This habit, or lack thereof, of feeding brown trout is unique among all species
by John Juracek
For the past several seasons I’ve been spending most of my fishing time pursuing brown trout. Free-rising brown trout. While so engaged I’ve been reminded countless times of a feeding quirk particular to this species. It’s this: Brown trout react to food according to their own whims and fancy, completely independent of its presence and abundance. Surround them with a good hatch, spinner fall, or stonefly flight, and brown trout might feed readily, might feed haphazardly, or maybe not at all. Give them a sparse hatch and it’s possible for every brown in the river to be on the fin, taking anything that drifts nearby. You just never know.
Other trout species don’t act like this. Rainbows, cutthroat, brook trout—they all exhibit feeding patterns that pretty much correlate directly with the availability of food. When food’s plentiful they can be counted on to eat it, and eat it well. When food’s sporadic, so too is their feeding. But not the brown trout. They feed according to their own schedule. (A Henry’s Fork rainbow can be fickle like this too, but still fails to rank in the same class as a brown.)
What implications does this behavior have for fishing? For one, it suggests that patience is often going to be a key to success. Don’t give up too soon if fish aren’t responding early in a hatch. Brown trout can take what feels like forever to come on to a hatch. Even then, they frequently give the impression that rising is something of a bother, practically more trouble than it’s worth (uh, easily acquired, abundant food? Who cares?).
This quirk of feeding also means it’s important not to pass judgment too quickly about your choice of fly or its presentation. Just because a rising fish fails to take your first cast (or fourth, tenth, even thirtieth) doesn’t mean anything is wrong. Your fly may very well be right, your presentations perfect. Doesn’t matter. Brown trout rise when they’re good and ready.
Success then, at least for me, usually depends on figuring out the feeding rhythm of a given fish. Brown will often rise multiple times in succession and then go down for a period of time. This holds especially true for the largest specimens. Observing how many rises occur in each go-round, the interval between those rises, and the length of time the fish goes down for will help you plan your casting. Naturally, you want your fly covering the fish at the most opportune time. And, stating the obvious, the execution of other elements of your presentation must be done well too.
I know that this sort of planning and fishing is not for everyone. That’s okay. But if you’re drawn to brown trout like I am, particularly free-rising brown trout, paying attention to their feeding behavior is more than just an interesting sidelight. It’s essential to their capture.
It’s always a depressing time for me when I discard my flip flops and shorts for wading boots and long johns.It seems as if there is never a gradual transition period; one day it’s an endless summer filled with poppers and drift boat mojitos only to find frost covering my rowers seat 12 hours later. Sure it can be off-putting however this is one of the best times to fish for monster smallmouth bass. The key to catching big smallmouth this time of year is fishing transition lines in the river bottom.If you can find these locations, you can increase your chances of catching a stud smallmouth. Below you will find tactics and tips for three types of imitations I used to target smallmouth; baitfish, crawfish, and top water.
4-6’’ BaitfishStreamer Imitations
As the water temps start to drop into the 60s and 50s, smallmouth bass, as well as all warm water species shift into overdrive for the upcoming winter. They become somewhat reckless as they chase baitfish near the banks and in the shallow flats of river systems. I even start to see them get into feeding groups in an effort to trap baitfish easier. It’s not uncommon on the rivers that I guide on to see multiple bass chasing my flies during the retrieve.
When throwing baitfish streamers I focus on areas with shallow, gravel flats immediately next to a sharp drop off. My retrieve is very aggressive up to the drop off which I will then kill the retrieve and dead drift the fly. If the fly is not eaten in the shallow water, it will get crushed at the drop off. This transition from shallow too deep is critical for smallmouth.It allows the fish to move quickly from deep to shallow when heavy cold fronts arrive and provides a great ambush line.
Guide Note: I throw almost all of my streamers on sinking or intermediate lines. They help me get my flies to the correct depths quickly and help in providing a more realistic swimming action to weightless streamers as compared to jigging motions of weighted flies.
Over 70% of a smallmouth’s diet consists of crayfish. This is why a crayfish is my go topattern year round, especially in the fall. Depending on water clarity, I prefer to throw larger patterns but will size down in low, clear water. I prefer to fish these in deeper holes with little to no current. As well as bottoms that are scattered with large, chunk rock and a mixture of logs seem to produce better. However, it can be very effective to fish in deep riffles so long as you can get the fly down to the bottom.
Unlike a streamer, I do not consider a crayfish search pattern. I think of them as more of a “direct” or “target area” pattern. I fish them to specific rocks and structures that stands out. Often time while guiding clients they typically end up snagged on the bottom. So don’t worry if you are snagging up a lot. And Keep in mind, crayfish are a bottom dwelling creature. They do not like to swim as it makes them vulnerable as prey. To increase your success with crayfish, fish a specific rock or even a specific side of a rock. Once you finish working that targeted area, move to the next. Don’t waste time trying to fish the entire area in one cast.
Guide Note: Fish structure closest to you as the angler. Don’t go for the long cast initially. Often times I find my clients spooking fish 40’ away when they are trying to cast 80’. You can always add distance to your cast, but you cant get back a fish that spooked out.
I do not throw a lot of topwater as fall progresses.However, there are times when a warm snap will occur and it can make or break your day. I let the fish tell me before I tie one on. A key indicator that it is time to throw on a topwater is when I see baitfish blowing up along a shallow flat or against the bank. I typically only throw minnow patterns that are flashy this time of year and I fish them in the exact same areas that I would throw a streamer. I work them very aggressively with little to no pause. This is an area coverage fly just as a streamer. I want to cover as much water and structure as possible in the shortest amount of time. Cast away and be aggressive.
I look forward to late fall and early winter the way most folks anticipate Thanksgiving and Christmas, but my excitement isn’t related to holiday festivities. Instead, these short, cold days mark the beginning of the best stretch of streamer fishing I’ll see all year.
