There exists an image of fly fishermen as snobbish sportsmen, intolerant of those using bait and condescending toward the seemingly unintelligent fish that are fooled by it. In addition, this perception is sometimes strengthened by the idea that trout and salmon are the only fish worthy of being angled on a fly rod.
By now, faithful readers should know that I love fly fishing and taking a trout or salmon in this way is more satisfying than any sporting event … perhaps equal to hitting a walk-off home run.
Those who know me also recognize that a snobbish sportsman I am not. Any sense of elitism is quickly dispelled when I hit the water as I will use any method to catch every fish that swims within casting distance.
I own a lot of expensive gear and, at first glance, may take on the image of a catalogue-cover fisherman.
Very quickly, this persona disappears as I cast into a tree, stumble and fall, or accidentally hook a fly into my own hat.
For anyone ready to break the mold in a similar way, fly fishing for bass can be the answer. Fortunately, bass feed on the same food as trout and salmon and will chase and eat insects, crustaceans and other fish. Any fly box full of trout flies can also be used for bass. Perhaps increasing the size of the flies and utilizing a slightly heavier rod would help to hook and land these bruisers.
Bass also prefer warmer water and may be more aggressive than trout when the water hits those 75 degrees-plus days when coldwater fish slow down.
Although similar in their habitat preferences, smallmouth bass prefer slightly cooler, moving current where the largemouth can be found in calm water with abundant structure. Again, these preferences can overlap and many fishing trips have had me landing both species.
My approach is simple and follows the most basic strategies for angling.
First, one must find the fish. Bass may be occupying different layers in the water column and reaching them at their preferred depth is integral. While a floating line can be exciting and easy to cast, it may be important to switch to a sinking line for an effective presentation.
Second, determine what the fish are eating. There may be hatching insects or schools of baitfish that determine the appropriate fly. Luckily, an opportunistic bass will always rise for a deer-hair popper or frog.
Finally, I have to determine the best speed at which to retrieve/strip my line. If I’m using a streamer that imitates a fish, I move it quickly and try to make it rise and fall in a way that an injured fish might move. A big dry fly on the surface can be fished much more slowly, barely twitching it enough to create some ripples around it.
Once hooked, bass are determined, like any fish, to give everything they have to get free. Their fight is as good as any trout and will put a satisfying “bend” in any fly rod.
When I fly cast for bass, I feel the same way that I do when a waiter delivers a big, beautiful steak and I start by eating the fat. I know that I’m supposed to savor the grilled meat, but I can’t help it — I love the taste of the fat and I love catching bass.
In both scenarios, I look around sheepishly to see who might be watching and I never brag about my exploits. The seemingly guilty pleasure is my own secret.