Summer’s massive weed mats are thinning out and turning brown. As the weeds die, stems disintegrate. Caverns open up beneath the dense canopy. Finally, all connections to the bottom are lost, and the mats drift freely on the surface -- slaves to the wind.

“Anglers call them ‘cheesy mats’ down here,” says bass guide Jimmy Mason, formerly an Elite Series pro. He now participates in the BASS Southern Open and Northern Open qualifiers for the Bassmaster and guides full time on Pickwick, Wheeler, Guntersville and Wilson in Alabama.

“Cheesy mats are everywhere on Guntersville, Pickwick, Sam Rayburn -- we find bass congregating under them from Florida to Texas and north to Kentucky Lake. It’s a major pattern for me in fall.”

After weeds begin to die in Northern lakes, largemouth bass move to the deep weedlines. Sometimes northern pike take over the slop as those caverns open up underneath. Sometimes nothing lives in there, perhaps because of the depleted oxygen content. Not so in Southern lakes, where the topwater bite just gets better and better right through November.

“Any time I’m fishing weeds matted on the surface, a hollow frog is my first choice,” Mason said. “I use a Booyah Pad Crasher because it’s a good all-around frog. It walks really well over the mats, never snags in the grass, has super sharp hooks, and it has a very high-hook up rate for a frog. All of that makes it very efficient -- you spend more time fishing because it snags less and you have a better chance of hooking every fish that explodes on the bait.”

The Ripe Stuff
Mason starts with the biggest creek arms and expands his search to cover the main lake, as bass often vacate the smaller creek arms in fall.

“The main lake is where you find the biggest schools in fall,” he said. “Creek fish are faster to find, but once you find a school on the main lake the bass are generally bigger and the schools are bigger from late summer through fall.

“I’m finding solid mats or broken mats of grass on the surface by late summer,” he continued. “As the weeds decay, they gradually change from a thick, impenetrable mat of bright green to a foamy, floating brown mess pocked with openings. The mats become very discolored. Brown and black areas will be hollow underneath and that’s what I look for until late fall winds entirely break up those mats. Cheesy mats are just resting on broken strands of grass. When those disintegrate, the mats float free.”

In other words -- make the rounds. Weeds can move and you’ve got to do some searching to find the ones that are holding the best schools of fish.

“Any mat resting over a ledge or underwater hump becomes a key spot,” Mason said. “Look for mats over ditches, ledges, or anywhere you find a contour or break extending under the mats that will help bass ambush or corner shad. After finding something like that, I’m looking for drag marks where bass have been hauled across the mats by other fishermen. Nobody can catch them all, and whatever attracted those fish to the spot will attract more.”

Investigation doesn’t just involve searching with the eyes, though. The mats give off a distinctive smell, but it’s the sound that can get Mason truly excited.

“Any signs of life can point you in the right direction,” he said. “I listen for popping sounds made by brim feeding under the mats. It sounds like Rice Krispies in milk. When I hear that popping I know there’s activity in that particular mat. It gets more cavernous under there when those mats start dying and it really opens up. Everything can see farther, move around and feed easier.”

Technique
When Mason finds a mat with trails and holes in it from anglers throwing frogs and catching fish in it, and he hears the popping from bluegills, he begins a systematic and thorough working of the area.

“I start fishing it pretty fast with a twitching retrieve or a fast steady reel, just racing it across the mats,” Mason said. “I do that until I get that first bite then I slow down -- move it a foot and pause. If a bass explodes on it and misses, I reel in fast and put it right back on that same spot, so accuracy is important. The fish will be no more than a few feet from that spot where it blew up the first time. I stop on that spot and make it quiver. Often that second bite is more aggressive. They don’t want to miss it again.”

Mason walks the dog across broken grass, fishing the frog like a Zara Spook. Thick mats prevent the frog from walking, but it can be barely twitched when it hits an open spot to prompt the nose of the frog to slash to one side.

“Have slack in your line when you twitch it and you can get that walk-the-dog action going,” he said. “A lot of bass hang around after the heavy mats of grass have cleared out. When the grass is gone and when I’m fishing lakes that don’t have grass, I look for lay downs and continue fishing frogs. It really is the best way to catch bass in any kind of cover during the fall down South.”

Mason uses a 7-foot 3-inch, medium-heavy rod for frogging in fall.

“It has a flexible enough tip that I can walk frogs with it, but you need a real strong backbone for setting hooks and dragging fish over the mats,” he said. “When mats are really thick in summer, I’m using a heavy-power rod. When the mats thin I drop down to that medium heavy, which has better tip action for twitching and walking. I use 65-pound braid in heavy vegetation and in open water I drop down from that quite a bit. Braid floats and it casts farther.  In open water I want long casts, so I may drop down to 40-pound or even lighter on a fast reel with 6.4:1 ratio.”

The Pad Crasher looks real and it’s available in six life-like patterns, but Mason generally requires only two—the Kuro Frog, which is primarily black, and the Albino Frog. No one can say for certain that bass recognize them as frog, or if they represent a baitfish skipping in the vegetation or what, so perfectly matching the colors and patterns of a bullfrog isn’t of utmost importance.

“Generally I’m using a white or black frog,” Mason said. “I start each day with one of each tied on. All that really counts is belly color. Black creates a dense silhouette and white provides a natural belly color that bass see all the time.”

Fall froggin’ on the cheesy mats is like launching a depth charge. Hydrilla and grass erupt with something big and green at the epicenter. Water rains down, braid squeals across the guides and muscles strain to haul and reel before the beast can turn its head back down. If she does, cheesy weeds rip easy. (Sometimes.)