by Beau Beasley
If youíre like me the first time you went fishing you were with your father, grandfather, uncle or some school chum. The local farm pond or river was your destination and you couldnít wait to get there and do battle with the local fish. Like many fly anglers, I started with a spinning reel using a red and white bobber and worms I collected myself from the backyard. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of spending the afternoon with my brother Jason after school, walking a mile through the woods across to a neighborís farm pond and whiling away the hazy hours in search of fish. Any fish that would fight was a delight: bluegill, catfish, red eyes-- and, the greatest prizes of all, the largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Largemouth bass are quickly becoming one of the most sought after warmwater species for the fly angler. These fish rule the roost when it comes to farm ponds and lakes. If the smallmouth bass is the torpedo of fly fishing, then the largemouth is certainly the aircraft carrier. These giant sunfish can easily exceed 10 pounds, and can be caught on a fly rod if you practice a few basic tips.
The infamous Willie Sutton once noted wryly that he robbed banks because "thatís where the money is"; the same sentiment can be applied to angling for bass and other warmwater fishes. Take a look at the pond or river youíre about to fish. Where is the structure? Is there a brush pile or bridge abutment nearby? Where does the water flow in or around large rocks or sunken logs? Can you spot natural landmasses that provide cover, like deep undercut banks or islands? Our friend Willie might suggest that we start angling for bass near structure -- because thatís where the fish are.
It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: fish in the shade. Fish do not have the capacity to close their eyes, so shade becomes an important factor as the summer progresses. If the river is devoid of shade from overhanging tree limbs or manmade structure like bridges, look for lily pads. This natural cover gives shade to the predator fish below and it provides them a great opportunity to ambush small baitfish.
Bass are not picky eaters -- there are many flies with which you can experiment. Clouser minnows are a safe bet, as are wooly buggers in size #6 in chartreuse and black. Patterns like the MC2 Crayfish will come in handy as well as streamers like the CK Baitfish. Take a variety of colors with you to the water -- crayfish molt, and as they change color they are more vulnerable to marauding bass. If youíre fishing in deep water, use a sink tip line or a mini lead head like those made by Airflo or some of the other major line companies. They come in varying lengths and sink rates. Leaders can range in length from 7 to 9 feet and should be large enough to turn over your biggest bass fly. 8lb test line or better is a good choice for strength; the heavier test line will often save you from hungry tree limbs and lily pads.
Different bodies of water call for different styles of fly retrieves. Flies should be striped according to what your quarry wants. This may take some time to figure out. Some fish want to chase their prey while others take a "wait and see" approach. If you spot a rather large bass, donít rush your cast. After all, big bass donít get big by being stupid. If youíre using a streamer, cast your fly to the outer edge of what you believe the fishís sightline might be. Then strip your fly in a direction AWAY from the fish. Fleeing prey is a welcome sight to a hungry fish. Too many anglers want to cast towards large fish, but this approach often backfires. No minnow or crayfish in the world will take on a bass! When confronted by an unnaturally bold minnow, your fish may get spooked and head for cover.
Poppers are far and away my favorite flies to fish for bass. I use Waltís Poppers in sizes #2 through #10. Chartreuse, olive fish scale, and blue are all winning colors -- but donít overlook tan and green, a great frog imitation. These poppers are made to take a tremendous amount of abuse and are painted 7 times each! Needless to say they donít fall apart after just a few casts. These bad boys are made to be tough and will most likely last longer on the water fishing than you will.
There are two methods I use for fishing a popper. One method consists of throwing my popper in the location of choice and allowing it to sit there until all the ripples are gone. I then twitch the fly or move it a half-inch or so and wait to see what happens. Often a giant "hole" will appear in the water where your quiet popper was sitting. The second method I use while casting poppers is one of almost constant movement. As soon as the popper hits the water I strip it in a rhythmic motion. The cadence at which you strip your popper can be as fast or as slow as you feel comfortable with. This method has worked best for me in moving water. The popper most likely comes off looking like a scared minnow to the bass below. Tie on a weed guard if you are fishing heavy cover and donít be afraid to use 2x tippet or larger -- most bass are not tippet-shy.
Rod selection is a matter of personal preference. If you are wading in a river or local pond try a rod in the 8-foot category. This rod length will allow you the opportunity to throw many large flies with less chance of getting hung up overhead. If you are in a canoe or float tube, a 9-foot rod will give you a bit of an edge when throwing larger bass flies. And donít be afraid to try large flies -- bass may go a day or even two without eating. When it is time for them to put on the feedbag, they want a meal. Sometimes in order to get their attention, you need to throw Ďem the groceries!
Late summer is perhaps the best time to go looking for the lunker bass and bluegill. The water temperature is up and the spring run off should be over, leaving clear warm water. Just about everything is on the move, from crickets to dragonflies. I have even known guys who fly fish with duckling flies -- no kidding! Late afternoons have always been my favorite time of the day to look for largemouth and smallmouth bass. The hottest part of the day is over and the approaching night triggers their hunting instinct. There is also a lot of surface feeding going on at this time of the day.
If you decide you want to go after bluegill, or some other smaller fish be sure to down size your fly. Start out with a size #6 or smaller, bluegill will hit flies much larger than they can get in their mouths, so adjust your fly size accordingly. Itís often easy to find bluegill since they are plentiful and readily take flies. Look for depressions in an around the edges of the ponds or rivers where you are fishing. Their beds often look like a moonscape with larger round depressions the size of a tea cup. Large males often guard the beds and will strike nearly anything that they can see. If you ever see a set of these depressions gathered together you now know what youíre seeing. Bluegill can reproduce up to three times in a single year! It might be just as easy to look for the fish with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
The sight of a cruising bass, with its dark tail and strong lateral lines, is a wonderful sight to behold. If you havenít pursued this worthy opponent, I suggest you give it a try. Call your local fly shop for advice or contact someone in your local fly fishing club. Angling for bass and other warmwater fish was and still is one of my favorite pursuits. When all is said and done, few of my fishing habits have changed since I was a little tyke whiling away the afternoon hours fishing with my brother. Well, I suppose Iíve made one significant adjustment: no more worms!
Beau Beasley ( www.beaubeasley.com
) is the on-line Editor for VAflyfish.com. If youíd like more information about where to seek for warmwater fish or see a host of Virginia fly patterns, check out his recently released book "Fly Fishing Virginia: A No Nonsense Guide To Top Waters".