My guide client Rich made a cast over the top of one of Keystone Lake’s many submerged weedbeds. Immediately a chucky largemouth bass engulfed the slowly sinking soft jerkbait. After a spirted fight, the bass, which registered a bit over 3ﾼ pounds, was in the net.
It’s not uncommon for anglers to avoid fishing around weeds, easily disgruntled by the inevitable tussle with the vegetation. But weeds, particularly submerged ones, supply gamefish with food and cover.
In the lakes in our area, common submerged weeds include varieties of milfoil, coontail and pondweed. In general, like the grass in your yard, they grow from spring into fall. In the shallow zones of a lake they may reach the surface by late summer; however, in deeper zones they may not. The plants require a degree of light, so lakes that have greater water clarity tend to have deeper growing submerged weeds.
Most of Pennsylvania’s lakes are actually reservoirs, the exceptions being clusters of natural glacial lakes in the northwest and northeast regions of the state. Reservoirs that experiences high degrees of fluctuation in level, such as many U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes, often have little or no aquatic weed growth.
From an angler’s standpoint submerged weedbeds have three basic edges: the outside edge, where weed growth ends as the water deepens and light penetration lessens; the top, the zone between the surface and the upper reaches of weed stalks; and the inside edge, from the shoreline out to where submerged weeds develop. The irregularities found within these various edges provide gamefish with ambush points to prey on food fish.
How and where submerged weed growth develops depends on factors such as water clarity and chemistry, bottom composition and stability of level. Using nearby Keystone Lake as an example, weeds can grow out to 20-foot depths since the water is clear, particularly in the lower, deeper end of the lake. Since it’s common for that lake to experience drawdowns by fall of four or five feet each year, there’s little in the way of weed growth from the shoreline out to depths of 3 to 5 feet.
Now in Yellow Creek Lake, which has more color to its water, weeds only creep out into 6 to 8 feet of water. And Mahoning Creek Lake, which sees an annual winter drawdown of around 20 feet, has little to no submergent weed growth.
Bass, walleyes, muskies and crappies all use submerged weeds at one time or another. During the fall, when weed growth begins to die off, finding healthy green weeds is often the key to finding gamefish in and around this cover. Some forms of vegetation remain green throughout the fall well into winter and can be gamefish magnets.
A variety of baits, lures and rigs are needed to efficiently work weeds. Soft jerkbaits, mentioned at the outset, are ideal for fishing the top and inside of a weedbed. Baits like Zoom’s Salty Super Fluke, rigged on a 3/0 or 4/0 worm hook, can be twitched over the tips of weeds, coaxing bass up from within. Slow sinking unweighted worms, like Yamamoto’s Senko, are another option.
One of my favorites for fishing the outside edge of a deeper weedbed is a jig-worm combo, such as a Z-Man Hula Stickz rigged on an eighth-ounce mushroom style jighead. The slow fall of the jig-worm provides plenty of opportunity for a bass or walleye to intercept it. The classic Texas-rigged plastic worm is another great option.
Sparser weeds, like patches of milfoil, are ideal for a spinnerbait, swimming jig, or a bladed jig such as the Chatterbait. Slow rolling such lures, making occasional contact with cover, often provokes reaction bites. It’s a great tactic on stained water lakes like Pymatuning that feature patchy weedbeds.
Gamefish will often hold along the bottom of deep weeds in clearwater lakes. The drop shot rig, which can be fished nearly vertical along these 20- to 25-foot depths, is a fine way to target such areas of lakes like Keystone and Conneaut.