Leapin' LargemouthsLeapin' Largemouths
Few things are more frustrating than the bass you can't catch
By John M. Likakis
In the middle of a blazing-hot day, my fishing partner and I are drifting along the edges of fields of lily pads. Bob is flipping jigs into openings and pockets in the pads, but the bass aren't cooperating. Worse, the fish are leaping all over the place. Every few seconds there's a loud splash as a bass rockets out of the water and falls back. Some of the fish are leaping quite close to the boat, others put on their little show way back in the weeds.
The deer-hair popper I've been casting draws no interest from the bass. On one cast, the popper lands in a pocket the size of a shoe box. The ripples barely subside before a big bass blasts out of the pocket, knocking the popper high in the air. This happens two more times before I notice the dragonflies hovering over the pads.
There's something about dragonflies. Bass apparently hate them. Or maybe love them as delicious snacks. Whatever the reason, when dragonflies or damselflies gather over fields of aquatic plants, the bass start jumping. It's a sight that's sure to get anglers hearts thumping, too. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most frustrating situations a bass fisher can face.
In The Air
When I finally realized what was happening on the sweltering summer day, I also realized that I didn't have any dragonfly imitations with me. I dug frantically through my fly boxes, looking for something, anything, that could get one of those fish to bite.
Meanwhile, Bob was also digging through his tackle box. He went from the jig he was flipping to a plastic worm. The worm didn't work, so he tried a weedless frog. The fish kept leaping, goading us on.
Having inventoried my fly boxes, it was clear that a real dragonfly imitation didn't make it into the collection that day. But I did come across a couple of ratty Muddler Minnows. If I squinted hard, the Muddlers sorta looked like dragonflies. There was nothing to lose, so I tied one on and applied a dollop of floatant to its spun deer-hair head.
I made a short cast to a small opening in the pads. The fly landed gently and I gave it a slight twitch. The water exploded as a bass engulfed the Muddler. It was the first of many fish I caught that day. Bob, unfortunately, went fishless. The bass wanted dragonflies and would eat nothing else.
Since that day, I've made it a point to always carry at least one small box with some dragonfly patterns. I've developed quite a collection since then. Some are rather exacting imitations, others are pretty crude. They all catch fish.
In some parts of the South, they call largemouths green trout. And there are times when that name is very appropriate. Real trout, of course, are known for being "selective." This means that the fish will eat only one thing--are certain species of mayfly that is hatching, or a specific kind of nymph--and they'll ignore every other kind of food.
But a dragonfly imitation would be gobbled up as soon as it landed in a clear opening. There are plenty of very good dragonfly and damselfly patterns out there. Many of them are so lifelike that they fudge the line between lure and bait. And many of these super-realistic imitations take lots of time and effort to tie.
Happily, I've found that the bass are just as satisfied with something that approximates a dragonfly. That's why those Muddler Minnows worked that hot summer day. So, my dragonfly imitations now tend to be rather minimalist. I lash a strip of closed-cell foam to the hook so that it's pointing out over the eye of the hook. Next, I tie in the wings: either a few strands of Kyrstal Flash tied cross-wise on the hook, or a couple of grizzly hackles tied in the same way. Once the wing is tied in, the foam gets folded back over the hook to make the head of the fly. I leave a long stem of the foam hanging off the back of the hook, and spiral some thread around that stem, and the fly is essentially complete.
These flies are very simple to tie, and I can whip out a dozen in an hour. This makes them great for fishing in the most tangled lily-pad fields. I can cast anyplace and not worry about losing the fly. Best of all, the fish really go for them. There are few things more thrilling than having a big bass leap clear out of the water as it hammers your fly.
John Likakis is the editor of Warmwater Fly Fishing, the magazine for those who are serious about catching bass with a fly rod.
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