When the water was once again smooth and motionless, I gave a quick jerk on the thick fly line. The frog pattern came to life and the surrounding water rippled. Once again I let the rings subside. Just as I started to twitch the bug again, it was lost in a spray of water. It was like someone had thrown a large rock where the bug was sitting.
I instantly lifted the rod tip and was satisfied with the heavy, thrashing weight of a large bass at the other end. The bass made a quick run toward the float tube, and I frantically began stripping line, preparing for the inevitable. As the fly line neared the surface, I lowered the rod tip as the bass broke the surface, violently shaking his head from side to side in a vain attempt to dislodge the distasteful frog. After a few smaller leaps and some short runs, I guided the bass toward my float tube and my waiting thumb. The first joint of my thumb was worn raw, but it was a pleasurable pain.
That was one of my early experiences with bass on a fly rod, and I have been hopelessly addicted ever since. I still love the delicate nature of a rainbow trout, and the relentless pull of a saltwater species is something that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated, but for sheer unadulterated excitement, try the long rod out on a quiet farm pond full of largemouth.
The techniques are relatively simple. There is nothing delicate about it. Use large patterns, create lots of noise and action, then hold on. I prefer to fish from some sort of small craft (float tubes and pontoon boats are ideal) simply because so many pond banks are covered by impenetrable brush, and the best fishing is usually from the middle casting toward the edge of cover. Early mornings and evenings are often the best times, but bass can be caught throughout the day. When the summer sun heats up the water, fishing at night is preferable.
Bass can be caught on a variety of patterns, including subsurface offerings like streamers, small bluegill imitations, crawdads, woolley buggers, night leeches and even large hare's ears. But the real fun is catching them on top where they have the opportunity to show you what their large mouth can really do. For topwater action, I have had success with swimming frogs, mice, Mega Divers Ultra Foam-Tec Kickers and Sneaky Petes. Whitlock's Mouse Rat is another great option. The biggest key I have found is a large profile, lots of movement (flexible tails and rubber legs) and lots of water disturbance.
While the technique used for catching bass on topwater flies is relatively simple, the gear required is a bit more specialized. Trout fishermen, who regularly land 5- to 6-pound trout on 3- to 5-weight rods, will be surprised to hear that an 8-weight is the perfect rod for largemouth. It is not that bass fight hard enough to require the full power of an 8-weight, but in order to cast the large, wind-resistant pattern needed to entice these lunkers, a heavy rod must be used. This is even more pronounced when the late-afternoon summer breezes begin to pump. Anything less than a stout 8-weight is an exercise in futility.
I have been using several new Cabela's rods exclusively for bass fishing, and I've found them perfect for the job. The SLi
9-foot, 8-weight is probably the nicest rod I have ever used for bass. Its quick action is ideal for picking up large poppers that tend to stick to the surface of the water. It is stiff enough to generate adequate line speed to punch large patterns directly into a strong wind, but at the same time, flexible enough to give a good fight once a fish is hooked. The fine cork handles and exquisite wood reel seats are almost too nice to get covered in fish slime – almost.
My bass fishing is relegated two distinct opportunities: either a destination trip when I fly into an area to fish, or simply wherever I find the opportunity to do so – meaning those times when I am driving somewhere and see what I suspect is a bass pond. A few casts wouldn't hurt, right? For both of these extremes, the 7-piece Stowaway
9-foot, 8-weight is ideal. Collapsed it measures only 17", so it's easily stored behind a truck seat or in an overhead airline compartment. It casts just like a two-piece rod, and the up-locking reel seat ensures a solid footing on even the heaviest of reels.
Bass fishing doesn't require a lot out of a reel. These fish are not known for making long runs or even using much drag. They are close-in scrappers and aerial artists, not long-distance speedsters. Even though it isn't necessary, I like fishing with quality equipment – if not for the sheer joy of using it, then because I can later use it for other species that do require a good drag and lots of line capacity. At least that's what I tell myself when I'm pulling out my wallet. For a great reel, check out Cabela's CSR Fly Reel. I find it amazing that you can get a finely finished, fully machined-aluminum reel with an adjustable disc drag for under a hundred bucks.
Here is where most bass fly anglers take a wrong turn. They use the same fly line that they use for trout. This is a big mistake. The line is one of the most important considerations for the fledgling bass angler. Most dry fly lines are designed to have the right flexibility in relatively cold water, whereas most bass fishing is done in warm water. Secondly, most floating lines are tapered to "turn over" small dries and nymphs, not 2-inch long, wind-resistant poppers and hair bugs. Specially designed bass fly lines, such as the Scientific Anglers Bass Taper and Mastery™ Fly Lines
, address these concerns and make casting these big bugs much easier.
Tapered leaders are much like fly lines. The leader taper dictates what type of fly it will perform best with. Relatively short, quickly tapering heavy leaders are ideal for largemouths. I have personally fished the Cabela's 6- and 9-foot bass leaders
with excellent results.
If you haven't taken the long rod out for bass yet, don't let this season slip away. Grab a float tube, the right gear and head for the nearest farm pond for more fun than should be legally allowed.