

Cox believes the braid with fewer strands is more sensitive, which is much more critical when punching than when throwing a topwater or moving bait – tactics that would be better suited for an eight-carrier braid.

“You’ll feel stuff under that mat,” he adds. “Bass do this thing where they’ll come up with their mouth closed and brush the bait, almost not wanting to eat it, but to come up and see what it is. You’ll feel that with the four-carrier [X5] and not with the eight. It’s night-and-day to me.”

Cox adjusts line size based on the weight he’s using: 40-pound test for a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce weight, 50-pound test for a 1-ounce weight, and 65-pound test for a 1 1/4- to 2-ounce weight.

“The smaller the braid you can get away with, the better the cutting power you have,” he says.

 

Hook – Cox prefers a 3/0 Berkley Fusion19 Heavy Cover straight-shank hook for most plastics, including the Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Creature Hawg and Berkley PowerBait Chigger Bug, two of his current favorites. The hook is compact for slipping through the mat and has a light-wire shank for easy penetration, which is important when using a moderate-fast rod, but it can hold up to hard pulling and heavy pressure.

He opts not to use a snell knot.

“I feel like when you snell you need more weight to get that bait through the mat because the bait doesn’t fit flush to the weight when you snell. It’s sitting on an angle,” Cox says. “That weight has to pull that bait through on an angle. If you don’t snell, you can get that same weight through the mat easier with less weight.”

The only other tweak he makes is to add a little JB Weld or epoxy to the keeper to help hold it in place on the hook for longer life.

 

Technique tips

Proper gear only gets you so far. Punching bass out of mats takes careful technique, too.

Rod positioning – Rod positioning is critical for setting the hook.

“I never want the rod up there at 10, 11 or 12 o’clock while I’m flipping it through the mat,” Cox says. “I always want the rod straight out in front at about 3 o’clock. From 3 o’clock, you have a lot more driving power to drive the hook in.”

It’s important to let the bait fall straight through the mat. Some anglers feather out line on the pitch so the bait can fall through unimpeded, but that technique can impart slack in the line or result in a high rod tip. Cox leaves the spool disengaged and makes sure his weight is heavy enough to pull line off the spool as the bait sinks.

“Your best chance to get them out of that stuff is to catch them off guard and try to pull them through the same hole your bait went through before they get 5 or 6 feet away,” Cox says. “If he swims away you won’t get a good hookset.”

Bring it up – A good hookset drives the hook in and turns the fish to start bringing it toward the surface. Ideally, the fish will wallow up through the mat. If it does, keep the rod loaded and haul it across the surface with the reel.

“That’s when the right rod comes into play is when that fish is out of the mat, he’s out of the water, and there’s not all that water resistance on him,” Cox says. “If he’s flopping everywhere and that rod is too stiff he’s going to come off.”

Read a buried fish – Whether or not to go into a mat to get a fish really depends on whether or not it’s actually buried. According to Cox, if you pull back and there’s very little movement from the fish – maybe just a slight tug or the feeling of it thrashing under the mat – and you can’t move it, it’s probably buried. Troll in and get it. But if the fish is pulling down or to the side (he says sometimes you’ll hear the line whizzing), it’s not buried, and there’s a good chance he’s going to come through the mat.

If you’re set up properly and have a good hook in him, maintain pressure and the fish should work up through the mat.

In either situation, avoid slack, keep the rod loaded and the pressure on, and rely on your gear. If you use Cox’s system, the odds are as high as they can be of getting that fish through the mat and landing it.

Tags: pro-tips-weekly  curtis-niedermier  article 

Buy a Hat, Help USA Bass 

Buy a Hat, Help USA Bass 

Bass fishing fans have a chance to help the USA Bass team achieve its goal of winning the 2019 Pan American Championship in Canada next month. To help fund the effort, USA Bass, which is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, recently launched a limited edition hat drive with the goal of selling 1,000 USA Bass hats. READ MORE »

A High School Kayak Tournament Experience 

A High School Kayak Tournament Experience 

A recent high school kayak bass fishing tournament showcased the potential of kayaks to get more young anglers on the water and competing. READ MORE »

Hough is Fighting to Fish

Hough is Fighting to Fish

Fishing just her second full season as a co-angler in the T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League (BFL) South Carolina Division, mother of two and first-grade teacher Kate Hough was planning and preparing for a chance to do something no woman has ever done in her division: win Co-Angler of the Year. Instead of preparing for the Super Tournament on Lake Hartwell on Sept. 28, however, Hough is simply fighting to leave her hospital bed. READ MORE »

Super Tournament Winning Ways – Week 2

Super Tournament Winning Ways – Week 2

The second weekend in September saw seven more T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) divisions conclude their seasons with two-day Super Tournament events. From the Tennessee River to the St. Lawrence River and a few places in between, here’s a quick look at how the seven events were won. READ MORE »

Check-in Time: Matt Reed

Check-in Time: Matt Reed

From time to time, FLW checks in with its anglers to find out what they’ve been up to, what they’re listening to, who they’re following and where they’re heading while out on the tournament trail. This week, we caught up with Texas pro Matt Reed.  READ MORE »

7 Ways to Fish the Megabass Dark Sleeper

7 Ways to Fish the Megabass Dark Sleeper

The Megabass Dark Sleeper is definitely a niche bait that most bass anglers ought to have in their arsenal. It’s a swimbait, but its size, shape, dorsal fin hook guards and action allow it to be applied in a similar manner as a jig. READ MORE »

