In recent years, fishing a lipless bait, a spinnerbait or a vibrating jig in offshore grass in Florida has lit up the leaderboard in many tournaments. Tyler Woolcott, a second-year pro from Port Orange, Fla., has plenty of experience tracking the bass in offshore grass throughout the seasons, and you might be able to learn a thing or two from him.
According to Woolcott, the most important aspect of offshore grass fishing is also the simplest: You want to be fishing the best grass. Because Florida grass growth fluctuates seasonally and depending on where it is sprayed or harvested, your best bet is often to find the freshest, least-pressured grass.
“You kind of just have to put the time in and find it,” says Woolcott of the hunt for good grass. “There will be little community holes where people have found it for a while, and then there will be spots that pop up that people haven’t found yet. If you saw that big bag that Terry Scroggins weighed in October in the Glenn Browne Memorial, that was off a little patch of grass that nobody had found yet on Harris. If you can find something that nobody has found yet, the fish can be so stacked on it.”
The best way for Woolcott to stay on the leading edge of the search for fresh spots is to have a good network.
“Me and my buddies will spend hours and hours idling around,” he says. “We put our heads together trying new areas to try to find something new that nobody has pressured yet.”
Though finding unpressured grass is often the biggest factor in offshore Florida success, it’s important to recognize how varied that grass can be. A great grass spot can be as unobtrusive as a small patch growing 6 inches or a foot off the bottom, or it can be a tall stand of hydrilla that is almost topped out. Woolcott figures the average grass he fishes is growing about halfway to the surface in water that is 6 to 8 feet deep.
Finding grass that is actually alive and in good condition is also key. Woolcott likes to fish it and pull up a few strands to be sure, but he says you can tell the liveliness to an extent with good electronics skills.
“Once you idle around on a lake for a couple days and see how it looks you can kind of get a good idea,” says Woolcott. “Growing grass is going to look a little different from dead grass. Dead grass is going to sink and flatten out; it’s going to look bland on your StructureScan. When it’s green and growing it looks a little different.”
This year on Lake Seminole, Woolcott found one key stretch of growing grass amid a lot of dying grass. He rode that to a cut and an $11,500 payday.
According to Woolcott, you can almost always find Florida bass in offshore grass, but he gives an edge to certain places when the spawn is near.
“Right now, the fish aren’t really doing much of anything besides eating, so they get on things that haven’t been pressured much,” says Woolcott. “Once the spawn comes, if you can find an area that is outside of a good spawning canal or a bay that hasn’t been getting much pressure, that would be a really good area.”
Woolcott has seen hydrilla close to spawning grounds play a number of times, most notably in wintertime tournaments.
“What I fished on Kissimmee last year [in a February Tour event] was like that,” says Woolcott, who booked a top-10 finish with a vibrating jig in that tournament. “I had found a really good area for them to spawn, and they were out staging in the hydrilla next to it.
“I fished with Justin Atkins as a co-angler on the Harris Chain in 2017. He had found some grass at the mouth of a canal in a different part of the lake than usual, and literally my first cast I lost a 5-pounder, and then he caught a 6-pounder. That was a weird area, but it’s set up for that time of year.”
Of course, even when the spawn is in session, you don’t want to just look at the places near spawning areas without looking at the truly offshore grass.
“Depending on the time of year and the weather, places like the Harris Chain can set up different ways, but even if they are spawning there are so many fish there that you can still catch them in the offshore grass and catch them on the bank,” says Woolcott. “The year Chris Johnston won [the 2018 Tour event], he caught them offshore. I was with Rob Jordan as a co-angler the second day, and he caught them just going along the bank and catching fish on the bed.”
For most of his grass winding, Woolcott relies on two baits: a vibrating jig and a 13 Fishing Magic Man lipless crankbait.
For both baits, he uses either a 3/4- or 1/2-ounce model, depending on the depth of the grass, and sticks with natural colors such as shad, shiner or green pumpkin patterns. For trailers on his vibrating jigs, Woolcott usually likes either a Gambler Little EZ or EZ Vibez.
Using a 13 Fishing Concept BOSS reel with a 6.6:1 gear ratio to help him keep the baits down, Woolcott always sticks with 15- to 20-pound-test Seaguar AbrazX. He fishes both baits on a 7-foot, 4-inch 13 Fishing Envy Black Chat-R-Crank rod.
“It’s moderate fast, so it has a good parabolic bend, but also a good tip,” details Woolcott. “When you’re throwing a vibrating jig or a lipless, you don’t want to set the hook right away. Usually, when they eat it they kind of load up on it, and you just pull back. I’ve perfected it in the last year or two, and that rod is absolutely perfect for it.”
Woolcott does make some modifications to his approach when he’s fishing very shallow grass. Primarily, he moves up to an 8:1 gear ratio reel and swaps over to heavy braided line. The change allows him to clear the bait out of the grass better and fish it faster and higher in the water column.
Perhaps the biggest key for fishing the grass is to actually fish it properly, and that means making a lot of contact with it.
“When I’m throwing a vibrating jig or a lipless, I don’t always do a steady retrieve,” says Woolcott. “I usually get it down in the grass and pop it out. In the offshore grass you want your bait on it. They usually aren’t sitting above it; they’re in it or on the edges using it as an ambush point. So, if you don’t have your bait in it then they probably won’t eat it.”
Fishing moving baits is always Woolcott’s go-to in practice, but sometimes things slow down on derby day. Then he’ll turn to slower stuff like a worm, especially if he’s camped on a particular patch.
It’s tempting to flip all day in Florida, and the amount of visible, excellent-looking cover can be hard to pass up. But, if you can stand to spend some time idling in search of the motherlode you just might find it. Though finding a willing group off the bank in Florida isn’t a dead parallel to catching fish from offshore schools on the Tennessee River, it can be pretty electric and worthwhile.