I readily admit an obsession to fly fish for Bass. Topwater flies, suspending minnows, and sinking lines, I like them all, and every technique produces some nice fish. However,
Fishing a hidden lake.
Around here, bass live in weedy places. Call it structure if you must, but most of us would call it a four letter word after your first three casts get hung. Usually a fly fishing casting technique (accuracy to the inch) is the suggested solution, but usually these guys don’t fish here. They don’t understand that I meant to cast in the weeds. Perhaps that is why conventional tackle fishermen get frustrated with a fly rod, and why many trout fishermen never learn to fly fish for Bass. What follows is a technique & equipment strategy. Be equipped to cast monster flies into difficult places…in other words, what bass like to eat, and where they like to eat it.
A Bass diet is diverse, thanks to their opportunistic dining. We know that they eat smaller fish, worms, bugs, crayfish, dragonflies, lizards, mice, and even ducklings. Our favorite casting instructor, Phil Chapman, is a retired fisheries biologist. His slide show, documents the things found in the bellies of largemouth bass. It shows little tiny bugs and worms, and huge 12 inch shad and mice in a 10lb bass belly. I find it amazing how bass will eat huge flies, but just as readily, they will take tiny flies.
Stewart’s Hula Frog
Large Surface Flies-Floating Line
The large surface flies are the most fun to fish. The action is right in front of you. And the vicious surface strikes are one of the greatest thrills of fishing. Watching a huge hole appear in the water as your fly disappears makes your heart pound! The problem occurs when trying to cast these huge bugs into tight quarters where the bass are lurking. I particularly enjoy fishing the lilies in the spring and summer. A large frog pattern or hard body popper are my weapons of choice. I like to fish them when he sun is high so they cast a shadow on/between the lilies where ole’ bucketmouth is casually looking up. I will intentionally smack cast the top of the lilies to get the fish’s attention, and then move slowly from lily pad to lily pad, in slurping quick strips, with an agonizingly long wait in between. When there is a strike, it usually comes when I am about to move the fly, as if the bass were timing his attack.
Hand tied Bass leader with quick change loop.
In this scenario it is easy to get hung. A weedless fly is a must, but so are stiff leaders. The typical 4x leader will not turn over the fly, and it is not strong enough, but most importantly, it is not stiff enough! Limber leaders get caught easily. We custom tie a leader for largemouth bass with a slick coating on the knots. It turns over big hair bugs, and the stiff tippet doesn’t get caught as easily, literally guiding the fly through the snags. And it is stout enough if you hook a big bass.
Hair bugs in bright or drab colors with rubber legs work well. Frog patterns with a light belly seem to be preferred, although the bass is only seeing a shadow from underneath. I also use a rubber legged, hard body popper or slider in a color that I can see. Surprisingly, black poppers catch a lot of fish, but make sure that you can see the face easily.
Non slip loop
Most of the time, I use a nonslip loop knot. This gives typically gives the fly a lot of freedom to do a seductive dance. It also allows the fly to work through cracks and snags, rocking in a natural way. The non-slip loop hides the snaggy tag of the leader. Knot strength is lower, but heavier, stiffer leaders have high strength.
Sub Surface Flies-Floating Line-Catch more fish
We know that more fish are caught below the surface, and sub surface flies catch more fish, period. Most conventional tackle fishermen that use plastic worms will find effective counter parts in the fly fishing arsenal. We like the Gulley worm, which comes in several colors. The tail floats, slightly, and the weedless hook will look familiar. There are a couple of good options to ‘Texas rig’ the fly and leader. Very small split-shot can be attached to the leader, and we also use a Carolina rigged brass bead head. Small baitfish patterns from Enrico Puglisi fish the water column from one to three feet down. These are suspending flies that can be fished very slowly or in a quick searching technique. They are very realistic, and the synthetic materials used are very durable.
We’ll change leaders when fishing clear water. Thinner leaders allow the flies to sink quicker. Classic knotless tapered leaders give good action and have less drag, so the flies sink more easily. Use them in areas when the flies are not being ripped over and through the structure-same places you would use conventional tackle like a crankbait or jig.
The Clouser minnow is a stunningly simple and effective fly. First tied by Bob Clouser, with extensive endorsement by friend, Lefty Kreh (and the rest of us!) It is a fly fisherman’s jig. It can be tied small or large; we like a size two with lead eyes. They are typically tied on a stout galvanized hook, so they are salt water / rust resistant. The Clouser “swims” hook point up which makes it fairly weedless to structure on the bottom. I like to let the fly sink to the bottom, then with quick strips, and pauses, the fly hops across the bottom. Alternatively, fish with a slow strip, which drags the nose across the bottom, kicking up mud and sand. To fish high in the water column, immediately strip the fly when it hits the water. Keep it moving with quick strips. As the fly jigs up and down, you can cover a lot of water in this manner.
Full Sinking Lines
Fly Rods fish Deep with Sinking Line
While it is not as visual, a deep sinking line, fished with a short leader can be very effective. The Orvis Density Compensated Sinking Line, is easy to cast, and gets down quickly. I suggest the Type V with larger flies. Most anglers are tempted to use a Sink Tip, but we much prefer the full sinking line. This line does not cause a tailing loop when casting and does not ‘hinge’ on the retrieve so that there is no slack, and bites can easily be felt. Always use a 2 foot to 4 foot leader. Sometimes, I just use tippet. A fun method is to fish a sinking line is over submerged hydrilla. Larry Dahlberg suggests using one of his weedless diving flies with a short leader on a sinking line. Allow the line to sink to the top of the hydrilla (ten seconds or more.) The fly will be suspended above the weeds. Use a short quick retrieve and the fly dives into the top of the hydrilla! Some of my best fish have been caught using this technique. A suspending fly like the Puglisi Minnow or Lefty’s Deceiver on a three foot piece of tippet works well in deep water, also.
Dahlberg Style Diving Frog
Windy days are perfect for a sinking line. While it can be difficult to cast a floating line in the wind, the dense sinking line is fishable. And the fly turns over much easier because of the short leader/tippet. If the water is choppy, there is very little surface feeding. As you wait for the line to sink, it is straitening the leader. Retrieve a sinking line further than you would retrieve a floating line, and use a roll cast or two to get the fly to the surface, then begin you normal back cast. A sinking line expands fishing techniques, and may just save the day too!
It is not necessary to buy a second reel or rod and reel to fish a sinking line. Just use an extra spool for your reel that is pre-rigged with sinking line. Spools can be changed while on the water in less than a minute!
More information can be found in Dave Whitlock’s “Fly Fishing for Bass.” This has great instruction on methods, casting, flies, and reading the water.
Whitlock himself, does most of the illustrations which are unusually helpful. This is the definitive book on Fly Fishing for Bass.
We have simplified buying a quality fly rod outfits There are several great outfits, all at combo prices. And they are proven winners. These combinations cast well, and they are perfectly balanced for Bass Fly Fishing.