Designing Fly-Fishing HeavenDesigning Fly-Fishing Heaven What makes an ultimate fly-fishing body of water? Take a look inside to see!
By Norm Tremblay
When Pond Boss editor, Bob Lusk, accepted my query to write this article, the first thing he mentioned was, "Norm, I don't want you bragging about your fishing prowess; just show the readers the ideal pond setup for fly-fishing."
I guess he knows me too well...so, here goes... What makes an ultimate fly-fishing body of water? It depends whether you're fishing from shore or in a watercraft. From shore, you'll need plenty of room to strip line at your feet and to back cast, so points jutting into the water, with no trees or shrubs, are ideal. That fly line is always looking for some impediment on which to attach, so cover your casting areas with mowed grass or other suitable smooth surfaces. From a watercraft, fish underwater cover just like you would fish with a baitcasting or spinning rig; just be certain to leave room above the water level for your casting. No tree limbs above your head.
Here in Texas, where I live, we like BIG largemouth bass. I had a chance to design and enlarge a lake from 15 to 20 acres several years ago—expense was not factor to that landowner—I thought it was the fantasy Erector Set of a lifetime!
Being a fly fisherman, I wanted to create an aquatic "Garden of Eden" for the fly rod, so I asked the bulldozers to form three shoreline points at least 150 feet apart so that fly casters would have plenty of room to cast and not interfere with their buddy on the next point. I lined these point shores with rocks and boulders to prevent erosion, and avoided planting trees to give room for the back cast. That's very important to anyone with a fly rod.
We made shorelines slope deep to at least five feet to prevent aquatic weeds from causing problems with retrieving the cast. Underwater structure was strategically placed within casting distance from shore to attract fish. We chose non-snagging types of man-made habitat structures we purchased from Pond Boss advertisers. Part of our logic to buy and install these types of fish attractors rather than available trees, brush, and other natural-types was to attract fish and to minimize the risk of getting hung up and losing flies. Even sub-surface flies, such as wooly buggers, are not entirely weed free; they can still get hung up on trees and moss.
Some dead hardwood trees and boulders were also placed within casting distance so we could cast a large top surface fly such as a Dahlberg Diver, deer-hair popper, or cork popper over the structure. One fishing hint: if you want to catch what I call Leroy (aka, the big bass of your life), let that floating fly sit there. Have a sip of lemonade and let the ripples from the splash spread out and settle, and then twitch that fly with just a jerk of your wrist and place the tip of your fly rod right on the water so the fly will respond to your twitching motion and the fly doesn't travel too far. Have another sip of lemonade, and repeat this process until the explosion of Leroy going for a tempting meal suddenly destroys the peaceful quietude of what you're doing.
What a thrill!
Sorry Bob, I can't help it.. .back to the task at hand.
We originally stocked coppernose bluegills and set up two automatic fish feeders at the south shore so our prevailing winds push feed over the main body of the lake where depth drops to 12 feet close to shore. Whenever the feeders go off, the bluegills (now large) boil the water instantly, and I can spot a two-foot bass roaming underneath the bluegill near one of the feeders. I named her Leona. I haven't caught her yet; she's always well fed on unsuspecting bluegill that thought they were there only for a free meal. Such are the ways of a pond with feeders. Some who feed become those fed upon.
Further out from shore, we formed ditches and ridges with the bulldozers, and positioned various boulders, hardwood trees, tires, and an old bathtub close to these earthen structures. There are two small islands with cypress trees that we left alone. It amazed me to see how soon the big fish found these new areas as they filled with water! Rising water shocked the new tree structures two weeks after the lake filled up, and they were already settled in and regaining strength. I love to fish these areas with my kickboat; I can cast with the wind to my back, and I've learned how to cast from both the front cast and the back cast, so I can cover just about any fishing situation. I can also fish a fishy looking area slowly and thoroughly; those big bass usually require a slowwww approach.
We also formed some spawning areas in a flat about 5-10 feet deep by securing grass pallets with t-posts, setting up patches of gravel, and placing cinder blocks in suitable spawning areas. Threadfin shad were stocked in these areas, and so far, they have survived central Texas winters. Further north, you will probably have to go with some other type of baitfish or prey species to diversify your fishery, but I'll leave that part to the legion of pond management and stocking experts.
If stocking your lake with largemouth bass is required, then your goals need to be clear. If your goal is a lot of bass and size is not a priority, then you don't have to be too choosy, but I would still recommend a reputable hatchery. Check your Pond Boss Resource Guide. If your goal is trophy-sized bass, then be ready for the expense of automatic feeders, fertilization, provision of shad, tilapia, etc., and stocking of Florida-strain largemouth or even Tiger-strain bass, along with harvesting of fish under 16 inches in length once the fishery is established.
Turbidity of water is not a big factor in my experience; I have had tremendous fishing success in both clear and turbid water. Personally, I have tended to catch bigger bass in turbid water. Perhaps the fertility is better and maybe the prey is more vulnerable. It would make for an interesting Pond Boss Forum discussion.
Wind can be a factor, especially if you're a beginning caster. If you're building a pond from scratch and you have the choice, a semi-protected location is ideal, maybe next to a forested area or between two hills, down low. Most of us do not have the luxury of placing our pond in a sheltered location, so learn how to cast in windy conditions. If the wind is in your face, make your back cast higher and your front cast lower. If wind is coming from the side into your casting arm, turn around and cast the fly on your back cast. Casting on the back cast has been crucial and highly rewarding when fishing from my kickboat.
If the goal for your piece of heaven is another fish species like smallmouth bass, catfish, yellow perch, trout, or walleye, the principles are still the same for fly-fishing: allow plenty of room for the back cast, emphasize depths down to no more than 15 feet so you don't spend all day waiting for your fly to sink, and create habitat in which the fish will congregate and thrive.
In this day and age, just about any species of fish can be caught on a fly rod—you really need to go after tarpon in Key West or even marlin in Cabo San Lucas once in your life! The deeper the water, the more challenging the fly-fishing becomes. I enjoy largemouth bass because of the top water action with poppers and the reliability of subsurface flies like woolly buggers and Clouser minnows, but I have just as much fun stumbling upon a large catfish that absolutely annihilates my black popper at sunset. (Yes, they will hit top water flies).
Fly-fishing on a pond can be as simple as tossing tiny poppers to bream, or can be a lifelong passion requiring the science of biology and engineering. I have just as much fun catching bluegill on a 5-weight fly rod as I did catching 89 bass up to 11 pounds on a 9-weight rod (Bob, I can't help myself). One last piece of advice: if you're new to fly-fishing, take 30 minutes of casting instruction from a certified casting instructor. They can be found at just about every fly shop. It'll save you a lot of frustration at the beginning.
I have so many good memories of fly-fishing in a number of bodies of water, and fly-fishing in ponds is at the top part of my list! Above all, enjoy the pond environment and all the interesting, amazing life interactions of nature while you're fly-fishing!
Long time Pond Boss subscriber and ardent angler Norm Tremblay is a physician from Fort Worth, Texas who loves to spend his spare time helping friends manage their ponds.
Reprinted with permission from Pond Boss Magazine
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