Sure, some days it feels like I spend more time picking ice from my guides than I do casting or unhooking fish. But most days the fishing’s good enough I can ignore the cold in my fingers and toes until I thaw out in the truck.
However, if you haven’t played Russian Roulette with frostbite just for the chance at a great day of winter streamer fishing, you should try it this year. These tips will help the gamble feel like more of a sure thing.
“IF YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED RUSSIAN ROULETTE WITH FROSTBITE JUST FOR THE CHANCE AT A GREAT DAY OF WINTER STREAMER FISHING, YOU SHOULD TRY IT THIS YEAR.”
Don’t overthink the patterns
My fly boxes don’t offer a lot in the way of variety. Five years ago I had every pattern I could get my hands on; these days, I fish maybe 15 varieties of caddis and mayflies. The most specific I ever get is for regional stonefly hatches and small parachute baetis dries for early-season fishing. I carry that same simplicity to my streamer game. My streamers are arrangements of bunny leeches, clouser minnows, and wooly buggers. Black, olive, white, and gold are the only colors I ever really tie.
I’m not trying to downplay the importance of picking the right fly for the job, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need every monstrosity of a streamer in the bin at your local fly shop. I’ve found that the movement of a streamer in the water matters the most, followed closely by its color. The movement is what grabs a fish’s attention – at least, that’s what I think – and the colors help seal the deal. Toy around with color and action combinations while out on your local waters. Once you have a pattern established, you’ll be able to get away with just carrying two or three different flies year-round.
Slow it down
My streamer education came via my buddy Ryan and his intimate knowledge of the Green River in Utah. The first streamer-only float we took down the river lasted all of five or so casts before Ryan stopped me, stuck me on the oars, and said, “Fish it like this.”
I’d been trying to strip the streamer faster than the current, instead of letting the current do most of the work and keeping a tight line to my fly. Ryan made two or three casts before hooking up; most importantly, he didn’t tear his rotator cuff trying to outstrip the river’s flow.
Streamer fishing a river might feel intimidating at first, but you don’t need to drastically change your retrieval technique from how you’d tackle stillwater. Slower strips, interspersed with a variety of quick movements, are the key to successfully streamer fishing a river.
“LETTING THE CURRENT DO MOST OF THE WORK WHILE KEEPING A TIGHT LINE TO MY FLY— RYAN MADE TWO OR THREE CASTS BEFORE HOOKING UP!”
Work with the river
I alluded to this above, but it bears repeating here – don’t try and work your streamer against the river. Baitfish don’t have the strength or mass to rip through heavy currents. Why should your streamer be any different? Sure, you might not be trying to imitate any baitfish in particular, but triggering that predatory instinct in trout is a lot easier with a fly that’s acting somewhat like a real fish would.
I like to toss my streamers across a heavy current, to the softer water beyond, and let the quicker water pull my line through the hole. A few strips to keep a tight connection to the fly is all you need to make sure you don’t miss a strike.
The steepest part of the streamer learning curve for me was the strip set. I’m a dry fly fisherman by nature; I was raised in the tiny creeks and medium rivers of the Rockies. My grandpa only fished dries, and so did my dad. I didn’t have much choice when I started fly fishing. Hell, I don’t think I even tied on a nymph until I was 19 or 20.
If the strip set is foreign to you, practice it a bit on a lake or pond first. Those takes are a bit different than what you’ll feel in a river, but the mechanics are the same. Instead of pulling the line tight and raising your rod simultaneously, you want to pull your line tight much harder than normal, then lift your rod to drive the hook home. A classic trout set when streamer fishing is the best way to yank defeat from the jaws of victory. I find myself reaching for streamers more and more year-round now that I’ve spent so much time fishing them in the winter. The learning curve can be brutal, but the end result is worth the days of frozen fingers and lukewarm coffee. And if I can learn it, anyone can.
Article By: Spencer Durrant. @spencer_durrant
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, American Angler, Sporting Classics Daily, Trout Magazine, Hatch Magazine, and other national publications. Spencer is also the Owner/CEO of Cutthroat Creative Media. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.
Rods we suggest:
SKY S6904 – fast action, extra power for punching bigger trout streamers
SKY 7904 – fast action, for throwing really big flies
DXF 51064 – trout switch, for easier two-handed casting (spey) and launching big streamers
It is easy to judge your skill as a fly tyer by how a fly looks. While pretty flies are indeed fun to look at, the real goal ought to be flies that fish well. (It can’t be ignored that often the flies that fish well do look good.)
So what are you doing to improve how your flies fish? Are you cutting down the wind resistance of your streamers? Are you making sure your nymphs sink at a uniform rate from fly to fly? Are your dry flies staying dry without much fuss?
This last question is an important one. Pretty dry flies can be a real difficult task for new fly tyers. Moreover, the ideal dry fly aesthetic is tightly linked with precision proportions that lead to the proper presentation. Basically, they need to look good to fish good. While improving your skills is important, there are some easier things you can do to help keep your flies up while you learn.
Here are three things you can do at the vise to keep your dry flies floating:
Tie big, bulky articulated streamers more quickly, easily—and better
by Chris Hunt
I’m a self-styled fly-tier who’s likely better at imitating fly patterns that, to my repeated surprise, often catch fish, than I am at crafting my own creations.
No, they’re often not pretty. But, generally speaking, they’re pretty enough.
But, for the longest time, I struggled tying articulated streamer patterns—you know, the big, ugly suckers that cast like a wet diaper but tend to be the patterns that pull hog browns out from under log jams when nothing else seems to do the trick. The part of my brain where pragmatism dwells can be a bit difficult to access at times, and I struggled mightily to figure it out. When I finally did, it was a total face-palm moment.
