Bass Fishing, Bass Lures, Bass Boats, Russ Bassdozer

Shop @ Bassdozer Store | Lures, Rods, Reels | Boats, Motors, Electronics | Expert Articles | Reports | States | News | Forums | Tournaments | Clubs | Federations | Guides | Links | Books | Magazines | Surf Fishing | About Us  | Terms of Use

Turn Christmas Trees into Brush Piles
By Paul Crawford

As the holidays approach, thoughts turn to a new reel for Christmas and all those Christmas trees laying around the neighborhood just waiting to become a brushpile. Since no doubt the lake levels will be raised a couple of inches from all the wood that's going to end up on the bottom, it seems like an ideal time to think about just how to sink a brushpile and what makes some piles hold fish while others don't. Besides, if you're going to the trouble to put it down there, and I'm going to the trouble to find it, it might as well be a good one for both of us.

What Makes a Good Brushpile

In summary, Location, Location, Location. You have to realize a brushpile does not manufacture fish. Nor will it draw a fish from across the lake. A good brushpile takes advantage of an existing population of fish, in an area they already frequent. All the brushpile does is congregate the fish in a small area, making it a time effective way to fish a particular spot. You will seldom catch a fish that you would not have caught had you only worked the surrounding area thoroughly without the presence of the brushpile.

Given a good location, there are still differences between brushpiles and their ability to attract and hold fish. The Berkeley Research Center in Nebraska did a study on the effects of location, number, and size of limbs. They found fish will gravitate to an area where the limbs are just big enough for the fish to comfortably fit between. This means lots of little limbs close together will hold lots of little fish. Big limbs spaced widely apart will hold pretty much nothing at all. Limbs spaced between 6" and 18" will attract and hold large numbers of legal size bass. What this research should tell us is a Christmas Tree is just about the poorest choice we could make for something to sink. With it's tightly spaced limbs, bait fish will simply have a good place to hide from being eaten. Now there still will be a few predators about, and no doubt a few bass, but chances are slim any bass will actually take up residence and wait for you to show up. You'll pretty much have to meet him there and trust to timing. For a better effect, prune several of the limbs out of you Christmas Trees and leave room for a bass to get between the branches. Research and experience suggest you'll much improve your chances of finding a bass at home.

So, given location and limb spacing, anything else? The next most important factor is strong vertical presence. This simply means given a choice, a bass will prefer a tree standing straight up to one lying flat on it's side. We've all seen bass hold to a dock post or around a partially submerged stump. Same thing for submerged cover, horizontal is good, vertical is excellent.

If you're going to all this work, some consideration should be given to how long before the thing falls apart. Once again Christmas trees are a very poor choice, ( if they weren't so easy to get you'd never fool with the things.) Soft firs have a life expectancy of a few months under water before they simply fall apart. The vertical trunk will still be there, but those fish attracting limbs will fall to the bottom quickly. Hardwoods are the obvious choice. Fair size Oak wood will stay together for years. Orange Trees are the preferred material for the state attractors which can last 5 - 10 years underwater. If you have some branches off a hard wood tree, add them to the brushpile mix. The fir trees will give your pile some bulk and the hardwood will help keep it active over the long haul.

Where to Sink a Brushpile

If you ever had a reason to be a good structure fisherman, a brush pile would be it. Offshore structure is always a good choice for reliable fish, and a brushpile can make picking those fish up embarrassingly easy. Although a brush pile can concentrate fish where ever they are found, a deep water brush pile can actually seem to manufacture fish. The reason for this is simple, a brush pile located in or near deep water will become the home turf of bass that are normally found suspended over deep water. Now they can't always be caught even on the brush pile, since they are commonly inactive. But, at least you'll know where they're at and have chance at a reaction bite.

Start you location search with a favorite offshore area. The prime location will have deep water access to the main lake body. Points, humps, cuts in ledges, all of the traditional structures are good candidates. An ideal location will also have a slight current, such as from an inflowing creek or the main lake dam draw. Too much current will make the brush pile a feeding station, but will prevent the bass from taking up residence. And after all, you'll looking for a reliable location for those tough times, not just another place to catch a few when they are active. When looking at currents, don't overlook the possibility of a wind induced current. Many offshore structures have surprisingly good current flow when a strong prevailing wind is blowing. Just make sure you'll be able to effectively fish the brush if the wind blowing. It doesn't do much good to know where they're at if 3' waves keep you fishing in a cove.

Although it's not a hard and fast rule, about 20' deep seems to be the best for brush. This will allow you to put some significant vertical cover down with the tops at a safe depth. The 20' mark is easily fished with a variety of lures, including worms, jigs, crankbaits, spinner baits, and suspending jerk baits, while still being deep enough to make the inhabitants feel secure. Keep in mind the changes in lake levels when selecting the area or you may find your carefully constructed brush pile either buried in 40' or sticking out of the water half the year. If your lake is one that routinely sees a 20' difference between summer and winter pool, then a pair of brush piles positioned correctly for the season on the same or adjoining structures can be the answer.

