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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.