Whether you’re tying full-on articulated patterns or just tying streamers with trailing “stinger” hooks, the secret isn’t in knots or, depending on the type of fish you’re after, in the material you use to connect the main body of the fly to trailing section. The secret is in the tying itself. In fact, good articulated patterns aren’t tied using knots at all.
Over the years, I’ve watched other vise-monkeys like me offer different methods for tying the lead hook to the trailing hook, or the body of the fly using articulated fly shanks to the stinger hook, and I’m convinced that I’ve finally stumbled upon the easiest method.
And, if you’re like me when it comes to tying flies, easier is better.
First, as I mentioned, it’s not about a knot. Instead, treat the material you’re using to connect the trailing hook just like any other material you might tie into a fly pattern. With your hook connected to your trailing line (I’ll get to the material shortly), simply place the line atop the lead hook or shank, and tie it down, starting at the bend in the hook and working your way to toward the hook eye.
Then, stretch the leftover material toward the bend, and tie back to the original tie-in point. This is where I like to dose the entire stretch of tied-in material with either a thin coat of head cement or, even better, a coat of very thin UV-activated resin. Splash the coating with a UV light and you’ve got yourself a virtually unbreakable connection between your lead shank and your trailing hook.
As for the line between the lead and the trailer, consider your target. For trout and bass, a nice segment of heavy mono (15-pound test or better) should work. For toothy critters, like pike, barracuda or bluefish, consider something different, like a stretch of 30-, 40-, or 50-pound Spiderwire.
And you have some options here. You can go with a single stretch of line, tied to the trailing hook eye in a somewhat traditional method, or you can choose to attach the trailing hook by looping the material through the hook eye and tying both ends of the material to the lead hook shank. Both work, but I prefer the latter, because I think it adds to the strength of the fly, both by providing two lengths of line to the trailing hook, and by giving it two attachments to the lead shank. Honestly, though, it’s a preference thing.
As for length, consider two things:
1. The length of the material that stretches behind the lead hook or shank, like the marabou or the stretch of rabbit or bucktail … or whatever;
And, whatever you choose to attach to the trailing hook, if anything at all (obviously, a stinger hook will be bare, and shouldn’t extend past the tail material tied to the lead shank) should cover the hook so it blends nicely with the material from the lead shank.
2. You can also double the durability of the fly by choosing to lash the trailing material to the trailing hook, much like you did to the lead hook. Rather than loop the material to the trailing hook eye, stretch it a bit farther down the shank and tie it in. Then, dose it with cement or resin. This adds more strength to the finished product, and for most angling situations, stronger is so much better.
No, it’s not rocket science. It’s actually a fairly easy method for crafting good articulated patterns, and for those who’ve spent time trying to use the knot method, this might seem overly simple. Give it a try and see if you don’t like the outcome. I know I like not tying knots which often break over time.
As the line twitches in their fingers, the angler is careful in keeping his count. With each jerk of the fly line, the cork popper makes another theatric lap across the surface of the pond. Behind it, a peculiar ripple boils up to the water’s surface. With one more gentle strip, an explosion of water engulfs the fly and the angler rips their rod back. The line goes completely tight as the rod tip plunges downward. It feels as if there’s a bowling ball attached to the leader. suddenly, there is another explosion and out from the pond flies a tenacious, yet beautiful largemouth bass, its skin glowing in the setting sun’s light.
Fishing for freshwater Bass (specifically smallouth and largemouth) can be one of the most intense and rewarding experiences on a fly rod. Between their geographical abundance, hyper-aggressive nature, and the power they can impose against a taught line, bass are a great opportunity for anglers to diversify their regularly targeted species, as well as have a great fight.
In this guide, we will break down everything you need to know about targeting American freshwater bass such as smallmouth and largemouth. We’ll cover where to find bass, how to catch em, and what gear you’ll need. This being said, saltwater bass, including the popular striped bass, as well as sea bass, will not be covered, however, keep an eye out for a guide in the near future. If you would like to move around the page, just click on any of the titles in the contents below.
The difference between Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass
No, It’s not a stupid question. Many anglers spend years in unknowing silence because they’re shamed into believing that the difference between the two fish is simply the name. However, this could not be further from the truth. Here is a quick glance at how these fish differ.
Mouth Size: While this is the most obvious distinction, not all anglers know how to identify it. Largemouth bass’ upper jaw will extend past their eye, while smallmouth bass’ upper jaws will stop in line with their eye.
Striping: Another easy way to identify between the two is the striping of the fish. Smallmouth bass possess vertical strips that line their bodies, while largemouths have horizontal stripes located around their bellies.
Dorsal fins: Another easily identifiable detail that separates smallies and largemouth bass is the break between a largemouth bass’ dorsal fin. Smallmouths do not have these breaks.
Location: Largemouth Bass are generally considered the lazier of the two. They prefer hanging out in calm water, specifically in ponds and lakes, and waiting for their food to come to them. When targeting smallmouth, remember that they tend to hunker down in faster moving current, and can often be found chasing minnows in streams and rivers. Smallmouth also prefer colder water, and will retreat to deeper pockets of rivers and lakes once the water temperature begins to rise.
Fight: When you hook onto a largemouth bass, it oftentimes feels as if you’ve hooked onto a bowling ball. Once these fish realize they’ve been hooked, they will often take off towards the depths, only to come up and jump out of the water. However, they will usually only jump once or twice. Smallmouth, on the other hand, are more unpredictable. Once hooked, smallmouth will attempt an array of gymnastic feats in order to try to shake your hook free. So, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for submerged obstructions where they could break you off, as well as watch out for their leaps.
What to Expect when Fishing for Bass
Fishing for Bass on the fly is oftentimes an angler’s secret addiction. The entire process is great fun and can be a more than satisfying relief from targeting finicky trout or non-existent musky. So, when prepping to land some of these underwater bullies, there are a few things to remember off the bat.
