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  • Beating the Heat, or My Approach to Slop Fishing by Fishaholic

    It was a hot, humid afternoon in Mid-July when the phone rang . . . it was a friend of mine who had just returned from Viet Nam. A few brief salutations were exchanged and then the words that brought a smile to my face - "man, it's been a long time since I wet a line, want to take a run down to the river?" "Sure, how soon you want to go?" I replied. "I'll pick you up at 4:00 a.m., got a new concept I wanted to show you . . . make sure you got some Johnson Spoons, OK?" he said. "OK Bud, see you in the morning . . . I'll be ready!"

    At first light we pulled into the parking lot, the mist wafting softly over the stillness of the bayou South of the river. As the mist dissipated, I stood in awe, looking across the bayou at the massive floating mattes of duckweed that were everywhere, in fact, there was very little open water anywhere! "You got to be kidding me!" was my response in total shock to this vision . . . "where we supposed to fish?" I continued . . . "Watch and learn." was my partner's response . . . So, I found a nice log to sit on and waited to see what this was all about.

    Bud starts casting his spoon on top of the green flotillas and I watch as he retrieves it just fast enough to keep the spoon on top, occasionally pausing the bait, then quickly resuming the retrieve not allowing the bait to sink at all. After a few casts the water erupts as a northern pike viciously attacks the bait from underneath the duckweed. This was my introduction to slop fishing. The rest of the day was spent casting our spoons on top of this stuff and the rest of the day we continued to catch fish. Back then, it was mostly a northern pike and an occasional bowfin . . . those were the old days, now I find I mostly catch bass in the slop and the occasional northern pike.



    Over the years, there's a few tricks, approaches and techniques that I've learned . . . a few of these I'd like to share.

    A Few Basic Lures
    Although baits, like the Johnson Silver Minnow, still work great in the slop, there's other baits that work as well, or better depending on the situation and the condition of the slop. A Moss Boss, for example, works much like the Johnson Silver Minnow, but when the duckweed forms into a tight matte the Moss Boss is a better choice. Other good baits are T-rigged tubes, lizards, worms, fished weightless on heavy or medium heavy tackle . . . and don't forget those frog-type and rat-type baits either! When using heavy baits like the Johnson Silver Minnow, it's wise to add a plastic or pork trailer, this keeps the bait up on top where you want it.

    When the duckweed isn't compacted into a matte, I prefer to use lighter and/or shorter baits; however, when the duckweed forms into a tight matte, I prefer to use heavier and/or larger baits. Experimentation is a good thing here, try different baits and/or bait configurations. . . in the beginning, fish with what you're comfortable with.

    Retrieve Variations
    There's as many variations for retrieves as there are baits to choose from, but some of the more commonly successful retrieves that I employ are: slow as possible and steady, no pauses; medium retrieve, with occasional pauses; rip-n-pause with a very slow retrieve in between rips; fast retrieve, no pauses; and an erratic retrieve. These are my basic retrieves, but there's no rule as to what's right or wrong here . . . play around with your retrieves, use whatever you have confidence in.

    Look Before You Leap
    Whenever I first approach a cove that's totally covered by slop, I take a moment to make an
    assessment of the area before tossing a lure out randomly, hoping for a strike. Is this an area I've fished before? Are there any underwater structures? Do I observe any activity under the matte? Are there turtles sitting on logs, or actively feeding? Do I see any frogs at the edges? Herons along the shoreline? Emergent timber, or other types of structure (pads, brush, narrows, man-made structures)? Hard, or thick areas of compacted slop? Any tiny openings? Bird activity? Overhanging vegetation?

    I always employ the outside - inside approach, slowly working my bait into the target area, and, I always cast further than what I've determined my target area to be. Whenever possible, I cast the bait to the shore, and gently slip or hop the bait into the water . . . much like a frog or other small critter jumping off the bank to the edge of the water.