When to Fish the Flashy Swimmer

When to Fish the Flashy Swimmer

In April, FLW Associate Editor Justin Onslow documented how Gross likes to cut the belly of his two favorite hollow swimbaits – the Scottsboro and the Zoom Swimmer – when rigging on a weedless hook to achieve a high hook-up ratio. However, that article didn’t break down where and why Gross prefers to use the Beast Flashy Swimmer hook versus a standard weighted, weedless swimbait hook. So we reached out to Gross for more info. READ MORE »

FLW Mourns Passing of T. Boone Pickens

FLW Mourns Passing of T. Boone Pickens

Businessman T. Boone Pickens, who in 2010 partnered with FLW to promote an alternative energy plan to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, passed away Wednesday at the age of 91.  READ MORE »

Super Tournament Winning Ways – Week 1

Super Tournament Winning Ways – Week 1

College football, hooded sweatshirts and the conclusion of the T-H Marine Bass Fishing League (BFL) regular season are what come to mind as the calendar turns to September. This past weekend, six divisions put a feather in their cap for the year with their two-day Super Tournament events – where the payouts are bigger – but, more importantly, it’s the last chance to accumulate points to qualify for the Regionals this October. READ MORE »

How to Make a Swimbait a Line-Thru

How to Make a Swimbait a Line-Thru

Jake Lawrence thinks the line-thru swimbait is more versatile than many tournament anglers realize. The Kentucky Lake and Pickwick guide and 2018 Costa FLW Series Lake Barkley champion frequently chucks one any time bass are shallow to not only put big fish in the boat, but to catch five good ones in a day. READ MORE »

Harris Chain to Host 2020 College Championship

Harris Chain to Host 2020 College Championship

Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes will host the 2020 YETI FLW College Fishing National Championship. The tournament, set for Feb. 26-28, will showcase the top collegiate anglers from across the nation. READ MORE »

Martin Makes Young Angler’s Wish Come True

Martin Makes Young Angler’s Wish Come True

A feature published this morning by Dennis Anderson of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (startribune.com) details the story of a 10-year-old Minnesota boy named Colby, whose wish was to get to meet and fish with FLW Tour pro Scott Martin. Colby, who suffers from a rare autoimmune disorder, got his wish on Wednesday thanks to Martin, Minnesota-based 3M and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Together, they treated Colby’s family to a weeklong vacation, and Martin guided the young angler to a day of fishing for bass and northern pike on Mantrap Lake near Park Rapids, Minn. Martin has been in the Land of 10,000 Lakes for the last week or so filming for various video projects. READ MORE »

Khourie, Lingnau Win 2019 FLW South Africa Championship

Khourie, Lingnau Win 2019 FLW South Africa Championship

Team Khourie/Lignau, consisting of Pieter Khourie and August Lingnau of the North West region, came roaring back on day three of the 2019 FLW South Africa Championship with a five-bass limit of 10.55 kg (23.25 pounds) to take the top spot and beat out Greg Schluep and Giulio Nolli of Team Secret VC for the title. READ MORE »

Checking in with Walters After the Cup

Checking in with Walters After the Cup

Walters, 41, of Grant Valkaria, Fla., is getting back to business as usual following his remarkable Cup showing, and we checked in with him to find out what his experience in Hot Springs was like and what’s on tap for the future – including a possible FLW Tour career. READ MORE »

FLW Zimbabwe Championship Recap

FLW Zimbabwe Championship Recap

The 2019 FLW Zimbabwe Championship took place Aug. 23-25 on Lake Mteri. The Walking Dead team led by Roger Cousens won the event with a three-day total weight of 101.83 pounds. For the win, Cousens will fish as a boater at the Costa FLW Series Championship Oct. 31-Nov. 2 on Lake Cumberland, and Miles Bennet (from team Keepnet) will compete on the co-angler side. READ MORE »

A Tribute to Irwin Jacobs

A Tribute to Irwin Jacobs

Jacobs’ dreams were bigger. Bolder. He saw bass fishing’s potential to reach beyond the traditional fishing consumer and to the masses. Through his corporate savvy and hard work, Jacobs manifested a new era of professional bass fishing where anglers became household names, represented major national brands and competed for enormous payouts. READ MORE »

Check-in Time: John Cox

Check-in Time: John Cox

From time to time, FLW checks in with its anglers to find out what they’ve been up to, what they’re listening to, who they’re following and where they’re heading while out on the tournament trail. This week, we caught up with John Cox.  READ MORE »

Review: AFTCO Hooded Performance Shirt

Review: AFTCO Hooded Performance Shirt

The AFTCO Jason Christie Hooded LS Performance Shirt checks every box. It’s a comfortable shirt with a unique hood design I really liked. I reviewed it recently on a couple of kayak-fishing outings and during several days spent shooting photos on the water at FLW Tour and Costa FLW Series events. READ MORE »

Potomac River Midday Update – Day 3

Potomac River Midday Update – Day 3

The final day of the Costa FLW Series Northern Division presented by Gajo Baits event on the Potomac has offered chamber of commerce weather and some up and down fishing. The event, which is presented by Lowrance, has featured pretty tough fishing overall, and it seems like some of the top 10 may fall victim to it today. READ MORE »

Curveballs at the Cup

Curveballs at the Cup

When the field of 52 anglers arrived in Hot Springs, Ark., for the official practice period for the 2019 FLW Cup, they were greeted with sunshine, humidity and brutal daytime temperatures in the upper 90s. Early in the week, there was little mention of anything other than the same – a typical Arkansas summer forecast of sunny and hot. READ MORE »