UPCOMING EVENT: YETI College Fishing - 2019 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

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 

/tips/2019-02-14-high-school-camp-registration-open

High School Camp Registration Open

Registration is now open for the 2019 Costa FLW High School Fishing Camp, which will be held July 24-26, 2019 at Murray State University and Kentucky Lake. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-02-13-how-to-fish-power-plant-lakes-in-winter

How to Fish Power Plant Lakes in Winter

Some of the power-plant lakes throughout the Midwest are borderline legendary. If you live near one or are willing to travel to keep your open-water season alive, Colby Schrumpf’s system could work on just about any of them that have grass. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-02-13-high-school-fishing-camp

High School Fishing Camp

READ MORE »

/tips/2019-02-12-aoy-update-lake-toho

AOY Update: Lake Toho

 With the first two events of the 2019 FLW Tour season in the books, it’s time to take a look at how the Angler of the Year race is shaping up. At Sam Rayburn and Lake Toho the pros were tested with very different conditions, and the standings include anglers different specialties and skill sets than at this time last year, when the Tour’s first two events were both held in Florida. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-02-11-costa-flw-series-western-division-opener

Costa FLW Series Western Division Opener

The recent government shutdown put the Costa FLW Series Western Division opener on Lake Mead in a holding pattern, but FLW has received clearance to proceed with the event as planned, regardless of the current or future status of government operations. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-11-top-10-patterns-from-lake-toho

Top 10 Patterns from Lake Toho

While the Lake Toho FLW Tour event presented by Ranger Boats fell basically right on top of a wave of spawning bass piling into the shallows, many of the top finishers targeted bass that were staging out or transitioning to or from their beds. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-11-top-10-baits-from-toho

Top 10 Baits from Toho

The second stop of the 2019 FLW Tour landed right on the spawn on Lake Toho and the other lakes on the Kissimmee Chain. Top finishers caught bass in all phases of the spawn. Collectively, they used just about every bait you’ll ever need if you want to catch a bass this time of year in the Sunshine State. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-10-gross-wins-second-tour-title

Gross Wins Second Tour Title

Buddy Gross of Chickamauga, Ga., won the 2019 FLW Tour event presented by Ranger Boats at Lake Toho in Kissimmee, Fla., with a four-day total of 20 bass that weighed 85 pounds, 12 ounces. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-09-gross-grabs-toho-lead

Gross Grabs Toho Lead

Day three of the FLW Tour presented by Ranger Boats on Lake Toho was tough on the leaders, but Buddy Gross stayed steady, rising to first from fifth with 19 pounds, 12 ounces. In total, Gross has amassed 62 pounds even through three days, which is just about a pound ahead of Darrell Davis, who caught 25-12 for a 60-15 total and rocketed up to second from 13th. Going into the final day, everyone in the top six is within 5 pounds of the lead, and the way the Kissimmee Chain is pumping out big ones, that counts as the slimmest of margins. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-08-cox-stays-ahead-on-toho

Cox Stays Ahead on Toho

Day two of the FLW Tour presented by Ranger on Lake Toho featured not one, but TWO 10-pounders, one caught by Casey Scanlon and the other by Jamie Horton. READ MORE »

/news/2019-02-07-cox-leads-toho-slugfest

Cox Leads Toho Slugfest

Day one of the FLW Tour presented by Ranger Boats on Lake Toho was the slugfest many expected. Leading the way is sight-fishing extraordinaire John Cox, who caught 31 pounds, 9 ounces and the day one big bass – a giant that went 10-9.  In second, John Voyles wrangled up 24-15, and Scott Martin is close behind him with 24-12. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-02-02-okeechobee-midday-update-day-3

Okeechobee Midday Update – Day 3

The third and final day of the Costa FLW Series Southeastern Division event on Lake Okeechobee presented by Power-Pole has the weather anglers have been hoping for since they started practice. A light breeze, plenty of sun and temperatures near 80 degrees have the top 10 pros and co-anglers licking their chops for a chance at the biggest bag of the tournament. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-02-01-okeechobee-midday-update-day-2

Okeechobee Midday Update – Day 2

Every ounce counts in a tournament, and that will certainly ring true today. The second day of Costa FLW Series competition on Lake Okeechobee presented by Power-Pole may be off to a better start, but big bites are still few and far between. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-02-01-

READ MORE »

/tips/2019-01-31-okeechobee-midday-update-day-1

Okeechobee Midday Update – Day 1

Power fishing and flipping lead the charge for the first few hours of fishing on Lake Okeechobee. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-01-28-catch-your-personal-best-from-a-kayak

Catch Your Personal Best from a Kayak

Eric Jackson, owner and co-founder of Jackson Kayak and three-year FLW Tour pro, has contributed a great deal to the booming kayak market, not to mention the popularity of the sport itself. Gone are the days of kayak manufacturers catering to a niche market of anglers who don’t own a bass boat. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-01-25-a-new-way-to-follow-flw-live

A New Way to Follow FLW Live

In November, FLW announced a major expansion to its popular FLW Live programming, increasing the total broadcast time for the season to more than 700 hours. To help fans access and track all FLW Live video streams, a new “Live Broadcasts” section has been added to the FLW homepage. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-01-24-how-to-bass-fish-high-water-in-winter

How to Bass Fish High Water in Winter

High water isn’t unusual in the spring or summer, but dealing with rising water this early in the year was somewhat of a new experience for many of the pros – as it is for the weekend warrior. Therefore, the Rayburn Tour event is a case study on how to handle this situation and still put loads of bass in the boat. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-01-22-2019-bfl-season-kicks-off-this-weekend

2019 BFL Season Kicks Off This Weekend

While much of the northern United States is locked in a deep freeze, Southern bass anglers will be kicking off their 2019 T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League season with the Gator Division tournament at Lake Okeechobee in Clewiston, Fla., and the Cowboy Division tournament at Toledo Bend Reservoir in Many, La. READ MORE »

/tips/2019-01-17-pro-tip-how-wes-logan-ties-a-jig

Pro Tip: How Wes Logan Ties a Jig

Wes Logan is particular about his jigs. So particular that he pours his own heads and ties his own skirts. Logan’s tying method keeps the skirt from slipping down or spinning around – a pet peeve of his. Some folks do the same with wire, but Logan prefers using light braided line. READ MORE »