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Flippin' with Flowers
By Paul Crawford

Just about everyone has tried Flippin' by now. But few can claim the kind of success at flippin' that is routine for Charlie Flowers. The senior member of the vaunted team of Rigdon and Flowers, Charlie and his partner Freddie Rigdon have been dominant over the last couple of years in the Weekend Angler's circuit, their local bass club, and just about everything else they care to enter. It's a rare day at weigh in that Rigdon and Flowers don't go home with more money than they came with.

After contributing heavily to their bank account, Charlie kindly consented to take me out for the day and teach me, and you, the system that has proved so successful. The key word here is system. It's not any single thing he does, it's the overall approach that proves so effective. The wonderful thing about the system, like most effective systems, is it is simple and makes so much sense as soon as you look at it.

Getting Ready

The tools of the trade are a pair 7 1/2' All-Star pitching sticks and a couple of near antique Lews bait casters spooled with 20 lb monofiliment. Charlie has tried maybe 50 different rods over the years, and the All-Stars are his personal favorite. Any quality bait caster is fine as long as it works smooth and has enough drag to handle the heavy line in the heaviest cover. Although he uses monofiliment, I about had him convinced in the worth of 50 lb braided line for the task at hand, (he says he'll try it and get back to us.) The important thing is a line capable of handling a big fish along with several pounds of weeds and take the abrasion of heavy cover for the whole day.

The terminal tackle was one of the more interesting details. Charlie uses a 1 oz weight for "normal" cover, say about the consistency of a submerged rain forest, and may go down to a 3/4 oz weight for "thin" cover, say a Kissimee grass mats. Thinking this was overkill, I confess I tried at one point to revert to a 1/2 oz sinker after having lost about 3 of his 1 oz models. The result was my bait posing rather pretty on the top of the same stuff we had been going through all day. After about ten minutes of watching my bait while watching his go out of sight, I'm a believer. And, what for me, was the most surprising thing, never ever peg the sinker. Pegging the sinker is really unnecessary to get the compact bait down, or back, and very few tiny crawfish weigh an ounce or more, something a big bass is bound to know.

The hook was a straight shanked Mustad Wide Gap 4/0 sharpened to a needle point. The key points here are the straight shank, (off set worm hooks hang up in the cover just about every flip), and the way he attaches the line. The only thing he uses is a Snell knot, (instruction provided upon request). By Snelling the line on the hook, you get two important advantages: 1) the hook hand perfectly straight below the sinker; and 2) there is no knot to be banging against the underside of the sinker. The straight hanging bait will slip effortlessly in the smallest opening and will exit with equal ease. It certainly makes a day of flipping heavy cover much more enjoyable when you don't have 1/2 pound of weeds on the hook every time you put it in the water. And with no knot against the sinker, you get a couple of benefits. The obvious advantage is the knot doesn't take a beating when trying to get the hook back which is particularly useful when a fish is attached. The less obvious but just as important point is the bait and the eye of hook stay as far as possible nestled in the protected hollow of the sinker reducing hang ups in even the most stringy cover.

The secret bait? An Allen's 3" craw. This junior size bait seems at first too small for the 4/0 hook much less a 10 lb bass. Both with accept the craw readily. Simply worm the craw on the hook as normal and push the hook point into the nose leaving the hook gap extending below the bait. The bass don't seem to mind the hook gap a bit and it works as a bit of a weed guard to boot. The rear legs are pinched off to let the craw slide through the weeds better and there really isn't much of a claw to get hung up either. What you end up with is an extremely compact package, well protected and rigged to slither in the tiniest slit in the cover. Does the bait really make a difference? All I can tell you is during my first solo trip with this system, I couldn't find the 3" version so I tried to settle with the 4" Allen. I spend much of the day trying to get the bait into and out of what I had been taught to be medium heavy cover with more frustration than success. Next trip out, (and after 40 gallons of gas), I was properly armed with the 3" version and found the cover was magically easier to penetrate and actually did have some rather impressive fish below it.

The final touches are the dressing for the bait. Charlie likes to dye his own baits and adds a liberal amount of garlic salt to the dye. His craws not only look good but taste just like pizza, a known preference for all teenagers and apparently bass as well. For darker waters, there is just enough room in the tiny claws for a couple of small worm rattles which seem to improve the number of bites. Add a dash of your favorite bug juice to help the package slide through the weeds and you're ready to go.

When and Where to Go Flippin'

Flippin' works all year long other than about 2 weeks when the fish are actively on the beds. That doesn't mean it's all the same regardless of season or weather. The "perfect" flipping day is cool with high skies and about a 10 mile per hour wind. The high skies was music to my ears since it's these types of days that dedicated open water types struggle. The wind tends to hide the boat and noise by breaking up the top of the water and makes boat handling into the wind at least more predictable if not easier. As with all fishing, cold fronts are a mixed blessing. "The toughest days are the third day after a cold front", Charlie states. "The actual day of the front can be good as the fish tighten up in the cover, but as the days pass, the bite gets tougher. Cloudy days can slow a flippin' bite when the fish scatter out to feed. Still, day in and day out, flippin' is the most reliable way to get bit, especially by a big fish.

