Mike Iaconelli squinted with intense concentration, peering down the shank of a VMC hook in his left hand. Cracking a confident grin, he nodded in approval as the point pressed against his right thumb.
Now, like the rest of us, Iaconelli’s not looking to stick himself with a hook. But sticking bass is his business and business is good, thanks to a particular alignment in his flipping hooks.
You see, the Bassmaster Elite Series pro helped VMC design the Ike Approved Hook Series, and when it comes to flipping, one key feature makes a ton of difference.
Iaconelli’s rule of thumb, no pun intended, is a 3-degree offset for his flipping hooks.
Eccentric? Nope, it’s practical.
“The benefit of having the point offset from the eye of the hook is better hook-up percentage, better penetration,” he said. “This is especially important with your heavy-duty flipping techniques where you’re punching mats or flipping wood.
“You’re talking about heavy weights and heavy line, so when you set the hook, if that point is directly in-line with the eye, a lot of times, that big tungsten weight will blow your bait straight out of the fish’s mouth and you’ll never have a connection point.”
Explaining the thumb contact, Iaconelli adds: “Now, if you pull straight — and a nice test is if you pull it (gently) against your hand — you have a connection point. In a fish’s mouth, you’re going to catch his lip and you’re going to get that fish in the boat.”
Short of using his signature hooks, Iaconelli suggests anglers offset their in-line flipping hooks for optimal performance. Prior to his Ike Approved hooks, he would grip the entire top edge of his hook and apply brief spurts of pressure to ease the hook into an offset form.
“I never want to bend the point or the barb, so I’m literally using the entire surface of the hook,” he said.
Iaconelli’s insight exemplifies the premise that minding the details can greatly improve your flipping game.
Now, let’s broaden this picture to include flipping and pitching tactics.
For a baseline definition, pitching starts with a disengaged reel and uses rod tip motion to generate underhand casting momentum for longer casts. Flipping works with an engaged reel and a set amount of line for shorter, more precise shots. The free hand pulls line to the side and then releases it when the bait swings over the target for a measured presentation.
Here’s a roundup of technique-tightening tips from accomplished flippers.
The right stick
It’s tempting to assume that the broomstick rods will work with every flipping/pitching scenario, but Elite pro Kevin VanDam says that is not so.
“A lot of people like to flip with braided line and if you do, you don’t want to use a pool cue; you need to use a rod that has more parabolic bend and has a softer tip,” he said. “Once you set the hook on a fish, because there’s no tension, you won’t tear a big hole in the fish’s mouth when it’s coming in.
“That softer rod really makes a big difference because everything is so magnified with no stretch in the braid. You have to have some give some place.”
Elite pro Gerald Swindle has found that reel size makes a significant difference in his ability to properly rotate his wrist for effective pitching or flipping form. He noticed this prominently when he tested the new Quantum Smoke baitcaster, which is set to debut in July. Engineered with a smaller gear case and skeletonized spool for a smaller, lighter profile, this reel fits better in his hand, lessens fatigue and allows him more control over his bait placement.
Flipping legend Denny Brauer not only guided Seaguar in the development of its Flippin Fluorocarbon and Flippin Braid, he put his name on the packaging. That says a lot about his faith in these lines, but he’ll clarify that there’s a time and a place for both.
“For me, cover usually is the No. 1 criteria,” Brauer said. “If the water’s muddy, or if I’m fishing mats, I can usually get by with the braid. But if the lake is clear, or if the lake is getting a lot of fishing pressure, I’m going to go to the Seaguar Flippin Fluorocarbon.”
As Brauer notes, fish that have been seeing a lot of baits get shell shocked and are wary. That’s when the stealth element of fluorocarbon line can earn you a few more bites.
And it’s not just a visual thing. VanDam believes the fish can actually feel the braid because it displaces water differently than fluorocarbon.
Consider also that fluorocarbon is less likely to pinch down into a tight spot in woody cover than the thin-diameter braid. You might have to sacrifice a little of the strength and sensitivity your braid provides, but most are OK with a tradeoff that yields more bites.
If you just can’t part with your braid, even on pressured waters, do yourself a favor and hit the last six feet or so of your line with a black permanent marker. Split the tip of a large marker head with a razor blade and run your line between the halves for thorough darkening.
Bassmaster Classic champion Jordan Lee is no stranger to flipping and he offers two tips for sinkers.
First peg your weight with a bobber stop for a clean, accurate cast. Second, don’t go too light. Not everything requires a massive punch weight, but Lee warns against going too far in the opposite direction.
“I like a 5/16- to 3/8-ounce weight for most of my flipping,” he said. “That helps me be really efficient. If you go too light on your weight, it’s too hard to make an accurate cast.”
FLW Tour pro Joe Holland is a big fan of punch skirts, but not only for escorting baits through cover. He’ll often stack two or three skirts over a creature bait, trim the lower skirt(s) shorter, creating a more bristly action. When the bait’s falling, the fish see the outer skirt color, which is typically a natural color like green pumpkin or brown. But when the bait hits bottom and that top skirt falls forward, the sudden flash of a brighter (orange, red, etc.) skirt flaring outward often triggers aggressive bites from fish that mistake this ruse for a baitfish flaring its gills or flashing a colorful underbelly.
Try all the angles
The best bait with the tightest presentation will net you nothing if it doesn’t fall in front of a fish. You might nail it on that first shot, but there’s an inherent flaw with the concept of “burning the bank” — a lot of overlooked potential.
There’s definitely a balance between covering water to find fish and how much time you invest in each laydown or bush, but when you come across a really sweet spot — something with lots of structure, good depth, maybe some additional cover like vines or blow-in grass — consider giving it more than those three or four flips before advancing.
A good example came during a tournament on Sam Rayburn, where I followed as Brauer flipped and pitched his way through flooded brush, very similar to the stuff you’d find just a half hour to the east on Toledo Bend. (There’s actually a funny reason I recall this as relevant and it involves irritating one of the sport’s biggest names.)
As Brauer meticulously flipped random clumps of brush, I guided my camera boat driver into my desired shooting position. When I saw an opportunity for a cool shot across the cover, we pulled in on the opposite side of a brush menagerie that Brauer had just left.
Looking over his shoulder, the former Bassmaster Classic champion shouted: “Hey, can you stay off those bushes?”
My bad. I should’ve realized this human vacuum cleaner would thoroughly pick apart the cover before moving elsewhere. See, that’s the problem with a quick-hit strategy, it leaves a lot of cover untouched. Follow Brauer’s example and work your spots from multiple angles.
Often, light and shadows will create little nooks where bass feel safe. There is no one-size-fits-all diagram for laydowns, bushes, etc., so invest a little extra time in each spot you hit and try those awkward reaches and tucked away pockets.
One just might be where your next limb-shaker’s waiting.