Learning At The Feet Of The Master

Let’s take a step back in time to 1998. A little-known outdoor writer from Western New York was attempting to get a TV program off the ground and gain some national exposure.

A call from BASS invited him to attend the BassMaster Classic as a media member. After a plane ride to North Carolina’s Table Rock Lake and a chance fishing encounter, a long relationship was born. Over the years through many sports show chance meetings, a love of deer hunting and chasing turkeys; the yankee and rebel kept in touch.

Then came that sub-zero morning in the early part of 2012, when the “yankee” received a call from Texas beginning the largest fishing tournament take Chautauqua Lake has ever seen. Bass Pros — the Major League Fishing event on Chautauqua Lake which was seen in millions of homes with the championship shown on NBC — was coming, and the start of many events giving our lake exposure began with that phone call.

My grandpa always said the best relationships either start on water or in the woods. I was fortunate/lucky enough to draw Chad Brauer as my pro during the final day of the 1998 Classic on Table Rock. It’s no surprise that Chad wanted to give up much of his first Classic berth to watch his Dad flip his way to his first Classic win.

As I sat in Chad’s boat that fateful day in August and had a meeting just off stage with the new Classic champion later that afternoon, only the good Lord knew that some 16 years later that I would sit in another boat and watch Denny flip his way to winning the Major League Fishing event on my home lake.

So, when I was looking to do a closeup fishing bass piece, I only had look to one person, the master Denny Brauer.

“Almost every lake has heavy cover, and where do the big bass like to live? They like to live in that heavy cover. Conventional casting techniques often cannot get your bait in there and if you can get your bait in there, your odds of getting the fish out are pretty slim. That’s where flipping comes into play,” Denny Brauer said. “If the water is dirty you can get a lot closer to the fish or if the cover is really uniform and heavy, think of how many more drops you can get into the fish’s home because you’re not spending all that time reeling. You’ve got a piece of line that you’re working with, the reel’s engaged, and you’re fishing close to the fish where you can feel the bites better. You can get a better hookset, and have a better chance of landing them. So, flipping can have a real advantage in dirty water and heavy cover.”

As far as the mechanics of flipping. Brauer explained that the first thing you want is to be working with is the right piece of line. Hold your arm straight out and make sure the bait is even with the reel. That way you’ve got a piece of line about an arm’s length that’s very easy to work with. He then recommends that you swing the bait out but when you do, don’t just let go of the line or you’ll splash the bait into the cover, often spooking the fish.

“What you’re trying to do is let the line slide through your hand, bringing your hand back to the reel handle,” Brauer said. “Now you let your lure fall on just a little bit of slack line, that way the lure will fall straight down into the cover. When it hits bottom shake it a couple of times. Now is the time to feel it if it feels heavy or light you need to set the hook. If not, pull the bait out and flip it into the next good-looking spot and repeat the process. Let it fall straight to the bottom following it with the rod. Give it a couple of shakes, bring it out and flip it into the next spot.”

And that’s all there really is to it and once you get the hang of it it’ll become second nature, just like making a cast. Easy as pie right? Well it may seem to be but mastering this technique takes a while to good at and lifetime to master.

When it comes to flipping and pitching using the right equipment is incredibly important. A good baitcasting reel is crucial. For Brauer, that’s the Lew’s HyperMag Speed Spool SLS. Incredibly light and compact, it has a really strong 20-pound drag for really strong hooksets and pulling fish out of cover. It also has a perforated spool so you can tie direct with braid without slippage issues. Along those lines, with many baitcasting reels, Brauer recommends spooling with a few yards of monofilament or fluorocarbon on first, tying directly to that to keep the braid from slipping on the spool.

“No matter what baitcasting reel you’re using, make sure you tighten that drag down as much as you can so you can get the hookset and get those fish out of heavy cover,” Brauer said. “It’s very important to have a reel that’s heavy duty because you’re going to be using a heavy rod and heavy line along with it and the reel needs to be able to hold up.”

When it comes to rods, Brauer also uses Lew’s sticks.

“The most popular length is a Team Lew’s Speed Stick 7-foot, 6-inch heavy-power Flipping rod. Plus, it’s got enough tip in it that it makes a great pitching rod. The bottom line is to find a rod that works for you. If you’re smaller in stature you might want to go with a slightly shorter rod but when you’re flipping and pitching to make sure the rod is at least 7 feet long so you can get the leverage and do the techniques correctly and go with heavy power.”

When it comes to flipping and pitching must-haves, Brauer considers line the most important.