Bass (usually) hit HARD. like an ornery brown defending its territory, the bass often attack flies with tenacity. If unprepared, a hungry largemouth will make light work of your fly. Now, we noted usually because like any other factor, there are exceptions to behaviors. Often times, when they spot a gently floating fly, they will simply inhale it. So, stay alert.
Thick skin means a hard set. If you’ve never fished for bass or other thick-skinned relatives, make sure to understand your sets. Once you feel a bass has grabbed your fly, give the hook a strong set. You’ll often see professional Bass Fisherman send their entire body in their hook set, and while this isn’t entirely necessary, Bass have much thicker skin than trout. Because of this, hooking them securely requires a slightly more powerful set than just an upwards flick of the wrist.
Expect an airborne attempt. As mentioned before, Bass (Smallmouth especially) will oftentimes take to the skies when they realized they’ve been hooked. Don’t let their size fool you, these monsters can fly. In preparation, once the hook is set, keep some line available and let it loose if the fish jumps. By giving it a small amount of momentary slack, the fly will be much less likely to shake from the fish’s mouth.
Expect a good long fight. Once you’re hooked up on a Bass, know that the battle has only just begun. Bass are meaner than trout, and do not wear out as quickly. Because of their lack of dependency on specific water temperature and oxygen levels, bringing in a Bass will often be a more rigorous and lengthy procedure. By capitalizing on their robust, thick skin designs, bass will often mix in a variety of maneuvers in an attempt to break you off, or toss your hook, only to settle for an instant then try it all again. Remain patient with Bass, put in the time and understand that you’ll be bringing them in on their time, not yours.
Where to look for Bass
Bass are warm-water fish. This means, unlike cold-water fish such as trout, Bass have the ability to thrive in most areas of the United States. With this in mind, ideal ecosystems for bass will be areas that provide an abundance of food, space, and shelter. Due to their aggressive habits, bass do better in large ponds and lakes where they have the ability to move around and grow with minimal harassment, as well as minimal dietary interference.
Ponds and Lakes)
When fishing for bass, ponds and lakes are where you’re going to find a majority of large-mouth, as well as some decent small-mouth. In order to properly target these fish, check which techniques to use based on the season HERE.
Whether you’re casting from the shore or a boat, aim to land your fly around any large submerged structures. Drainage basins, downed trees, and even patches of weeds or lilly pads make a great target area. Bass, like many fish, spend most of their time around these submerged structures in order to stay protected from predators, out of the sun, and hidden from oncoming prey. By placing your fly, around these areas, you greatly increase your chance of hooking up an unsuspecting fish looking for an easy lunch.
When fishing in bodies of water with substantial depth, pay close attention to the topography of the area, and look for submerged ledges and drop-offs. For Bass, Drop-offs are an instant food delivery service where they can sit cool and out of sight awaiting an unsuspecting minnow or crayfish to wander too close to the ledge. When it comes to fishing these zones, don’t be afraid to let a lot of line out in order to get near the bottom of the dropoff. By getting your fly down deep, you’ll be able to cover the entirety of the drop off zone and hopefully entice anything that’s hunkered down there.
During the hot summer months, smallmouth and largemouth will head to the deeper sections of the pond in order to avoid the increasing heat. As mentioned before, smallmouth have a greater sensitivity to temperature change, but both species like to stay cool. Note, both species will most likely not cohabitate, so you’ll be able to figure out which fish your targeting pretty quick after your first catch.
Streams and Rivers)
When fishing for bass in moving water, you’ll primarily be targeting small-mouth. Smallies prefer slightly colder water and running current compared to their largemouth counterpart, and therefore will oftentimes thrive in streams and rivers. Lots of the time during the warmer summer months, anglers will begin to target smallmouth bass in their local rivers in order to compensate for unenthusiastic trout.
While the fish couldn’t be less alike, fishing for Bass in rivers is fairly similar to trout fishing. By utilizing current and keeping to riverbanks and deep holes, anglers will find great success in their pursuits. However, something to keep in mind is that while smallmouth Bass love strong, oxygen-rich current, they also love still water. Bass can often be found near the end of tributaries, in eddies, and in low current pockets culminating and chasing around smaller baitfish. If you see a glass water hole with a few submerged trees, you’d be a fool not to send a few casts in that direction.
When to fish for Bass
Time of Year
When it comes to Bass, warm water is the way to go. However, this is not to say Bass can’t be found during the winter, but in the spring and summer is the best time to target these fish.
In the spring, Bass will begin their spawning season. Before that, they will be in pre-spawn (April-May depending on the region). During this time, Bass will be feeding rampantly in preparation for spawn. This is an excellent time to target bass on large, shiny streamers.
Once the water heats to approximately 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit, bass will seek out deeper, more sheltered water to begin spawning. In areas such as lakes, it is important to remember that the water does not all reach the same temperature at once, so there will be hot spots where bass will be located, as well as dead zones.
Once spawning has concluded, near the end of spring, bass will be rather apathetic as they’ll be recuperating. However, within a few weeks, they’ll be back to their normal feeding habits. As the summer sun heats up the water to the high 80’s, largemouth bass especially will be targetable throughout all levels of ponds. During this time, smallmouth will be spending much of their time in fast-moving current in order to maintain their preferred temperature.
Time of Day
Bass are never really reluctant to feed, but like many other freshwater fish, they prefer to do their feeding in the early hours of the morning, and dusk. As temperatures rise and fall, fish activity usually possesses a negative correlation to temperature. On hotter days, larger fish will swim deeper in order to combat the heat (smallies especially).
The best times to shoot for would be 5am-9am, and then (depending on the time of year), 6pm-8/9pm. During these times, not only is the heat comfortable, but many animals that bass like to feed on make their way near or onto the water this time (mice, frogs, and certain insects).