Try not to overlook the obvious. Be able to find your way back to your brush pile BEFORE you sink it. I don't know how many stories I've heard over the years about brush piles that magically disappeared when their makers tried to return. Use shore structure, radio or water towers, houses with street lights, etc. to line up exactly where you want the pile then put down a buoy before dropping the first bundle. Most brush is sunk at night to prevent prying eyes from knowing the exact location. When sinking at night and using shore lights as the mark, make sure it's a permanent light, not just someone's back porch lit up for a barbecue. I prefer to use towers when available since they are visible for miles and even a tree line silhouette works well for lining up. Try to select the intersection of at least a couple of shore marks. Not only does this make it easier to find, but when fishing in a wind, a second and third mark can help you stay on target if your main mark ! is down wind.

And please don't make the mistake of solely relying on a GPS. First, they really aren't accurate enough to exactly position you on something that is only a few feet across. Second, the drift error changes day to day so even if you get back today, you may not tomorrow. Third, you'll end up spending several minutes idling around with a depth finder to locate the exact position and may be disturbing the fish while you're at it. After all, the whole reason for the brush pile was time management, wasn't it? And last but not least, the coordinates and drift change between units even of the same brand are not exact, so if you replace your GPS with a new one, chances are you'll loose your exact locations even if you had them. And that should answer any questions about finding a small brush pile from your buddy's GPS coordinates as well. If you just can't stand it and have nothing except a GPS, then at least position the pile on some unique feature such as a secondary point or c! ut on the main structure so you ccc can find it easily with your depth finder once the GPS has put you close just by monitoring the depth change.

How to Construct a Brushpile

There seems to be two generally accepted ways to sink brush depending on the materials at hand, the expense, and the trouble you're willing to go two. You can tie the brush to concrete blocks, or you can embed the brush in a bucket of concrete. Either way, the idea is to get as much vertical cover down as you can, so just tying a block to the side of a limb and throwing it overboard isn't what it's all about.

Selecting the brush to sink should be more than simply community service on a handy tree on the lake shore. We've already talked about hardwood with lots of forks, but how about size? You'll have to get these things to the bottom, and that's not really as easy as it might seem. I've seen more than one case of some carefully selected full size branches and trees merrily floating along with a brick or bucket attached. Even if it starts to sink slowly, I've also seen large branches float sideways in current 100 yards before settling to the bottom. When selecting branches or trees, don't get carried away. A 6' - 10' branch with 3 or 4 forks is about the most you'll get down with a single weight. Branches without leaves or greenery sink better than those fully populated. A neat trick to harden the wood for a longer stay is to burn the branch before sinking. This will also get rid of the smallest twigs, letting you put more of the large wood on the bottom in a single bundl!e. Although the majority of the brush does need to be strong limbs, a bundle or two of twigs, (or a small Christmas tree), will attract bait with it's safe haven and get your brush pile off to a quick start.

For those endowed with an excess of 5 gallon buckets, a bag of Ready Mix and some fair size branches and trees, and you're all ready to go! Cut the bottoms of the branches to leave a straight section about 2 1/2 feet long to put into the bucket. Mix up a bucket of concrete, insert branch, (again it may be surprisingly difficult), and let it set up. When inserting the branch, you will probably have to weight down the upper portion to keep the truck all the way to the bottom of the bucket, (trees float in concrete as well.) And make sure the branches are balanced and standing straight up. If they are crooked in the bucket on dry land, they'll be on their sides soon underwater.

If you prefer the concrete blocks from the local building supply, pick up so nylon twine while you're at it. The twisted 100 - 500 lb test works well. Turn the block on it's side, with the holes facing up. Cut the branches this time with a fork about 1 foot above the bottom then insert the branch in the block. Use the twine looped on all four sides of the hole to keep the branch upright. Again, if it's not balanced out of the water, it won't be underwater either. If the brush is going on a soft bottom, I like to leave about 3" of limb sticking below the blocks. This extension will spear itself into a soft bottom when you drop them and help anchor the cover upright. I've seen a similar thing done with concrete buckets by driving a few 20 penny nails through the bottom before pouring the concrete, (be careful of the boat finish if you try this one.)

Some folks like to tie milk jugs or similar containers to the top of the trees to keep them upright underwater. The success of this depends on where you put them and the water where you sink them. If the water is clear, the jugs may attract every fishing guide in miles since they can clearly be seen a few feet underwater, (I've found more than one brush pile that way.) If you do use jugs, tie them directly to the main truck and use them to steady the cover, not to try and hold it up.

