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Full Contact Angling?
Fishing in cover? No, fishing on it
by Nick Ruiz

You may wonder, could this be a new form of "extreme" fishing sport which requires shoulder pads and a crash helmet? Does it require casting while teetering off a skateboard? In a word…no. However, for many it may be a style of fishing that is very unfamiliar, and in some cases may even seem outlandish. The basis of full contact fishing lies in the fact that instead of fishing in and around cover and structure…you fish right on it. For all intents and purposes the cover becomes part of the overall presentation.

Immediately one might assume this falls under the category of a "fishing fad", but the truth is, it has been a secret of many top pros for years. It works in heavily-fished tournament waters and in other pressured "high population" areas where bank beaters pound away at the same fish day after day. If you discipline yourself to learn how to do it, this just may be the underlying secret to your success in popular lakes.

The true beauty of this kind of fishing is that not only is it challenging, but also nine out of ten times it is something that the fish have never seen before, and surprisingly enough, full contact fishng won't cost you a dime!

No new equipment is needed. Perhaps the most appealing point of all is that unlike many other "new" techniques available, you do not need to buy anything to enjoy full contact fishing. In this day of hunded dollar rods and reels, and top baits going for tens and twenties of dollars, chances are that the average bass angler already has all the tools needed to be a highly effective full contact angler. Jig and pigs, Colorado blade style spinnerbaits, tube style baits, a variety of soft plastic crayfish and spider grubs, as well as some crankbaits can be used in this discipline. Usually, experience and an anglers attuned eye will determine what's the best bait to throw when full contact fishing.

Indeed, the sky's the limit for bait selection. This is one of the few styles of fishing where one's imagination can come into play. Just envision what the lure might look like while passing in, around, and on cover. If you imagine it might look good, give it a try. Figure out how to make it work in full contact with cover. So, figure out how to use what you've already got in your own tacklebox, but for purposes of demonstration and instruction I will list my favorite baits below.

Soft plastic spider grubs or crayfish. I feel one of the most effective yet ignored baits to throw in a case like this is a soft plastic crawfish or skirted double tail spider jig on a jig head that stands upright. These can be purchased either pre-assembled already on a jig head or the bait and the jig head can be purchased separately. I prefer to opt for the latter and select individual components. For the actual soft plastic jig I have found great success with Berkley's 3-inch "power" spider jig, in either black or pumpkinseed. For the stand up style of head I have found that the "Football Head" from Bass Pro Shops has been more than effective. Number one, this football head has a nearly 90 degree straight up resting point when it lands on cover. Number two, it has proven itself nearly snag proof if used correctly. Rigging is very easy; simply thread on the soft plastic as you would for any other type of fishing.

Now you're ready for your first lesson in full contact fishing. Remember that any type of cover that you know holds fish will do, but the secret is to find the cover that holds fish and will make for a good bait presentation. It is this reason that I like to fish large expanses of laydown logs, fallen trees with plenty of big limbs, as well as sprawling, feature-rich dock structure. Position the boat as close as you feel the fish will allow without spooking, and provided there is no back seat angler, get the nose of the boat pointed directly at the structure you wish to fish. Now, the cast can be made with either a pitching or flipping method, or if you happen to be very accurate with side-arm or back-hand type casts, these can be used as well. Once delivered, after some practice you should be able to virtually "steer" the lure through the cover. At this point, find a shallow trunk or branch, cast past it, bring the lure closer and try to "land" it so that the lure "sits" on it. If you have achieved this, you should have a spider jig sitting on a log or branch, with some deeper water dropping off on either side. Here's where the beauty of this type of fishing comes in…attempt to "walk" it off the branch and allow a free fall to the next piece of structure. Repeat this, as often as the cover will allow, attempting to "stepping stone" your bait through the nasty stuff. Chances are most fish will hit it a second or two after it begins free falling. If fish are more aggressive, they may even come up to pluck it off the cover. This phenomenon only occurs when fish are truly aggressively feeding.

Each and every cast is a lesson in lure control, and will make a better presenter out of all you! That's another wonderful advantage of this kind of fishing is, even on the off days when no fish are caught.