What Rig to Use for Bass
When fishing for bass, whether it be shallow creek smallies, or deep pond Largemouth, it’s important to have the right rig. The most important thing to remember, is that bass spook less easily than trout, and tend to fight harder. With this in mind, it never hurts to pack heavy.
A 5-6 will almost always do the job. However, as previously stated, it’s better to overcompensate rather than underestimate. You never know when you’re going to hook onto the fish of a lifetime. If you want to be really safe, especially when fishing big lakes or rivers, pack an 8 weight. The extra durability will most likely benefit you in the long run.
Flylords Recomendation: Sage IGNITER (6 wt.)
When choosing a reel, just try to match it to whichever rod you’re using (weight wise). Using a large arbor is never a bad call, as sometimes monster bass can take you deep into your backing. Another factor to take into consideration is the drag on the reel. For bigger fish, we recommend using a “disk” drag over a traditional “click and pawl” system. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the click and pawl system, the disk drag accommodates for more gradual resistance as line is pulled from the reel.
Flylords recommended reel: Abel SDF (olive)
While your fly line requires less subtlety than with trout, it’s always important to have line that you can depend on, and can turn over heavy flies. some folks prefer sinking fly line, but when it comes to fishing ponds, a sinking leader will usually do the trick. As always, make sure to replace your line regularly, and to always let line dry after a long day on the water.
Flylords recommendation: Scientific Angler Amplitude Smooth Titan Long Taper Fly Line
This is all dependant on what kind of fly you’re fishing. Most likely, you’ll be using some sort of wet fly like a streamer. In this case, any leader between 4-2x should do the job. Make adjustments based on the average size of the water, as well as fish caught in it. For fishing poppers and dries, aim for no larger than 4x. Also, feel free to tie on some tippet to allow for a more gentle presentation. Total leader size (tippet can be included if used), should be around 7ft. by finding a solid middle between 9ft. and 5ft., you can improve presentation without making casting awkward.
Flylords recommendation: Scientific anglers 4x, 7.5 ft. , tapered leader
What Flies to Use to Fish for Bass
Like many other elements of bass fishing, it’s not about the specific flies, but instead about their presentation. Below are a few guidelines that will help you to find the perfect fly for catching that pond monster.
Let it shine
Flies (primarily streamers), that implement a shiny or colorful element are a great way to catch bass’ attention. By utilizing flies with sparkly, shiny, or otherwise attractive elements is a great way to draw bass out from hiding. In murky pond water, bright flies are the difference between getting skunked and landing a PR.
Using poppers is not only an extremely enjoyable method for catching bass, but an extremely effective one. Popper flies, or just poppers are built to replicate the movement of a large topwater animal (usually a frog). Unsuspecting frogs as a perfect snack for a sneaky bass, and are commonly a large part of their diet. By stripping these flies in with small, abrupt strips, the commotion of the fly is sure to bring a hungry lurker your way.
By using weighted flies, you greatly increase your chances of getting a fly down to a big bass’ feeding lane. These flies are especially useful in the late summer as fish are hunkered down in deeper water in attempts to stay cool. Using heavy flies is also an important aspect when fishing big moving water, as it assures you that your fly will spend less time sinking, and more time looking delicious.
Movement is Key
Flies with moving parts is just another way to get the attention of apathetic fish. By using zonkers, rubber legs, or articulation, bass are more likely to fall into the hypnotic daze an easy meal presents. Without overdoing it, the more going on with your fly, the more likely it is to stand out to a fish.
If fishing for bass at night, all other rules apply. However, also feel free to break out that large mouse/rat pattern that’s been burning a hole in your flybox. While mice can be fished effectively at most points of the day, it’s at night when the monster fish make their rounds, preying on clumsy nocturnal rodents distracted by dangers above.
Can’t seem to get the attention of a fish with your olive woolly bugger? Try getting creative! in areas where food is in abundance, bass can sometimes grow content in their ability to find food, and will become less inclined to feed. If this seems to be the case, throw on something new. Perhaps it’s time for that pretty pink streamer you got as a gag gift to shine.
Flylords top 5 flies:
-Articulated Conehead Minnow
-Umpqua Swimming Frog
In closing, by following the tips in this guide you should be ready to get yourself on some serious bass. However, something to remember is there are techniques that work for some that don’t for others. Depending on factors far out of anyone’s control, sometimes certain methods work better than others. With that in mind, get on the water and experiment! Implement new techniques and get creative in order to find out what works best for you.
Most importantly, just enjoy your time on the water. Whether you’re catching bass, trout, perch, or trees, one of the best parts of fly fishing is being outside and living life. That being said, catching the bass of a lifetime never hurts either.
Tips on how to make the most of this essential musky-chasing tactic
by Matthew Reilly
If you’ve spent any time around musky anglers, you’ve likely heard days measured in “follows”, “eats”, and, sometimes, actual fish in the boat. The elusive musky’s tendency to follow flies to the boat without striking is part of what makes them so frustratingly elusive and captivating. To combat this habit, Esox anglers regularly employ a boatside technique known as the figure-eight to convert those following fish into hooked and, hopefully, bagged fish. Knowing how to effectively employ a figure-eight will increase your success as a musky angler, and enrich your overall experience. Absolutely nothing else in the freshwater realm has left me babbling and weak-kneed like guiding a four-foot-long riverine grizzly around the boat with the tip of a flimsy graphite rod, regardless of whether the fish ends up in the net or not.
Following are some tips to get you on track to converting following fish like a pro.
UNDERSTANDING THE FIGURE-EIGHT
First and foremost, the figure-eight is a method of extending, and altering the characteristics of, the retrieve, aimed at triggering a following fish into eating. It is not necessarily defined by a physical figure-eight motion with the rod and fly.
Science has proven that, more often than not, musky attack their prey from the side, as it is the most efficient method for a fish of their build to ensure capture of prey. It’s the reason that many of the most effective musky flies incorporate a jackknifing action, and why musky will follow for so long without striking. If you’re nearing the end of your straight retrieve and it hasn’t succeeded in triggering a musky, the figure-eight is your last-ditch effort to do so.