When you're ready to drop the bundles, use your trolling motor to get you close to where you've got your buoy. Try to drop bundles all the way around the buoy so your markings will remain accurate. About 5 or 6 bundles make an excellent brush pile. It gives plenty of cover without spreading out too much. I've seen several cases where folks have put down 8, 10, even 20 bundles in a single pile. Your purpose was to concentrate fish, not frame a house. With too many bundles, the fish will select one or two, then you have to fish ALL of the bundles to figure out which two! All of a sudden, it would have been quicker to cover the entire area with a Carolina rig that it was to fish the brush pile. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? And scattered brush just opens up the area, again giving you too much water to quickly cover. Keep the bundles close so you can fish the entire pile in a few casts.

How to Fish a Brushpile

There are a couple of ways to approach a brush pile, depending on the mood of the fish and personal preference. The key to the selection is realizing the aggressive fish tend to be in the top branches while the neutral and negative fish tend to hug the bottom.

Approach One is to pick off the aggressive fish first. For this, an aggressive bait is called for, and current thinking suggests a deep diving crankbait as the preferred tool. Cast well beyond the brush pile and crank down to depth. Use the feel of the line as it crosses a limb to anticipate the lure hitting the limb, (read as "time to slow down.") When the bait hits the limb, give a bit a slack allowing the bait to float above the limb before restarting the retrieve. Most bites come on the pause or the first movement after the pause. Cranking brush piles is hard enough, and getting the fish out is another chore all together. With treble hooks flying, the fish's first instinct is going to be to dive into cover. You'll need a rod that will not pull out the treble hooks yet still has the backbone to keep the fish out of the limbs. It's an acquired skill that takes some practice, but the results of the recent years of professional tournaments shows it's a skill worth acquiring. Another good option is a spinner bait brought through the upper 1/3 of the brush. When you hit a limb, bring the spinner over the limb and allow it to drop on the near side. Most strikes will come on the fall. Jerkbaits, or even top waters can coax aggressive bass from the top branches, and many times without disturbing the other fish relating to the pile. The problem with Approach One is it is cherry picking the bass. You normally have a fish that will run back into the pile, flushing the remaining fish from the brush during the fight. And those neutral fish were going to be hard enough to catch anyway.

Approach Two is to fish for the neutral fish first. Use a worm or a jig worked slowly in the branches on, or near, the bottom. You really can't approach this too slow, because dead worming for a minute or two can catch the biggest fish in the pile. These bites will seldom be vicious hits, more likely an exploratory mouthing of the bait. When you set the hook, set hard and don't wait too long. Every second the fish has the bait and you're not pullin', he's doin' something you REALLY don't want him to do with it. If you get tied up in brush, give the fish some slack and a chance to swim out of it. When hurt, the fish will naturally try to escape to open water, and a lot of times will simply take your lure with him. You're going to loose a few that tie you up, so expect it and accept it as part of the game. Try not to tear up or tip over your brush, or to kill a big fish, just for the sake of landing a fish that's wrapped around a limb. Better to cut your line, (don't just pull until it breaks or you'll turn the fish inside out), and wait for another day.

Which ever approach, try the other approach before moving on. There is likely both aggressive fish and neutral fish on a good pile at any time, so give yourself a chance at both.

When you do catch a fish, give the pile a rest for a few minutes and let them settle back down. Fish the surrounding area since chances are the last fight caused a few fish to scatter away from the pile. These scattered fish are disoriented and a little shaken up. This means if they stumble across an easy meal they will avail themselves of the opportunity. If there are several fish on a good pile, it's not unusual to catch 3 or 4 off of the pile, and another 3 or 4 a cast or two away from the pile. When looking for scattered fish, you can almost bet they will go to the nearest cover. For this reason, a grass bed right next to the brush pile can be a gold mine.

When fishing a brush pile, remember the fish will reorient themselves on the brush just like any other cover. The direction of the sun, (fish prefer the shadow side), any current, and the day's barometric pressure can all change the way the fish relate to the cover. Given a choice, always cast into the wind, bringing the bait in from a natural direction with any wind current. If they won't bite from one direction, move the boat and try a different one. Keep the boat as far back as possible when circling a brush pile to keep from spooking the fish. Remember the boat can cast a long shadow underwater, and rarely will the fish react in a favorable way.

Managing Brushpiles

Once the brush pile is down, with a little luck it will hold a number of fish. The first step keeping the pile productive over the years is to prevent overfishing. Nothing will kill a brush pile faster than catching everything that swims by it. If you plan on several return trips, take one or two fish from the pile then leave it alone for a couple of days to recharge. I've seen time after time good piles be fished out, while near by piles with reduced pressure produce good fish for several years. Never hammer the pile for hours, you're cutting your own throat for the future.