    Duckweed is a floating structure, it's governed by currents, rain and wind - a completely covered cove today could be a sparsely covered one the next day, or even totally clear for that matter - each day brings new challenges. But, on the inverse thought process, what you observe today as a likely location for slop fishing that's devoid of slop may be full of slop the following day, so make mental notes of the other locations where slop fishing might prove to be quite to your advantage.

    The Attraction
    Why do bass gravitate to the slop? Primarily for its many benefits such as shade from the sun, whether it be a really bright day, or extremely hot, because under the matte of duckweed the water temperature can be 10+ degrees cooler than the exposed water; other forage that the bass rely on feel more secure just under the slop, or along its edges; the slop provides shadows from which feeding bass can ambush their prey, underneath compacted slop a bass is totally hidden from anything moving across the top - frogs, snakes, mice, birds, etc.; bass are able to get quite close to the shoreline and remain undetected - this allows them to capture unaware forage that moves along the shoreline . . . I've taken bass within six inches of the shoreline in eight inches or less of water on days that the humidity level was hovering around eighty per cent and the air temperature was around ninety-five. There's also numerous insects and crustaceans that live within the vegetation itself, these forms of forage attract minnows and other fish such as crappies, bluegills, suckers, shad, golden shiners, etc . . . and all are necessary to the bass' survival.



    Some Key Elements
    Always look for edges - edges where moving duckweed comes in contact with compacted
    duckweed; edges where duckweed comes in contact with emergent weeds; edges near the
    shoreline where a sliver of exposed water separates the duckweed from the land mass.

    Look for openings - small openings where something in the water is restricting the movement of the duckweed; openings between patches of slop where minnows may be popping on the surface; openings where a fish may have just rolled, or a feeding turtle has pushed it aside.

    Look for the heads of frogs just peaking up ever so slightly; or snakes gliding across and/or
    through the slop. Any emergent timber, floating timber too provides additional hiding places for aggressive fish.

    Every year, I like to scout out areas that I feel will provide better slop fishing possibilities than others . . . I do this early on in the year before any slop exists, making note of submerged lay downs, holes, sandbars, humps, narrows, channels, etc. When the duckweed first begins to appear signaling the beginning of slop fishing, I'm ready . . . other fishermen have looked at me in wonder, when I'm casting a bait to an area that appears to have no structure to it whatsoever . . . but I know that there's structure there!. . . underneath the slop, right where I mapped it in the Spring.

    Setting the Hook!
    Most of the time, you won't see the fish until it attacks your bait, in other words, it's going to blast a hole through the slop to get at your lure! Your first reaction will be to set the hook immediately. 9 out of 10 times, you'll be pulling the bait away from the fish! Wait until you feel the weight of the fish to set the hook, or until the fish is rapidly moving away from you.

    Fishing slop is not for the weak of heart! I've had several friends hyperventilate from the
    experience, one even passed out! The fish that come from underneath the slop to attack your bait do it viciously, aggressively and without warning the serenity of the day is broken . . . it doesn't get any better than this.

    Quite often, a large pike or bass will blast through the slop several feet away from your bait and attempt to attack it from above . . . although this is quite exciting to watch, the majority of the time they flat out miss the bait.
    Equipment - Here's What I Prefer to Use
    Most of the time, I'm casting baits on top of the slop with a high-speed retrieve Shimano bait caster on a 6.5' medium to a medium heavy graphite rod, using 50 lb. test SpiderWire Stealth braided line, when fishing weightless baits like tubes or downsized worms, I prefer to use a 6.5 foot fast taper spinning rod, with a Shimano Spinning reel loaded with 10 lb. test monofilament.

    The Lure of Slop Fishing
    For me, it's the anticipation of the strike . . . as I cast my baits on top of the velvety green matte and the lure makes ever so slight an indentation, I watch intensely, as it glides and skips along the surface - I have absolutely no idea when a bass may choose to violently and aggressively attack my lure . . . the thrill of watching a big bass blow up through the matted weeds without warning gets the heart beating. It's even exciting when you accidentally run your bait across the back of an unaware fish in a neutral or negative mood and they roil the duckweed or slap the bait with their tail as they're swimming away.
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