Thus, a figure-eight maneuver can take the form of a figure-eight; an oval; short, choppy zig-zags; etc.—anything that incorporates the triggers necessary to make a following musky eat.
MAINTAIN FLY AND LINE CONTROL
An effective figure-eight starts with having the correct amount of leader outside of your rod tip. For me, that starts with leader construction.
The leader setup that I use 90% of the time is a simple marriage of three feet of 30-pound fluorocarbon and 18 inches of 30-pound knotable wire. The two knots in this system allows me to know exactly how much leader I have outside of my rod tip, even when it’s several feet below the surface of the water under low visibility conditions. You’ll hear two clicks as the knots pass through the guides. Stopping shortly after the second click ensures that you have the desired 12 to 18 inches of leader outside of the tip. Any more than this, and you won’t have total control of your fly as you go through turns of the figure-eight. Any less, and you may get your rod tip eaten.
At this point it is also paramount that you maintain control over your fly line. It’s tempting to just clamp down on the line with your rod hand, but always keep the line in your line hand as well, to ensure a solid connection to the fish should you get an eat.
Photo: Matt Reilly
UTILIZE DEPTH, SPEED, AND DIRECTION CHANGE
When fishing deep water, as you near the end of your straight retrieve, push your rod tip deeper in the water to keep the boat out of the fish’s field of view. In really clear water situations, the deeper the better. Though following musky usually have tunnel vision focused on your fly, keeping the fish as far away from the boat can only work for you.
This move will set you up well for working depth, speed, and direction changes into your figure-eight to trigger a take. As your fly nears the boat, speed up your retrieve slightly and transition smoothly into a wide oval or figure-eight turn. Your first turn should usually be away from the boat. Over the course of a turn, I like to move my fly a foot or two up in the water column, and then plunge it back down in the straightaways. As you enter a turn, speed up your fly and maintain speed through the turn and hang it on the corner. Often times, this change in depth and speed, when combined with the turn, seems to simulate a last-ditch effort by the prey to escape a following predator. If the fish is going to eat, it’ll usually be on the outside corner of the turn, when the fish sees the side profile. If it doesn’t, continue the cat and mouse game.
MAKE WIDE TURNS
Musky are long fish, and while a hot following fish will sometimes follow tightly through sharp turns in a figure-eight, they can’t turn on a dime. If you make your turns too tight and fast, you risk turning the fly back over on a fish—a general turn-off. Predators aren’t used to being attacked by their prey. Moreover, it seems the tighter the turns, the more effort it takes to follow on the fish’s part, and lazy following fish sometimes disappear if you make them turn sharply.
So, make your turns wide. Wide enough for even the biggest of fish to easily follow, while still showing the fish that side profile on the turn.
FIGURE-EIGHT LIKE YOU MEAN IT—EVERY TIME
Plain and simple, if you don’t figure-eight with intent on every cast (I usually opt for two or three complete cycles before starting my next cast if you don’t see a fish), you are blowing opportunities to put musky in the net, since many often times fish follow from just out of sight—below the fly, under the boat, etc. And in a game where one fish in the boat can make for a great week, that’s not a sacrifice you want to make, particularly considering that, on some waters—like my home waters of western Virginia—close to half of the fish boated during the course of a season may get hooked boatside.
If a fish continues to follow through the eight, but doesn’t commit, don’t give up. Keep it up until you trigger an eat or the fish disappears.
DO A FINAL CHECK
One October morning I had a client fishing a piece of highly productive musky water. We’d had one fish come up and eat the fly away from the boat and escape unhooked, which I think made the client more serious about his figure-eight. Several casts later, he retrieved his fly back to the boat, made three good figure-eights, and then ripped his fly from the water and started his next cast. He had his eye on his next target, and I was watching the water where his fly had been about 15 seconds before when a respectable musky rose up from the depths, stopped a few inches beneath the surface, and just looked up at where the fly had gone.
Moral of the story? After every figure-eight, pause the fly and let it hang about a foot beneath the surface for a few seconds and scan the water around it for movement. If you see “something,” resume your figure-eight presentation. If not, make your next cast.
SET INTO THE FISH
When a fish eats your fly on the figure-eight, it’s tempting to rip the fly straight away from the fish. Do your best to set back in the direction of the fish for the best hookup. If the fish lazily swims through your tracking fly with its mouth open, keep dragging until you feel pressure. Nothing hurts more than pulling a fly right out of a fish’s mouth before the hook has made purchase.
Since musky are predatory fish with unique personalities and moods, figure-eight success hinges strongly on the angler’s ability to keep an open mind and read a fish’s body language in the heat of the moment to determine the best way to feed it a fly. However, knowledge of these techniques and triggering mechanisms should get you started and help you turn musky frustration into success.
In honor of being just a day away from the global release of “Live the Stream: The Story of Joe Humphreys” Flylords sat down with Joe to learn what advice he had to give on mastering his signature move: The Bow and Arrow cast.
This cast is one of the most useful, as well as unique looking casts that can be performed with a fly rod. By eliminating the need for a backcast, Joe Humphreys’ bow and arrow cast utilizes line tension and finesse in order to accurately launch your fly, while remaining unseen and untangled. Now from the master himself, here are Joe Humphreys’ 5 tips to perfect your bow and arrow cast.
1. Take Your Time, and Pinpoint Your Target
Just like any other cast, the steps you take before you even cast are just as important as the ones taken once the fly is in the water. So, before you make your cast make sure to look around. Assess the way the water is moving, what the fish are doing, possible places to get hung up on. Then, once you have a feel for your surroundings, focus in on where you’re going to place your fly. Imagine that patch of water with a bullseye painted on it, and envision your fly landing there.
