The weeks of spring and early summer offer by far the best opportunity for anglers going after bass with a fly rod. The best times are going to vary, of course, depending on the part of the country you’re talking about.
In the Pacific Northwest, where I did almost all of my fly rodding for bass, largemouth spent lots of time in the shallows from April on through July. And it’s in the shallows where bass bugging is at its best.
As I advised in my previous column, always look for bass around cover. You’re wasting time fishing open water. Cover can be darn near anything from a single piling to bridge abutments to pockets in the lily pads or reeds.
Forget about attempting to throw your bass bug 60 feet. It isn’t necessary. Accuracy is 10 times more important than distance for fly rod bass fishing. If you can cast your bug 20 to 30 feet, you can catch bass with a fly rod.
All right, let’s assume you’ve got the proper outfit and you’ve learned how to use it. As you’ll soon discover, it’s what you do with your bugs once you get them out where they need to be that makes the difference between catching fish and going home skunked.
Again – keep one thing uppermost in mind whenever you’re fishing a bass bug. A largemouth bass doesn’t “always” do anything. Just about the time you think you’ve finally figured them out, they’ll do something to knock all your neat theories into the middle of next week.
On most days, again not always, it’s best to make your cast, then let the commotion the bug made when it landed disappear before you even start thinking about moving it. When you do move it, try to make it look the way some big insect would if it had been temporarily stunned by smacking into the water.
In my last column I talked about steps I took in tying some of my bugs. Always keep in mind that those two thin rubber strands from an Arbogast Hula Skirt I used in tying some of my bugs continued to move a bit even when the bug was completely still. Few bassin’ men ever learn how to fish a bait casting size Hula Popper as successfully as they could have just by not slowing down enough. I expect much the same happens to the fly rod man doing some buggin’.
Once you’ve made your bug shudder enough to send out tiny ripples, let it rest again. Don’t be in a hurry. Let long seconds go by. Now gently twitch it again. Keep up this twitch and pause routine for five or six feet. Watch the cover behind and to either side of your bug. If you see any kind of movement, stop whatever you’re doing and wait. Now twitch your bug again. Hang onto your rod when you do.
Having said all that, let me add this: Don’t assume the pause and twitch retrieve will always get results. As I said a thousand times before, “always” doesn’t apply when you’re dealing with bass.
I’ve seen times when those fickle sapsuckers wouldn’t look at a bug unless I ripped it along the top in a series of surface disturbing slurps that you’d think would scare hell out of a starving barracuda. But while the stop and go procedure won’t always work, it is always worth a try. Whenever you use it, try to get your bug as close to the cover you’re fishing as you can.
One final thought with regard to fishing the shallows. As I’ve mentioned, bass usually are in, around or next to cover. That means working your bug through and across things like logs, lily pads, reeds, grass and brush. You can make a bug weedless by tying in a strand of monofilament to serve as a weed guard. This works, but even more important is how you make your retrieve.
Let’s say you’ve dropped your bug into a little pocket in a lily pad field. As soon as the bug splats down, drop your rod tip so it points along the line and toward the bug. Now don’t raise the rod even if a fish hits.
Manipulate the bug by twitching the line in your left hand. You can make the bug do everything it needs to do by those line tugs. You can also set the hook by jerking the line with your left hand. As long as you do that, the pull on the bug comes directly from in front. A bug so fished tends to somersault forward when it comes to an obstruction. Try to do it by raising your rod tip and the hook point dips down and is certain to hang up on everything in sight.
I’ve barely scratched the surface in these last columns on fly rod bugging for bass. I hope it has been enough to get you excited about giving it a try. Chances are good the bass you catch will average around a pound or less but they may go a whole lot larger. When was the last time you tangled with trout that size locally on your fly rod?
I started this series out by saying I had devoted one full season of bassin’ many years ago to using nothing but a fly rod. I didn’t set any catch or size records in the process but I had one helluva good time in the process. I wound up catching as many fish as I’d have taken with casting gear but they averaged a smaller size.
There was an exception to that size thing every now and then. My single largest bass with a fly rod during that special season weighed 5-pounds, 11-ounces. Remember now, my bugging was done in the Pacific Northwest.
Five pounders don’t come easily in that part of the world I don’t care what you’re throwing at ‘em.
Tired of the tensions, the trials, the expense, the cheating and other headaches bassin’ for big bucks has brought along with it? Handle a bass carefully when you catch it with a fly rod and you won’t damage anything except its dignity. Turn loose the fish you catch.
As I said in the beginning, the bassin’ man who doesn’t give bugging a try is missing a super opportunity for some darn good fun. I’ve never known a bass nut who didn’t love it – provided he stuck with it long enough to learn something about it.
My guess is you will too.