“When it comes to flipping, line choice is where a lot of anglers get confused,” Brauer said. “That’s why I went to work with Seaguar to develop these FLIPPIN lines in both braid and fluorocarbon so anglers will have the correct line for the technique. Seaguar FLIPPIN braid is available in 50- and 65-pound. I love to fish the braid down through the heavy cover-matted grass, heavy vegetation, etc. because it’ll cut right through it, you get a great hookset, and there’s no stretch to it. So, you get a really good hookset and you bury the hook really good.

“Now, if the water is a bit more clear or you’re targeting isolated cover and targets I’ll choose Seaguar FLIPPIN fluorocarbon, which is available in 20-, 25- and 30-pound test and those are perfect weights. If it’s really clear water with isolated targets, you can get by with 20-pound. If the cover’s pretty dense, move up to 25 and if the water’s dirty, move up to 30-pound. You’re never going to have to worry about breaking off a fish. And that’s very, very important because the biggest mistakes that happen with flipping and pitching are involved with your line-either using the wrong line for the wrong situation, using too light of line, or not taking the time to re-tie.”

“When it comes to flipping, you’re always hunting for some kind of cover,” Brauer said.

Of course, depending on the water’s you fish, that cover can come in a variety of forms. Brauer’s advice is just to get out on the water, target some cover, and wait for that first bite, after which you can start getting analytical and work toward discovering what he calls the “pattern within the pattern.”

Often, he starts his flipping routine working boat docks, a solid bet for flipping just about everywhere you can find them.

“When it comes to boat docks, I’ll fish each pier, the walkway, and if it’s got anything unusual like a ladder or a rope, a boat lift, etc., I’ll fish it all. But when you get the bite, really pay attention: Where exactly did that bite come from? Don’t be in a hurry to get to the next dock. Sit and analyze the one where you just caught the fish. How deep of water are you sitting in? Is it a gravel bank or a mud bank? Is the dock on a point or back in a pocket? Those fish will tell you a lot if you pay attention. Was it on the shallow side of the dock? The deep corner? Was it on the windy side or the calm side? If you’re fishing a river, was it on the up current side or the down current side? The details you can pick up go on. And that’s what I call developing the pattern within the pattern that can be so critical.”

“Once I’ve narrowed it down to what side the fish will be on windy, sunny, shady then take it one step further. When you flip it in there and get that bite, ask yourself did the fish hit it on the drop or after it was on the bottom and was, I shaking it up and down? Because if a fish hits on the drop the fish is aggressive,” Brauer said. “Then you know how he’s positioned on the cover and how he’s biting. If he hit it on the drop and your bait hits bottom there’s no need to sit there and jig it up and down. Hit the next piece of cover.”

Conversely, there are times when you may need to flip your bait in and jig it repeatedly up and down, like after cold fronts or on heavily pressured waters. That may also be part of the “pattern within a pattern” that you discover.

“No matter what, spend some time analyzing the cover, use common sense, and number one listen to the fish,” Brauer said. “When you get that bite, really analyze everything you can about that piece of cover, exactly how the fish hit the lure, and it will make you a more successful flipper.”

While there are several keys to successful flipping, Brauer cites boat control as one that many anglers could improve. First off, it’s important to operate your boat with your bow into the wind or current when flipping, operating your trolling motor to work targets efficiently.

“That way you can be going the speed you want to rather than the conditions pushing you too fast or slow,” Brauer said. “Also, working into the wind or currently allows your boat to fall back when you catch a fish, giving you a second chance to approach the spot where you caught the fish for another bite.”

Another reason boat control is important is it helps you reduce the presence of your shadow in potential fish-holding areas. “You never want to cast your shadow onto the cover before you flip it, because from the time bass are itty-bitty fry, they’re conditioned to water birds and other critters so those shadows can spook them. So, make sure when the sun is out that your shadow is not hitting the cover before you have a chance to flip it.”

Also monitor water clarity. Boat control in mind, if the water is a bit clearer you might want to back the boat off a bit and make pitches; if the water’s dirty, you can get closer.

“Be aware, big bass are very spooky so be as stealthy as you can,” Brauer said. “Don’t have your trolling motor on high; have it on a speed that’s conducive to the density of the cover you’re going through so you can be very thorough without being rammy while you’re moving through and you’re going to catch more big fish.”

No matter where you fish bass, flipping can definitely up your odds for more and bigger fish. With fish pushed deep into cover, it can also produce fish when other techniques can’t seem to get the job done.

There is nothing like learning from the best in the business at anything, Denny Brauer is just that the best at what he does.