Seeing the water level at Brush Hollow this past week left me disappointed. With all the rain we’ve seen recently, I had expected to find a lake brimming with water. What I found was a boat ramp that led at least 60 yards downward before it touched the water and a lake that wasn’t even close to touching the shoreline cover that makes this little reservoir near Penrose so popular.
Being in the parking lot, though, and with no plans on turning around without at least seeing what the lake would give up, I backed the boat down the ramp, beached it on the mud bank, and drove back up the hill to park. Walking back down the ramp once again, I found it unbelievable again that the water level was so low. The last time I was on this lake the water was very close to breaching the parking area. I guess that must have been over a year ago.
Brush Hollow is one of my favorite lakes, though, and other than my initial surprise and disappointment at seeing the water level, I was happy to be back on the water.
This is a bass lake. There are trout, walleyes, crappie, and cats here, but the lake, when it’s full, screams bass. Typically full of submerged cover, brushy shorelines, fallen logs, and lots of weeds, this is one of those lakes that is just meant for bass fishing. And that’s just right with me.
Pushing off into the lake, my initial idea was to run a frog down the bank, pulling it off the grass and swimming it back toward the boat. There are a lot of frogs around the lake and my little buzz frog would likely look like a nice meal for some big bucket mouth. As I drifted with the wind toward the west end of the lake, though, I saw that the middle was covered in a huge bed of weeds at least one hundred yards long and maybe that wide. Change of plans.
Brush Hollow has, for as long as I can remember, been full of hydrilla. Hydrilla is a long, spindly weed that grows from the lake bottom up, and forms into huge mats on the surface. It’s a nuisance weed on most lakes, but here it’s a bass’ Shangri La. With its thin stems and leaves that grow close to the stalk, the surface mats conceal the fairly open water that exists below. And with a weedy roof and columns of weed stalks to help hide them from the sun, and any morsels that happen to swim by, these weed beds are awesome places to find big bass.
But where to start? The problem with fishing weed beds like this is that they are nearly impenetrable from above, they hide any obvious cover features below the surface that you might see if the weeds weren’t there, and it’s really tough to gauge. You might as well be fishing with a blind fold on.
Luckily, though, there are holes in the weeds that do allow limited access, and the fish are also very aware of what is happening over their heads.
Fishing weed mats, I try to pick off the active fish first. Using a soft plastic frog rigged on a wide gap 4/0 hook, I like the frog for the fact that it will slide right over the mat and drop into any little holes in the cover without hanging up. Its large profile and kicking legs also provide a big, realistic looking silhouette against the sky as it crawls across the weedy ceiling, and it doesn’t hurt that bass love to annihilate frogs every chance they get.
Casting along the edges of the mat, it didn’t take long before my little frog disappeared in an explosion of water as a fish came up and devoured the lure. There is no doubt about it when a bass comes up for a frog. Leading with its mouth, the strike is heard as much as it is seen, and it’s hard not to set the hook hard as the explosion occurs. Using this type of lure, though, you have to wait until you actually feel the fish before you drive the hooks home. Strike back too soon and you’ll be hauling nothing but water, but ignore the splash and wait to feel the fish against the line and you’ll have a major fight on your hands.
It’s important to use heavy line when you’re fishing weed beds and I spool up with 20 pound test and use a heavy action rod that I can leverage big fish out of the weeds with. A hooked fish will immediately head back into the thick stuff, so having some back bone on your rod and heavy line will help you to get that fish headed back toward open water instead of back into the weeds.
Once I’ve dragged the frog over the edges of the weeds, I begin fan casting across the mat, trying to get my frog over as many fish as possible.
I’ve had days when the frog doesn’t have a chance and the fish jump on it every time it hits the weed mats, but on this day it was a slow, monotonous exercise in frogging patience. Watching the frog walk across the mat, trying my best to make it move like the real deal, resulted in enough strikes to keep it interesting but the fish seemed a bit lethargic and only two fish found their way into the boat before another thunderstorm began threatening to blow me off the water.
It wasn’t the day that I had hoped for. Finding the water level way down, catching only a couple of fish, and then dealing with a flat tire on my trailer when I got back to the parking lot wasn’t exactly what I would call a banner experience. Being the only boat on the lake for the couple hours that I was there, though, and having the weeds and fish to myself, made up for any shortcomings that this day had to throw at me. Besides, I had come here with the idea that I would throw a frog and, as it turned out, I got a couple explosive strikes to make things interesting and I got to spend some quiet time on a lake that I hadn’t visited in quite a while.
Brush Hollow isn’t at its best when the water is down, but with its wide expanses of weeds and few other anglers to contend with, it’s still a trip worth taking. Just make sure you bring plenty of soft plastic frogs and the patience of a saint, and be ready to spend time working the mats.
Pueblo West resident Bill Claspell is an avid outdoorsman, hunter and fisherman who also enjoys writing about his adventures. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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