In order to keep the pressure to a minimum, it's a good idea to keep the location to yourself. You do this in a number of ways, number one keeping your mouth shut. Don't tell everyone in your club about your brush pile or soon it might as well have a public fish attractor sign attached. When you do show someone, trust them that they will also keep it's location a secret and not tell their next fishing partner. When you're fishing your brush pile, try to avoid making it obvious by putting a buoy down. A buoy in the water with a boat casting to it is one thing I always take note of for future investigation. I've found more than one brush pile by simply paying attention and hitting a single button on my GPS while on a plane. I can then return later, burn a little gas, and may add a honey hole to the spots I know.

There are exceptions to the rule, and the one exception I can think of is when your pile in invaded by dinks. New piles are prone to attract dinks, keeping the bigger fish at a distance. You can reduce the effect by selecting the proper limb spacing as we discussed earlier, but it happens even to the best ones. If your pile is loaded up with dinks, then have some fun by catching as many as possible. If your lake has a slot limit, do everyone a favor and take them home for a fish fry. If they are under the legal limit, then at least troll a few hundred feet away to release them and hope they take the hint. I've seen a time when I caught 30 - 40 dinks off a single pile and never caught a keeper. Then, a week later, I pulled into the same pile and caught 3 nice keepers in 3 casts, (might have caught more but just couldn't stand to hammer it.) Dinks can be the death of a pile unless managed so if you find a horde of unsized fish, catch them off of it.

If you have a favorite brush pile down for awhile, it's seldom worth it to try and refresh it with new trees. Between being hammered over the years, and the natural scattering of the brush, attempts to refresh it will normally be less than fully successful. Better to find a nearby spot and sink a new one. This gives you a fresh start and fish will readily move from an old pile of rubble to a fresh brush pile. To help the migration, try finding a new spot on the same ledge or grass line, giving the fish a natural road to travel to the new spot.

Brushpile Etiquette

Once a brush pile is on the bottom, it is public domain. If you find someone else's brush pile, you're free to fish it. If you sink your own brush pile, you can almost guarantee someone else will eventually find it. So, in order to reduce gun play on the water, here are a few generally accepted rules about brush piles.

First and Foremost, never share the location of a brush pile you found with someone you wouldn't also share your own brush pile with. You and the people you tell must show the courtesy to the builder you expect yourself. That goes for throwing a buoy on it, or leaving a bottle floating on it was well. treat all brush piles you know about as yours, regardless of who sunk it.

Give courtesy to people fishing a brush pile. If someone is already on it, chances are slim there is enough room for two. Even if you just sunk it yesterday, if someone else is on it, then give them the room. If invited in, that's fine, but don't go blowing in where someone else is fishing just out of some misguided sense of ownership.

If fishing a brush pile on a structure, give room to someone fishing the rest of the structure. If you're just going to be sitting in one place, don't be so rude as to interrupt someone who has run a ledge for the last 1/2 mile. He already knows you're fishing something or you wouldn't have sat there that long. And he'll be trying to move on by without disturbing you. Move your boat to one side and let them fish by. It won't hurt what you're doing and chances are if you haven't caught that big fish already, you're not going to in the next two casts either.

If someone does approach you and object, be courteous and firm. You can explain you have the right to fish anything underwater you find without being rude or antagonistic. If the guy has taken the trouble to confront you, he's already having a bad day. Don't run the risk of ruining both of your days by getting defensive and starting a shouting match on the water. If he wants it that bad, give it to him and go fish the next one. This is suppose to be fun, remember?

Brush piles can be well worth the effort, especially in lakes with little open water cover. Some well thought out plans can create a little honey hole all your own. The pros sing their praises after practically every tournament, and I think once you try them, you will too.

Paul Crawford

Shop at Bassdozer's Store
Bassdozer Store
Men's Clothing at
Bass Pro Shops

May I ask you for a favor please? Please start here first whenever you shop online. Click on any store logo above or book below. Bassdozer gets a small sales commission if you begin shopping at these stores from here. You always get the same low price you would pay anyway. Thank you kindly for shopping at Bassdozer.

Kevin Vandam's Bass Strategies
Kevin Vandam

Secrets of a Champion
Kevin VanDam

Fishing on the Edge
Mike Iaconelli

Big Bass Zone
Bill Siemantel

Denny Brauer's Jig Fishing Secrets

Denny Brauer

Denny Brauer's Winning Tournament Tactics

Denny Bauer

Monte Burke

Thank you for visiting. Please enjoy!
Bass fishing lures, bass boats
Worldwide Bass Fishing, Bass Lures, Bass Boats