If you really want to get serious about setting out brush piles prepare yourself for some hard work, but it can pay off big later. Bass will use brush piles throughout the year but the heat of summer and winter are the prime times to fill your live well with brush pile bass or turn that 14 pound limit into a 20 pound sack with a big brush pile kicker. I'm not advocating breaking any laws but the ol chain saw and pruning shears method is hard to beat. About the best way to legally get and sink trees is asking someone clearing a lot off for construction for the ones they cut. They had rather give them to you than have to deal with them themselves almost every time. Another way for me at Lake Mitchell was after a tornado had gone through; there were prime hardwoods of all sizes along the bank blown over. A lot of my brush piles are large trees I've found floating down the river. If I'm just out fishing for fun I usually have a few concrete blocks in the floor of my boat just in case. You'll probably be surprised how much you can find to sink if you get in the habit of looking for it while on the lake.
A lot has been said about Christmas trees good and bad. Personally I use them, but they only make up about 20% or less of my pile. A bass isn't going to sit around starring at a Christmas tree all day. They need some bulk, something they can get under for shade or cruise around in looking for food. Just like the bass the bait fish need something they can hide and move around in if they are going to hang around. A couple of Christmas trees or a bush placed beside the main pile gives bait fish somewhere to gather. Think of these as the bass' dinning room. I can put up having to vacuum my boat afterwards if it means more fish in the boat. I've tried the pvc pipes sticking out of a bucket with concrete in them. I don't see these as good brush piles but an addition to the main pile.
What to use for the main pile? To me nothing works better than a real tree, preferably any hardwood, but I want turn my back on a big pine if I catch one floating along. Before sinking a tree think about getting hung up in it. Trim all the twigs and smaller limbs, also the more forks it has the better. Point the treetop towards where you'll be fishing from. Jut before I untie and let it sink I tie a concrete block to the under side of the trunk to keep it up off the bottom. A tree trunk lying flat has little to offer a bass. Construction sites are great for finding brush pile material. There's a gold mine in those dumpsters, and it's free. You may get some strange looks but I've never had anyone object to me getting something they have to pay someone to haul off. One thing I like to do is liquid nail a few pieces of 4" black drain pipe into a large landscape bucket, let it sit a few days, fill the pipe about half way up with concrete, then while wet flip it all over so the concrete falls to the bottom of the pipes. What you wind up with is a stump sitting a foot or so off the bottom with 4" roots around it and it will all last forever.
See what you can find and let your imagination go to work, just keep in mind shade, security, and ambush. Speaking of lasting forever I use only copper wire scrapes for tying my blocks to brush. Nylon rope and treble hooks are not a good match. One of the few things I never use is palettes, too many pinch points to get hung in. My most productive brush pile has a good size tree, a 10 foot fiberglass column with blocks on each end to keep it off the bottom a bit, a couple of Christmas trees, and five landscape buckets with a three foot pvc pipe sticking up from the center. I cut slits in the pipe and glued small real-estate signs into them. Like I said be prepared for some work, and use your imagination. Also prepare yourself to fail. I've placed brush piles in some really good looking places that have never produced a fish. If fish aren't using an area don't expect them to use your brush pile. The purpose of the brush is to congregate the fish that already frequent the area.
As for size and location I want my pile to be about the size of my boat. Large enough to hold multiple fish but I can fish it in fifteen minutes or so. As far as location there are the obvious creek channel intersections, and bends, but my favorite is to place one in eight to ten feet leading into a shallow pocket that has little natural cover, especially light on vegetation. If your chosen lake is subject to draw downs give the fish a place to go to once the shoreline cover is high and dry. Think about whether or not it will be seen, or cause a hazard when your lake is at its absolute lowest level.
Points are obviously good places for brush, but they are also about the easiest place for them to be found by other anglers. You can’t eliminate this problem but you can reduce it by dropping them off one side or the other. To me this is one of the most important points I’d like to make. Always place your brush piles in creeks or coves out of the main current. Bass living out in the current become conditioned to feed mainly when there is current, while the bass you find in slack water are more likely to feed throughout the day.
Although I mainly sink place brush around eight feet deep I also like to have some around fifteen for the really hot or very cold days, and some made of bundled branches close to the shoreline. Of course these will be found by others but bass will not always want to be at the depth you choose for your brush. You’ll have to give them options. Is it starting to sound like too much effort yet? I have sank close to a hundred on my home lake and probably another hundred on other lakes combined and can assure you it’s worth it. As for when to plant brush winter is no doubt the best time, fewer eyes, and all the leaves have fell, but I’ll sink a few from time to time throughout the year as opportunities arise. As for how to fish brush piles there is really no wrong way or any one best way. Good Luck and hope to see you on the lake, especially if you’re dragging a brush pile.