THE QUIET WEAPON
For Tremendous Bass Catches!
...by Bill Byrd.
My first published article first appeared in Bassmaster Magazine, Dec 1997.
For over 42 years I have actively fished for bass, bluegills, and trout with plastic worms, spinners, spoons, crank baits, jigs -- most of the traditional styles of bass fishing over that period. In 1989, I re-discovered the thrill of fishing that I knew as a child, and began to use my bass fishing knowledge coupled with a new fishing tool. By 1995, I discovered how to catch more fish than I had ever dreamed of, and I caught AND RELEASED more big bass than ever. For the first time in years I was catching lots of bass, bluegills, trout, and other species.
HOW? I simply added a fly rod back to my normal arsenal of fishing tackle and further developed some bass fishing techniques to work with the fly rod. During the year, I used my fly rod more and more in marginal to poor conditions. During circumstances when the bass just wouldn't hit other normal offerings I could catch reluctant bass on my fly rod. I began hundreds of hours of on-water experiments, and research to try to understand.
When you aren't catching the numbers of fish you would like to catch, or you find the bass are more difficult to attract than usual, evaluate the situation and reach for a fly rod. Quietly fishing natural looking flies helps eliminate many of the negative cues that today's great crop of mechanical, flashy, noisy lures gives off. Bass will happily take these simple flies all year long.
Most fly fishing guides will tell you that most of the time, the absolutely simplest flies catch the most fish. I have spent hundreds of hours establishing my most effective flies by fishing in all conditions and in different temperatures and water depth ranges. I can take two basic flies to fish most water and catch fish in most conditions year round. With these two flies I can work water from the surface to 15 feet. I catch fish in water temps from 95 degrees to 40 degrees. I have caught fish from 4 inches to 15 pounds. Experiment with sizes and colors in your area to determine what works best for you.
Used properly fly tackle will attract and land bass as big as you can find. Large flies are not required to catch large bass, so even a light fly rod will handle the flies you need to attract lots of bass and even large bass. A wise fly fisher knows that a fly rod is another very effective tool in our huge arsenal of fishing equipment. Properly used, it is one of the most effective tools available. Some days, it is THE most effective tool available. You just need to develop the judgement to know when the fish are most susceptible to the fly, then properly present the right fly.
If you already own a fly rod and you haven't used it lately, get it out and check the line. Oil the reel and check the leader and tippet. If they need replacing, get some good quality weight forward floating line, some new leaders, and a couple of spools of tippet material. If you don't already own a fly rod, go to a reputable fly fishing shop, buy an inexpensive medium weight fly rod, and properly assemble and balance your tackle. Properly fitted fly fishing equipment is a joy to fish, but improperly fitted fly equipment can be a nightmare.
A 4-weight or 3-weight rod with a reel that will hold weight forward 3 or 4 floating line is my recommendation for the occasional or beginning fly fishers. It is heavy enough to readily cast light dry flies and water spiders to heavier, bulkier weighted sub-surface flies. Regardless of the manufacturer, buy a reel that has a silky smooth easily adjustable drag system, and learn how to properly adjust that drag for varying demands of leaders, tippets, and fish. Practice cast on water not your yard. Grass, stones, twigs will ruin today's high quality fly lines in a hurry.
Read books -- watch videos, pay for lessons -- work hard and build skill casting properly. Then you'll be able to fish effortlessly. When you find some water nearby and begin to practice fly fishing, prepare for the time of your life.
Ask your local fly shop personnel for the most popular bass and bluegill flies in your area. Add to those flies water spiders, small poppers, and sub-surface flies. Generally, wooly buggers, wooly worms, clouser minnows. Buy them in smaller hook sizes -- sizes -14 to -10. They will be easier to cast, will catch more fish, and they will produce some exciting large fish, too. Flies are readily available at your local fly shop or by mail order from most sources. The Bass Pro Shops and the Orvis Company are two ready sources for these flies and equipment.
I use any color scheme just so long as it includes black and chartreuse. Use natural colors as a base, then experiment with color variations for visibility. Be aware of the fish's food sources and use colors that emulate the food. I predominantly use a size-14 black water spider with chartreuse legs on the surface, and a size-12 or -10 streamer in black body, black body and wing, or black body and chartreuse wing. Experiment in your favorite water and see what works best.
Keep your on-the-water noise and commotion to a minimum, quietly use light line, light leaders, small flies, and you will catch many more fish plus more big fish in the process.
For the best effectiveness fish bodies of water where you find areas 20 feet deep or less to fish. This will allow you much easier access to the fish with your fly rod. If fish are holding deeper than 20 feet, use your casting or spin tackle. It is just too deep for ready access with your fly rod. As always, knowing where the fish are and adjusting your fishing strategy is important. If the water has cooled to the point that top water activity has stopped on your favorite lakes, GO DEEP for fly rod bass! During the cooler or transitional months (fall, winter, and spring) follow normal structure fishing tactics but use deep sinking flies and fish very slowly.
Try a small heavily weighted streamer with lead eyes. Cast it toward a shoreline on a point, a woody spot, rip-rap on a dam face, then count it down to desired depth, then slowly strip retrieve it back in two inch strips. Work it out to deeper water -- S L O W L Y -- just like a jig. When it stops, moves sideways, or jerks, raise the rod to set the hook and get ready. This
This a jig like presentation of a fly that many call a jig fly, because it has the same qualities as a jig, but is tied from normal fly tying materials. Most consider these flies heavily weighted streamers. Under certain conditions, bass will inhale these flies when they won't touch other traditional lures.
Flies tied with double lead barbell eyes and sparse amounts of materials are not buoyant and will sink very well. Just as you would do with your other lures, vary your count down to vary your fishing depth and vary your retrieve speed to keep the fly in front of the fish. I believe that you will be happily surprised at the results.
These methods and flies work equally well on bass, spotted bass, white bass, bluegills, shellcrackers, red breasts, crappies, trout, and even some species of catfish. Experiment in your home waters and enjoy this effective addition to your fishing arsenal that will give you so much pleasure, and help you catch thousands more fish.
With commitment and practice on your part, these suggestions should help you catch many more fish. Please be responsible and practice catch and release methods. If you want to immortalize the catch of a lifetime, photograph it, weigh it, and measure it. Then have a replica mount made. I hang photos of my big catches on the wall of fame in my fly tying room. Big bass and bluegills take years to mature. Please return them to the water to continue reproduction of their species. It is an investment in tomorrow's fishing that we can all make today!
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