Spinnerbaits. The next presentation I like to use when full contact fishing is the spinnerbait. I prefer to match a lighter weight spinnerbait with a larger Colorado style blade. This combination allows for a good, straight, slow free fall, very similar to slow rolling. Because it moves more slowly, the spinnerbait offers a little easier control over the lure than the spider jig, but for all intents and purposes the presentation is the same. One slight variation I like to add is a small twitch or jerk halfway through the spinnerbait's free fall to the next branch or log. I have found that that twitch or jerk is enough to provoke even the least aggressive bass to take a whack at a spinnerbait presented in this manner. In cases where the cover proves to be ultra heavy, there is a slight modification that can be made to the spinnerbait to make it a little easier to free it from snags. By taking a page out of trout anglers book of tricks, flattening the barb on the spinnerbait hook will in many cases save you from having to break off, or head into the cover to free a snagged bait, and spooking fish away. One might say, "but won't that just about guarantee half the fish I catch will throw the hook? Not so, as many of the angler versus fish battles in full contact fishing last about ten to fifteen seconds. It's intense. If a fish isn't pulled free of the heavy stuff in that time…chances are, it's not coming out and there's very little one can do about it. One more point about the spinnerbait. If fish happen to be on the warpath, feeding on anything that moves, don't hesitate to speed up this technique so it is almost a "branch hopping" type retrieve. Also, be sure to keep the presentation going once the bait is out of the cover. Many fish have followed and struck spinnerbaits that you continue to retrieve well clear of the cover. Sometimes, they make their move out in the clear when the bait can no longer escape into the cover.

Gitzits rock the dock. One more great bait for this style of fishing is the Gitzit, or tube style bait. I call these baits "dock hounds" because they are exactly that - my number one choice for probing in, around and on docks. With medium spinning tackle, a good working knowledge of the "skipping" cast, and a good eye for productive docks, an angler can really clean up with Gitzits in full dock contact. In this case, the more support beams, pylons, and in water steps or ramps available, so much the better. Usually, these feature-rich docks hold fish, and all the intircacies of them also make these kinds of docks a blast to fish with a tube bait. For this application, I prefer the tube bait that bares its own namesake, the original Gitzit, because of the rugged way they are constructed as well as a near infinite color and size selection. My favorite way to rig these baits for this application, is Texas style, with a 1/0 to 3/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook with either a very small bullet weight or an internal clip-on type weight like the ones produced by Eagle Claw. As far as the actual presentation goes, this is where an anglers imagination can be unleashed because each presentation can be a unique challenge in and of itself. There are no set guidelines for fishing in this manner, but I will list a few of the more popular methods. As I mentioned before, steps and ramps can be very productive when full contact fishing. With that in mind, when one sees steps leading down into water, like those commonly found on swimming and free floating recreational docks, do not hesitate to let your bait "walk down the steps" into the water. While doing this, keep a sharp eye out for ambush strikes as the bait progresses to deeper and deeper steps. If you can see that the steps you are fishing come to an end just under the water, with the bait on the last step, s-l-o-w-l-y inch the lure off the step into free fall. Many ambush strikes have come from fish that were positioned under the dock, that were waiting for prey to be silhouetted by the sunlight.

One more quick and easy way to probe docks for active fish is to fire a bait as far back into structure as possible, and with a moderately slow but steady retrieve, swim a bait back to the boat, using the rod tip to steer the Gitzit left, righ, up and down into direct contact with everything in its path. This is a great way to probe structure for fish when pre-fishing for a tournament or scouting out new spots. It is a great deal faster than the other techniques mentioned above.

Dock etiquette. Before closing, I feel it should be noted that while many of the techniques mentioned above require the use of docks as well as other man made structure, there is one thing all these pieces of structure have in common - they don't belong to us. And chances are they do belong to someone else, With that said, I beg you keep this in mind when fishing them. Use common sense and common courtesy. If a cast looks like it may hang up on someone's dock, or boat ropes, or may damage and deface their dock or other property in any way, please…as much as you think it may yield fish, don't make the cast. Especially if it looks like your bait may wind up stuck on the surface of the dock. I don't' think we want any lake front home owner in the hospital receiving a tetanus shot because they didn't notice the 2/0 worm hook that wound up in their foot, near the swim ladder. Let's remember how unpopular bass fisherman already can be with people who live on lakes. Between early morning tournament noise, excessively loud and fast boats, and blatant disrespect for lake front structure, we need to make it a point to maintain a degree of professional and personal courtesy. I like to think that this point goes without saying. Now, with my impromptu public service announcement out of the way...

As unorthodox as this article may sound, I ask that you at least give it a shot the next time you hit the water. It certainly is an extremely rewarding method of presentation as well as a very challenging and effective one, and certainly worth the extra effort.

See ya' on the water...Nick Ruiz

Author Information.

Nick is a member of the Long Island Bassmasters, through which he fishes tournaments and engages in a constant learning experience with some of the best anglers on the Island. He also makes frequent trips to the Tri-State area’s various “big water” reservoir and lakes. Nick also plans to take the next step up from local and club tournaments by fishing Operation Bass’ Redman Tournament Trail this year in the Northeastern Division. He plans to become a certified New York State freshwater fishing guide this summer.

Nick has learned through hard experience on heavily-fished Long Island, NY waters. Here, the bass population has seen it all and know it all. You either develop and precisely execute your own meticulous tactics that fish have rarely seen before - or you go fishless.

Email Nick at

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