Fall Bass on the FlyFall Bass on the Fly If you don't have a fly rod, try flies on your spinning gear or even a light baitcasting outfit this fall. They flat out catch fish.
With summer winding down, water temperatures are falling and bass are moving up and eating. This is the perfect time to try something new. How about catching bass on flies? If you have never caught a decent fish on a fly rod, you are in for a real treat – nothing beats the thrill of fighting a big fish, or any fish really, on a fly rod.
What you may not realize is that even if you don’t own a fly rod, you can still fish flies for bass, and they work quite well, often because the fish have never seen them before. Flies tend to be more subtle baits, and they work extremely well on small ponds and pressured waters. Fly fishermen tend to fish from tubes, but you can definitely fish a fly from a bass boat.
However, a tube will let you get into little backwaters and the backs of coves where a big bass boat might not be able to fit. Often, a lake where trout are stocked will also have bass, and these bass may be underfished. Most fly fishermen go after trout, and so do the bass. Bass on a trout diet get big and fat.
WHAT YOU NEED
- 8 or 9 weight fly rod
- Forward weight floating line for poppers
- 200-grain sinking line for streamers
- Mono leader (16- to 20-pound test)
- Flies: big gurglers (topwater poppers), also an assortment of different sizes of streamers in patterns to match the fry, bluegills, shad, etc. Use smaller streamers when the fish are keying on fry, bigger ones when they are after shad.
Traditionally, fly rods have always been nine feet long. This can make them a bit much to manage in a boat, but fly rod manufacturers are beginning to realize that bass fishing enthusiasts are a huge market. Many manufacturers are making shorter, 8-foot fly rods specifically geared toward bass fishermen. If you are just starting out, see if you can borrow a fly rod, or buy an inexpensive one to use until you fall in love with flyfishing. Many fly rods break down and can be stored and transported in small tubes, which makes them ideal for hiking in to secret holes and backwaters.
When you’re throwing a streamer, remember that a fly, unlike a crankbait or spinnerbait, has no built-in action. With no bill, a streamer dives, and with no wire, it thrums. It’s crucial to tie on with a loop knot to allow the fly as much movement as possible.
Largemouth bass prefer a faster retrieve in warmer water. For largemouth on streamers, try giving the line five or six quick strips with a pause. The 200-grain sinking line falls at five inches per second, so you can count the flies down with a fair amount of precision.
If there are other large predator fish in the lake (like stripers, pike, etc.), the bass may not behave like they would if they were top dog. Instead of pulling out into deep channels in summer, they often just pull out to slightly deeper brush and wait for the stripers or pike to herd the shad into the trees. In this case, you might find them in 15 feet of water or less, even when it’s still hot out. Fish a fly over the brush they’re hiding in.
As soon as the water starts to cool off in the fall, bass move up into shallower water and start to get easier to catch. They move more, too, so you can pick up your topwater and reaction flies and start fishing the bank. There are plenty of great topwater flies for bass, including poppers. For poppers, strip just a little line at a time, pausing now and then. Popper flies are usually not as loud and don’t make as big a splash as, say, a Rico, but they get the job done. Many of them have little rubber legs that will wave around on the surface when you pause the lure, adding to the attraction.
A Cultiva Zip N Ziggy is a fantastic bait to use on a fly rod. Weighing in at 1/3-ounce, it has a curved belly that gives it a “walk the dog” motion when you pull a bit, stop, pull a bit, stop. The bass just hammer these things, and they’re easy to fish even if you haven’t mastered walking the dog.
In fact, these topwater baits and poppers are so great you may want to try one even if you don’t have a fly rod. Some you can throw on light spinning gear. If you want to throw the lighter lures without a fly rod, you can use a floater bubble (also called a buldo) in front of the lure on a baitcaster or a spinning outfit. The weight of the bubble will make the lure castable, and you can fine-tune the weight by adding or releasing water from the bubble. Use a swivel and put the bubble above and the leader and fly below, or use a bobber stopper, but don’t put anything above the bubble. It needs to float freely so the fish doesn’t feel the weight when it takes the fly. Nine inches or so is ample for the leader. On this rig you can fish floating flies, light streamers, etc. If the lure truly floats, you can make the leader longer if you want to, but the longer it is, the more difficult it is to cast.
First thing in the morning, try a topwater fly and throw it over long points at the entrances to coves and flats next to channel bends. Flats are deceptive -- a lot of guys pass right by a good flat because they tend to look like a “nothing” bank. But no flat is truly flat. Examine the bank – you’ll probably see little cuts and channels and you can be sure that they run right out into the lake. Those little dips in the bottom are just what the fish use to move up and down when they feed.
Even after you figure the fish out, you can’t just kick back and reel them in all day. If conditions change, you have to change too. Changes in light will make a difference. If clouds arrive or leave, the bite will change. Generally, the brighter and higher the sun, the tighter and deeper you have to fish. You need to be observant.
When the fish are locked on structure and you need to get down to them, a fly makes an incredible drop shot lure. Streamers made with long feathers and other light materials wave and shimmy in the water like no worm can. Rig one on light line on spinning gear with a cylinder weight. Leader length will depend on what you see on the graph. Or you can rig it so the weight stays on the bottom and the streamer swims above the weeds. Where I live, we mostly fish rocks, so we use about an 18-inch leader to start. Cast to the bank and let the sinker reach bottom. When the line goes slack, pick it up and move it just a bit so that the sinker falls further down the bank. The streamer will swim along behind and above, up off the bottom where the fish can see it. Usually you’ll get bit while it’s sitting, and when you go to move the lure it will feel heavy. Just reel set and get her in the boat. Other times the line will just start to go sideways. If the fish are active, they may grab it and run, practically yanking the rod out of your hands.
You can drag this rig down points or channels you can simply shake it gently beneath the boat when you spot fish on the graph. With today’s electronics you can often see the lure and watch the fish come and take it. Since the fly is actually tied right onto the hook, these are longer lasting than a plastic worm in addition to having more action. Because flies are so versatile, you can get any color you want, plus flash, eyes, or whatever. You may end up tying your own some day. More than likely there is a flyfishing club near you, and that’s a great place to start if you want to learn to tie your own flies.
If you frequent a place like Sportsman’s Warehouse, wander over to the fly section. You might be amazed at all the fantastic bass flies they have in stock. You can also buy bass flies online. For the ultimate thrill, fish them on a fly rod, but if you don’t want to invest in one of those right away, at least give them a try on your spinning gear or even a light baitcasting outfit. They flat out catch fish.
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