2. Determine Your Distance and Loop Your Line
One of the more technical aspects of setting up your bow and arrow cast is determining the distance of your cast. Once you have a general idea of how much line you’ll need to get the fly to your target zone, start folding it into small figure-eight loops. By stacking these loops on top of each other in your fingers, you are keeping strong tension on the line, while also keeping a minimal profile and lowering your risk of tangles.
3. Keep Your Hand ABOVE Your Fly
This is one of the most commonly made mistakes when it comes to making a bow and arrow cast. When you have made your loops, keep your fingers on them, NOT THE FLY. Many anglers believe that they need to hold the fly itself, in order to get maximum distance, but this is actually a good way to spook a fish. Here’s why:
when you hold the fly itself, then release it, you have already eliminated your “Loop” (one of the most important aspects to any fly cast). By doing so, once the fly is released, all the built-up energy will be on the fly, and once it lands, it will smash into the water not only scaring away fish, but ruining your cast’s accuracy.
By holding the fly line on its loops, the line will hold the potential energy. Therefore, once you make your release, the line will maintain a loop and gently unfold atop the water to deliver a soft and natural presentation.
4. Wrap Your Fingers for Extra Control
With your pointer and thumb holding the line above the fly, wrap your middle and ring fingers over the loops so that there are now 4 points of contact on the line. The point of this is so that you have maximum control and increased tension to your line. By using one of your fingers to press down on the line, you can greatly increase the built-up strain without having to draw your line back any further. It’s also so that you have more control over the behavior of your figure-eight loops. By adding an additional 2 points of contact, you make sure the loops are under maximum control, and that there is minimal chance for them to intertwine, tangle, or wrap.
5. Take a Deep Breath, and Release
Often times, this cast is used in a situation where you will only get one shot to make the perfect presentation. So, before casting, take a deep breath, go over the steps one more time in your head, pull your line tight, and then when you feel confident; let that line fly.
To properly release, simply make sure your clear of your fly’s flight path, and release your 4 points of contact (thumb, pointer, middle finger, and ring finger) all at once. Depending on how much line you’ve allotted yourself, the tension of the draw will unravel your loops in mid-air and carry your fly to the water. Once you’ve made contact, make any mends or adjustments necessary, and get ready to set the hook.
Like with anything else, mastering such a cast takes practice and a lot of it. So whether you’re on a local stream, or just in your back yard, break out your rod and give this cast a few tries so that when game time comes; you’re ready.
Whether your like Joe fishing between troves of mountain laurels in the heartland of Pennsylvania, or you’re in the remote wilderness far from any roads, the bow and arrow cast will prove to be a beautiful, as well as effective casts when it comes to fishing small pools and tight creeks.
Make sure to see Joe’s additional tips, as well as the story of the man who started it all in his award-winning movie, “Live the Stream: The Story fo Joe Humphreys”, which will be available worldwide on November 5th, 2019. To pre-order or purchase, click HERE.
Don’t miss the inspiring life story of Pennsylvania’s fly fishing legend, Joe Humphreys: a man who was born to fly fish, lives to teach, and strives to pass on a respect for our local waters. A visually stunning film, anyone with a pulse can appreciate Joe’s contagious spirit and, at 86-years-young, trout streams are his fountains of youth. This is an emotion-packed adventure and Joe will catch your heart in this powerful tale of tenacity, life, and love. Follow Live the Stream on Instagram and Facebook.
I have a sentimental connection to brook trout. My first fish on a fly was a brightly colored 7 inch brookie in a small stream outside of Bozeman, Montana. I hooked him on a size 10 elk hair caddis behind a sunken log in the middle of July. My hands trembled as I lifted the wild fish from the net and admired him in awe. I knew I’d never stop fly fishing from that moment on.
The brook trout at Fortress Lake are much different than their cousins in Montana who sparked my fly fishing journey years ago. These brooks are big, bold, and fight like hell. Here is what you need to know to catch some of the largest brook trout on the planet:
Tip 1:Dawn & Dusk
Anyone who has spent time on the water knows the general rule that fishing is best early and late in the day. This holds true with Fortress Lake’s monster trout as well. Of course, you can catch fish midday (and we did), but the numbers aren’t quite the same. Although, gloomy skies can be the ticket to feisty bites all day long!
Tip 2: Structure & Flow
Using terms like “always” and “never” is a quick way to get yourself into a sticky pickle when talking about fishing. However in this specific scenario, “always” is fitting and accurate. Fish always congregate around structure and creek inflows when present. Looking for logs and other structure is a great place to start. Almost anywhere that has a dramatic change in depth will also hold fish (compared to the shallow flats). Creek inflows are the holy grail of fish concentration because the flowing water creates a conveyor belt of food and cold, highly oxygenated water that fish love. At Fortress Lake, focus on where the milky inflow meets the clear turquoise lake water.
Tip 3: Low & Slow
Use a heavy streamer pattern and retrieve it slowly near the bottom of the lake. We had luck with both full sink lines and sink tips. The most important thing to remember here is to be patient and let her sink – most anglers begin to strip before the fly has a chance to reach proper depth. Anecdotally, slow retrieval’s produced the most bites.
The brook trout in Fortress Lake are plentiful and big enough to bend a 5 weight in half. Fishing for these brightly colored beauties in British Columbia’s backcountry is an experience you won’t soon forget!
Check out Allie D’Andrea on Instagram at @outdoors_allie and on her YouTube Channel. She is an avid outdoorswoman who is an active voice in the conservation of our public lands.
You can find more information about Fortress Lake Wilderness Retreat on their website here. And the heli company who helped make this trip possible here.
If you’ve ever been out on the water and seen a cloud of mosquito-like insects that don’t seem interested in biting you, odds are that you saw a swarm of midges.