The actual base type of cover can change with the season. During the cold water times of winter, mud tussocks and other hard canopies work the best. During the transition periods of spring and fall, mixed canopies of pads, lilies, hyachin and such hold the most fish. Hydrilla turns on in mid summer into the fall as it tops out and lays over in a mat.

Fishing Hydrilla is a hard wind sport for Charlie. The best days are in a twenty mile per hour or better wind. On the days most folks hide and wait for the wind to lay, Charlie is hard at work drifting over the top of hydrilla fields. "You can either keep the motors up or trim down just a touch to even the boat in the drift so both of you can fish. Keep your eyes out with the wave action to see those spots in the mat where the weeds are laying over a hole. The mats are just full of holes covered with the laid over hydrilla. The fish are in the holes, not in the middle of the stalks. Just make sure you flip to one side or the other of the drift. If you're flippin' right in front of where the boat is headed and hook a good fish, the boat will drift over the top of him before you can dig him out, then you're done."

The idea of holes in hydrilla is consistent with his general theory of flippin'. Charlie figures fish don't like to be rubbed on the side constantly, so they will look for an area to suspend underneath a mat, preferably close the vertical cover. He's looking for fish where they live, not just visit to feed, in Charlie's words, "A fish house."

If you are a fish, there are some very specific things about a fish house which sets it apart from all of the rest of the cover. A house does not make a home, but then again neither does a tent. First, and foremost, you need a roof over your head, preferably a good sturdy one which shields you not only from the sun, but the peering eyes of predators. We're looking for a house, not a shed, so some strong vertical structure in the middle of the cover work well for walls and give you a few more escape options. And like any good house, it needs a firm foundation, in this case some type of emergent cover, (sticks, pads, or such), that will anchor the roof. And perhaps the most important, some living space, giving you room to move around and a clear view for any dangerous invaders.

When you hit the water, you'll be at once surprised how common, and yet how unique a fish house truly is. You may idle past miles of emergent vegetation and never see a single house. Then you run into an area where a good house is every twenty feet. One of the easiest signs of a good house is pads or reeds growing up through the canopy. This shows you the mat has most likely been there for a while and shows a strong vertical structure. In the case of pads, most times the bottom will be silt filled and bare of other vegetation, giving you the perfect house, (Charlie just loves pad fields.) The more tangled and messy the top, the better. This will lock the mat in place around the vegetation and it may stay there for months or years, giving a fish every chance in the world to call it home.

Flippin in the House

There are a couple of things about getting to them where they live. First, your bait is an invader, and like any good homeowner, the fish will be quick to defend it's territory. In other words, if he's there, chances are he'll bite regardless if he's hungry or not. Second, he's safe at home, so chances are slim you're going to spook him out of his lair. I was amazed by just how much of a ruckus we could make trying to cut through a pad field and still get bit when we got there. You may put him on alert, but you kind of want that way anyhow. There is a lot to be said for a quiet approach, but it's not an absolute necessity and the best houses are almost by definition the hardest to get to. Third, if you're a fish once you find a good house, you don't move. Charlie can tell you story after story of catching the exact same fish in the exact same house, days, weeks, or months apart. He's caught some of those fish so many times he has them named. That should also tell if you miss a good fish in a spot, much sure to make a return trip later.

Good houses are hard to find, so they tend to stay occupied. If you catch a fish in a good spot, chances are excellent a new owner will move in within a couple of days. And competition can be fierce for a prime location. If you catch a small fish from a small house next to a better one, there is likely a bigger, meaner owner of the better spot. Home or not, a bigger fish is the prime spot's owner and quite likely to object to intruders. And it can work both ways. If all you catch from prime locations is dinks, that can tell you the bigger fish are elsewhere and turn your attention to the next area.

The best term I can come up with on how Charlie flips is "high percentage." It's kind of cherry picking your spots to the nth degree. First I guess you need to know that Charlie is serious about his fishing and spends some serious time doing it. Charlie fishes 5 days a week and probably has a better attendance record than I do at work. He covers a tremendous amount of water and can hit half the lake in a single day. Since he spends so much time on the lake, there are few houses that he doesn't know the address. To make all of his calls on a given day, he can't spend much time at any single spot. A mat less than about 10' across deserves a single flip right in the middle. A mat twenty feet across, maybe four or five flips. Fish or not, Charlie's off to the next location. If he catches a couple of fish in a small area, then things slow down and get more intense scrutiny. But it's up to the fish to slow him down. All of the time between houses, (and there isn't much with the trolling motor on high), is spent resting, not flipping. In 8 hours on the water, I never saw him make a single pitch to a place he didn't think held a fish.

