Non-Typical Mats, Importance of Weight and Other Punchin' Tips

with Wesley Strader and JT Kenney

Punchin’ is a technique that can yield some monster bass.

The basic principle is simple: punch your weight and bait through a matted surface and try to get a big one to bite.

There is more to it than that though, and professional bass anglers JT Kenney and Wesley Strader shared some tips to maximize your punching and help you get a few more bites.

Punch Plastic Selection

Each serious puncher has a few favorite baits they rig up. Kenney decides which one to use based on the forage, conditions, the time of year and how thick the mat is. He most often uses a creature bait like the Gambler Stinger or Why Not because they are compact are streamlined enough to slip through just about any matted cover.

I use a creature bait most of the time. If the water is warmer or if the fish are really aggressive, I go with something with a lot more flapping action. I like the Gambler Mega Daddy or Burner Craw in these situations and anytime where I feel like the bass are more focused on eating bluegill instead of craws,” he says. “That is usually a summertime deal for me.

“Another thing to consider is how much pressure the fish are getting. If they are getting pestered non-stop, I typically want a bait that is going to glide more and stay away from baits with aggressive action.”

In those cases, he opts for something without any kicking tails or appendages.

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Weight Size Matters

Generally, you want to punch with the lightest weight you can get away with and still break through the matted cover. While this is true, Kenney says he always has a 7’11 extra heavy Halo TI rod rigged up with a 1.5 ounce Reins Tungsten Heavy Weight Slip Sinker.

“The 1.5 is my go-to because you can still get through just about any cover and you still get a good hookup ratio. A heavy weight is needed sometimes, but sacrifice some of your chance to land the fish because the weights are so big and you don't always hook them as good,” says the Florida pro.

Landing More Fish

Wrestling a giant bass wrapped up in the grass is always an adventure, and you are bound to lose a few. To minimize lost fish, Kenney is careful to select the gear. Everything he uses has a specific purpose for him, and that is to land what bites.

Kenney says that this close quarters fishing means the rod generally does most of the work in fighting a fish, but he also likes a faster reel to help him. “I use a 7.3:1 Ardent Apex so if a bass gets up on the mat I can take up line quickly and get it in.”

While some anglers like a giant gaff of a hook, Kenney prefers a 3/O TroKar Big Nasty for most situations.

“It has a streamlined bend, and that helps the bait and whole profile stay compact to slide through the mat easier. If you keep your presentation compact you can spend less time trying to get it through the mat and over the course of the day you can punch a bunch more times,” he believes.

Tungsten is the only way to go for punching according to Kenney, and he prefers Reins because for many reasons but one in particular.

“They have an insert, and to me, that is the most important thing. You are not going to cut your line because there was a small imperfection inside of the weight,” he says.

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Punchin' Non-Typical Mats

While most anglers associate punching with mats of thick vegetation, Kenney says just about any matted surface will do.

“Punching is kind of like a dock fishing, you can do it all year long because bass will gravitate to anything that provides cover above their head,” he begins. “I have had success punching ‘ junk mats,’ these are places where chopped up grass from boats driving around congregates and forms a mat. I have even punched a pile of leaves that were pushed together to create a small canopy,” he adds. Kenney says to punch any cover that presents itself and that the technique will work anywhere in the country.

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Strader Weighs in On Weights

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Wesley Strader is another guy who likes to punch thick cover. He opts for a specialized punch weight like the Reins Punch Shot over a standard weight when he wants to bulk up the profile of his offering.

There are times when they want that bulkier profile, and I recently saw where it made a huge difference when I switched to it from a standard flipping weight. It gives you the bulky look of a jig without having to mess with getting grass on your weedguard all day,” he says.

Punching thick mats is a great way to land a giant bass, and according to Strader and Kenney, you can do it just about anywhere. Use these pointers next time you see a punchin’ opportunity.