Pack up your flippin’ and pitchin’ sticks, a bunch of punching weights and some smaller-profile soft plastics – it’s time to head to Florida to pull some of the biggest bass of the season out of the gnarliest, thickest cover you can find.
According to MLF analyst and longtime Florida resident JT Kenney, winter is the time to be punching in the Sunshine State.
“Punching a big weight and soft plastic in heavy cover is the best way to find a lot of big fish in Florida during the winter,” Kenney confirms. “It can depend on the lake you’re fishing, but in general, punching is my go-to during the winter.”
Kenney focuses on punching in December and January for a couple of reasons, the first of which is spawn timing.
“During the true wintertime in Florida, most fish in the lower two thirds of the state are in full-on prespawn mode – then the spawn will start sometime in January,” Kenney says. “The reason punching is so effective is due to the big females getting up in spawning areas that have very heavy cover. I’m talking about that real thick stuff that looks like you could walk on it.
Reason number two: the weather, and its effect on Florida’s notoriously cold-sensitive largemouth.
“This is the only time of the year we get cold fronts,” Kenney says. “The bass go to those same heavy cover areas when they’re stressed from the cold fronts.”
Kenney’s first advice for punching: scale down the weight.
“I won’t go any higher than a 1.5-ounce bullet weight,” Kenney advises. “When you use a heavier weight, the hookup ratio is unacceptable. I believe you can miss 50% or more of your hookups with a 2-ounce or larger weight.
“If I can’t get my bait through, I’ll throw it up in the air and the weight can punch through with force. There are days you need to be stealthy, but usually, you don’t need to be. Some days the big splash attracts the bass to your lure.”
The money end of Kenney’s punching setup set up is a Trokar TK133 Pro-V Flippin’ Hook and a NetBait Dagger in plum magic or June bug colors. If the water is really clear, he’ll occasionally use green pumpkin.
“I don’t care if there is a cold front or perfect weather, most bites occur on the initial drop once the bait punches through the mat,” Kenney says. “That Trokar hook looks weird, but it helps with the overall slender package following the weight, and it makes my drops more efficient. It all falls through the cover better.”
The Dagger features a unique design that Kenney says is perfect for punching. It’s a classic beaver-style bait, but is only thick down the center of the bait, allowing you to rig the bait easily. The outer area is thin and collapses as it drops in the water, allowing the bait to become even more slender and effective at penetrating the super-dense cover that Florida bass prefer.
The best bite happens first thing in the morning and from late morning on, according to Kenney.
“In Florida during the winter, no matter how cold it is, there’s a bite as soon as it gets light for an hour or so,” he says. “It’s a first-thing-in-the-morning deal. “Then from about 8 to 11 a.m. it’s usually very slow fishing. Starting around 11 and lasting until sunset it’s the absolute best time to be on water. When I’m filming content or fun fishing, I get up, get work done, and leave the house around 10:30 and get on the water at 11. You don’t need to lose sleep this time of the year to catch big bass in Florida.”