All things being equal, Charlie would rather flip isolated houses just big enough for a single fish. Even when you find an "apartment building" it isn't worth too much time. "The fish could be anywhere", Charlie observes. "I rather spend my time flippin into 10 houses and the travel time in between than waste it on a single spot that I don't know whether or not a fish is within 50 feet. Some times you don't have a choice because the isolated cover just isn't there. But if it is, your odds are a lot better of putting a lure in front of a fish than randomly working an acre of stuff that's all the same." Undercut banks sometimes draw his interest, but only if the canopy extends out a few feet and has some depth to the water underneath. In this case the trolling motor stays running until the fish slow him down.

This run and gun technique with a trolling motor is used when prefishing. Come tournament time, it gets worse. Perfectly consistent with all of the theory, it boils down to a single element. The only place they fish is where they have already caught a good fish when prefishing. That doesn't mean a general area, that means a specific mat. Now when each mat is only 10 to 15 feet across and only takes a few flips to cover... well, you get the idea. They can burn a full tank of gas during a tournament and never loose sight of the ramp. That's what I mean about high percentage. Only fish where you know there's fish, do it quickly and efficiently, and spend the time on the water to find enough of those spots to fill a day. On his home waters of Orange Lake, Charlie may hit 50 to 100 spots during a tournament. On a strange body of water, he only knows a half of dozen areas, but they are really good areas and he doesn't mind slowing down to work them hard. When you consider the time and effort they put into their fishing, Rigdon and Flowers may simply be the prime example of the best team going in is the best team coming out. There's still no substitute for hard work and time on the water.

When it comes time to make that single flip under the mat, it's a good time to remember what drew you there in the first place. If you're only going to take one shot, aim well. One of the features of a prime house was an emergent stalk or such coming up through the mat. Use that stalk as an entry point. It will generally give you that tiny break in the mat you need to get the bait down and chances are pretty fair any fish under there is relating the vertical cover anyway. It also gives you a bit of a head start at getting any fish you find out of there.

Gettin' Bit

Oddly enough, the biggest problem I've had flippin' is after I got the bite. I would either set too fast and miss the fish entirely, or set hard only to loose the fish either coming up through the weeds or beside the boat. I changed my set on Charlie's instructions and have had a definite increase in both hook up ratio and getting the fish in the boat.

Charlie says, "When you feel the tick, let him have it just a second or two. A smaller fish needs a chance to get the bait in his mouth. Don't wait too long, because every second you do wait the fish is probably doing something under there you won't like. When you set the hook just a slight set is all you need. If you use a hard hook set all you'll do is rip his mouth and he'll be gone as soon as he gets on top of the weeds." One of Charlie's other pupils who I got a chance to talk to told me he had abandon setting the hook all together. He just pulls up as if he's playing the fish and the fish will hook himself.

Before you give up on setting the hook you need to understand one caution. This whole discussion is about Charlie's system including where Charlie fishes. The reason the lack of a hook set works is you're working the a vertical presentation through what is for all intents and purposes a rigid canopy. The line is going to get tighter no matter which direction the fish moves from directly under the entry hole. If you're flipping outside the canopy on the edge nearest the boat, then a fish who moves under your boat is going to put a ton of slack in the line so big hook sets will be required. I learned this unfortunate lesson during the last tournament when I lost a good fish when he swam under the boat and I used a limp hook set.

Assuming you get a good hook set, you're still not home free. The fish is under several hundred pounds of wet weeds and not in a particularly good mood. Pull, (not jerk), the fish up into the canopy and call for your partner. The fish will normally freeze up when you push his face in the weeds so don't take a chance of ripping his mouth by trying to horse he up through the canopy. Your partner can simply lean over the side and part the weeds around your line until he finds a fish, (this is not entirely safe if you happen to have a snake or gator right beside your line, but then again what is.) If the fish is under about 3 pounds, it's most likely easiest to simply lift him into the boat rather than fool with a net. Bigger fish will require a more coordinated partner to part the weeds and net the fish at the same time. Either way, it's your job to control the tension on the line and get the fish up and out of the weeds. Have patients and wait for your partner to do his part of the job. You'll have a much better chance of landing a fish working as a team than getting excited and trying to be a hero.

Well, that's really all there is to it. No Magic. No Mystery. Hard work and faith in a proven system is all it takes to dominate the local tournament scene. Charlie Flower's Flipping System is easy and makes sense. It's certainly not the only system, not even the only flipping system. But you must admit it is a system that works well for them and now at least you know what you're up against. I'm not ready to abandon my open water fishing, but when it comes time to go flipping, I for one am a believer in that system because it sure makes sense to me. Thanks Charlie! See You At Weigh In. I'm going looking for a Fish House.

Paul Crawford

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