Midges are closely related to mosquitoes and look like them, but they don’t bite. More importantly, they make up a huge percentage of a trout’s diet. This is for a few reasons. Midges are pretty universal, being found in large numbers in many bodies of water. But, one of the biggest reasons they’re so important for fly fishing is that they’re one of the few insects that can hatch year-round.
This means that midges are one of the most effective flies to use. Many anglers are skeptical of tiny midge patterns, since it’s hard to believe that trout can even see something so small. Yet, midges continue to be one of the deadliest flies in a box.
In order to understand midge rigs, it’s important to understand the life cycle of a midge, as each stage has its own setup and fishing style. Midges have four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The three that are frequently mimicked while fishing are the larva, pupa, and adult.
Midge larvae are very small (often hook size 18-22). They look like tiny worms and come in a variety of colors like black, olive, and red. Midge larva flies are very bare-bones, often not much more than a few wraps of thread on a hook.
These flies should be fished deep, since midges often live toward the bottom, in and around the silt and substrate. Thin tippets and a little splitshot around eight inches above the fly will help you get down in the water quickly. Use a small, lightweight indicator or a dry-dropper rig to ensure a delicate and sensitive presentation. In lakes, midges can be suspended in deep water from an indicator. You can also strip them through the water, especially in shallower lakes.
The pupa stage is the transitional stage where midges start to rise in the water column on their way to the surface. In this stage, the thorax starts to swell as the wings and legs start to form. The pupa creates a small bubble to assist it to the surface, and this can also make it look chunkier to fish. Pupa patterns usually have more material than larval patterns, often with extra dubbing and flash toward the head to mimic the swelling thorax and bubble.
Pupa rigs should be set up to keep the fly near the surface, either just below the surface or in the film. Take off the splitshot and consider greasing your leader if you’re having trouble keeping the fly up. You can also fish a pupa in conjunction with a larva by running a larval pattern off the back of a pupa fly. Don’t reverse this order, as you want the larva to stay low and the pupa to stay high.
The final stage of the life cycle is the adult, which looks very similar to an adult mosquito. Adults sit on the surface after emerging to dry their wings and often get picked off by hungry trout. Adult midge flies can mimic a single insect, but also sometimes mimic a small cluster of them. Rigging up for an adult midge is fairly straightforward. A dead-drifted dry fly is the way to go, often in slower water where midges tend to hatch. These flies are usually pretty hard to see, so a parachute or spot of color is helpful for visibility.
Types of midges and their flies
There are over 1,000 species of midge. Luckily, there’s no need to try to identify midges down to species. Instead, just match the size, color, and stage of the particular midges in your area. Even if you can’t figure out the characteristics with exact science, simply keeping an eye out for the stage changes throughout the day and matching your rig accordingly can put the odds in your favor.
Midges aren’t rocket science to imitate, but making sure you’re offering the right stage at the right time makes a difference.
In the morning (and throughout the day, as well), midge larvae are very effective. One of the most popular general midge patterns is the zebra midge. In small sizes, this fly can be deadly in nearly any trout water. If you tie your own flies and notice the midges in your area aren’t pitch black, you can tie a zebra midge in whatever color you want.
Midge pupa patterns sometimes look similar to RS2s, with a thread body and a bit of flash, dubbing, or feather near the head. Some are bare enough to be almost nymph-like, while others are gaudy enough to be close to an adult. Depending on the timing and location, either one can come in handy.
Midge adults come in a variety of styles, but if there’s one pattern every angler should have, it’s the Griffith’s Gnat. Although it could mimic a single adult midge, Griffith’s Gnats are better at conveying a bundle of insects. This works especially well in slower eddies that tend to gather clusters of midges.
When to fish midges
Possibly the best thing about midges is that they can be fished year-round. Especially on tailwaters or spring creeks with consistent temperatures, it’s not uncommon to see insects hatching while snow is falling.
Pupae often emerge during the morning and evening, and on cooler days hatches can last nearly all day. Start with a midge nymph in the morning (and a nymph can be an effective dropper throughout the day). As the day goes on, you may switch to a midge emerger with a nymph below, and then an adult pattern with an emerger below.
In colder months when hatches can happen all day, it’s hard to go wrong with any midge pattern. Keep an eye out for flying adults or rising fish to verify when it’s time to throw on a dry fly.
Tips for fishing midge flies
1. Light tippet – midges are tiny, and that means matching them with thin tippet is important. A thicker tippet is too stiff for delicate midge flies and makes them flow unnaturally. This doesn’t mean the tippet needs to be hair-thin, but going down to 6x or 7x makes a big difference.
2. Use two dries – Since midges are small and often black, midge dry flies are some of the hardest to see. In addition to a pop of color or a parachute, an easy way to improve visibility is by using two dry flies. Tie on one fly that’s easier to see. This could be a parachute mayfly pattern, a much larger midge pattern, or something else. Then, tie on the smaller midge fly 12-18 inches behind the first. Use the first fly as an indicator of where your second fly is. If you see a fish rise in the vicinity, set the hook.
3. Find midges in the water – Choosing a midge nymph isn’t too complicated. They’re so minimal that there’s not a ton of variety among types. However, different water qualities lead to different midge characteristics. For example, low-oxygen streams often hold bright red midge larvae, sometimes called blood midges. Doing a quick search through your local waterway to see what color and size the midges are is a good first step to choosing a nymph.
4. Focus on slack water – One of the best places to find trout feeding on adult midges is the slack water around rocks and banks. These eddies collect big clusters of adults and trout cruise through and gorge themselves. The one downside to these areas is that it can be hard to set your fly apart from the masses. Using a slightly larger fly or adding a tiny bit of flash or color may be worth a try if you can’t get the fish to notice your presentation the first time.
Midges are some of the most versatile and effective patterns in an angler’s box. Next time you’re out and aren’t sure what they’re biting on, consider trying a midge and you might be pleasantly surprised.
This article was developed by Flylords’ content team member, Katie Burgert.