Our Outdoors: Read the Reeds

The ancient practice of tasseography, or the reading of tea leaves left over after the beverage is consumed, is a method of divination to help the drinker predict the future and personal success.  There is a similar process in angling, particularly for bass fishing at this time in the season, when green pencil reeds are well established in their preferred sandy substrate.  Not all reed beds are created equal and certain stretches will provide better luck than others; but knowing where to look for the signs of future good fishing will help you find greater success on the water.

A Deep Connection

The best reed beds will have direct connections to deeper waters nearby, allowing bass to move up and down as conditions dictate.  This way, when the occasional cold front or unstable weather rolls through, the fish can find comfort out of the shallows, and when things stabilize and heat up again, bass will be able to forage and find cover in the reeds.  Watch for sharp edges in the emergent reed bed that signal where the desired shallow substrate ends and may drop off quickly into adjacent depths and start there during frontal transitions to find moving fish.  During long-standing stable weather, bass may be spread out through the entire stand of reeds, with the biggest fish scattered among best spots, with smaller fish setting up around them.

The author with a 19″ largemouth coming from the inside pocket of a reed bed near deep water.

Through Thick and Thin

Ideal expanses of reeds will have significant variations in the density of the emergent vegetation.  In some portions, usually the outside edges, reeds will be very thick and tightly packed together.  These areas allow bass to stage on the rim of the reed bed and pick off prey that might be moving in or out, or cruising along those edges.

Beyond the established edge, there will be pockets where the reeds are thinner or even non-existent, which provide ideal spots for bass to lay in cover and feed on crayfish, young-of-the-year panfish or minnows which also use reed beds as rearing areas.  Target these transitional areas to find out where fish are holding.  In some lakes, there may be large, sprawling reed beds, and you’ll find time after time that fish are relating to small openings, curves or pockets in them, so take note and use that information to your advantage in similar spots.

Accurate casts of maneuverable, weed-resistant baits like Texas-rigged soft plastics or slender-headed bass jigs around or over the thick stuff can place these offerings in the perfect position for a strike, but don’t forget to work them methodically through the reeds if a prime area doesn’t produce a bite.  It’s amazing where largemouth – sometimes big ones – can tuck themselves away in the seemingly small spaces in the densest  stands within reed beds.

Good Luck

When a bass in an area beyond or within a section of tightly-packed reeds takes the bait, a little bit of luck and a lot of the right moves are required to bring it to the boat.  Reeds are by far one of the sturdiest species of aquatic vegetation and can pop a hook free from a fish’s mouth with a simple wrap and pull.  Bass instinctively seem to know this, and will take every opportunity to bulldog their way to the bases of these plants in an attempt to snag the hook or wrap the line around the stems and roots of reeds in an effort to escape.

The nature of these fish-holding plants, combined with the instincts of the fish itself, means a powerful, upward sweeping hookset is necessary to start the fight on the angler’s terms.  Using no-stretch superlines like PowerPro or Berkley’s Fireline will also help anglers detect bites sooner and slice through some vegetation that bass might dive into.  Keeping the pressure on the fish and lifting it up toward the surface throughout the battle is the best way to bring them to hand.  If fish wrap up in reeds, keep the pressure on and try to pull them around the base, or if that fails, give them a little line and yo-yo them back around the plant base if things get sticky.  In the latter situation you’ll need a little bit of luck as well to free the fish and bring it in.

With some time on the water, knowing how to read a reed bed will become a sort of sixth sense that might make your fishing buddies think you have extra-sensory perception.  But picking apart this favorite summertime haunt of largemouth bass, as always, comes down to identifying locational and seasonal factors at play and utilizing the proper fishing tactics to bring you good fortune…in our outdoors.

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