Struggling with Large Mouth Bass

mike126

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It seems I just can't make fly fishing for LMB work for me. My son and I get out about once a week kayak fishing on local lakes and reservoirs. I fly fish and use conventional gear and he uses conventional gear exclusively. We start the day launching at sunrise and head for grass beds that should be holding bass. I start on the fly rod with a foam or deer hair popper or deer hair Dahlberg diver tied on. I wait for the ripples to dissipate after casting on the edge of the grass and then generally vary the retrieves with either a sequence of short pops or a pop and wait. Only a couple of times have I had any interest and no hook ups (my strip set does not get much practice!).

My son on the other had will throw a frog or crayfish and will get hits. Later in the morning I'll put the fly rod away and move to conventional gear and fish deeper water holding fish. I usually connect with a few.

I am a fairly seasoned veteran with the fly rod having fished one for the past 30+ years. In the fall and winter I move back to the trout streams and fish in heavily fished waters so I know what its like to go home skunked when the fish just are not taking a fly. But I will pretty much always get trout to show interest. I just can't seem to get the LMB lake fishing to work for me.... It's starting to drive me nuts!
 

ArcherA

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Even for conventional, I've always found topwater to be way more hit and miss as to action than other baits. I now fish almost exclusively fly for large-mouths. I have not noticed any reduced biting activity for the same water I fish almost daily. As suggested above, I have found woolly buggers great, as well as bass crawlers, clousers, and many others.
 

goofnoff1

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There are plenty of times when bass bury in the grass and just won't move. I've found over the years that natural deer hair bugs are best when bass are shy. I always use weedless bugs and pitch it right into the grass. There is a Clouser pattern that looks like a Dahlberg but the rear end sinks at rest. That is a great pattern to drum up reluctant fish.

BTW: Changing sizes can make the difference.
 

mike126

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Hey guys thanks for the fast replies and advice. This weekend I may just exclusively fly fish and switch over to clousers, woolly buggers, crayfish and bass crawlers. When fishing subsurface are you using an intermediate line? There are times I will bring 2 rods, one with a floating line and the other with an intermediate. Currently the fish seem to be holding in the channels and drop offs at around 10' so I was thinking of the intermediate as my go to line. I've heard some people fish top water with an intermediate line as well.
 

bigjim5589

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Mike, it sounds to me, that you're simply not getting the flies where the bass are at. As was said, they may not move, and tossing to the edges of the vegetation, if they're deep into it, isn't going to get much interest. I went thru the same thing fishing for them. Where I used to fish, they would get way back under overhanging tree limbs or into Spadderdock pads. They would move out to the edges at times, but then it meant I had to be there at the time. So, I started tossing flies with weed guards, even some with wire guards, on heavier fly outfits, and started catching a lot more of them. You have to be putting the fly where they are, and not rely that they might move to the fly. I was able to catch them on lures too, in the weeds & with heavier casting gear, so I went to heavier fly gear to try to do the same.

Topwater flies are great fun, and when they'll take them, even better, but more times than not the bass will be looking for something subsurface. So, here again, you have to use flies that get down to them.

I also went big, and started fishing with a 10 wt. That was to deal with the conditions, the snags & vegetation, and bigger flies, and not necessarily for the size of the bass that I may hook, but I also began to hook some bigger, that I had not been finding. This is not different than using a heavy baitcaster to deal with the conditions. I used a floating line most of the time, as those waters were shallow, but for fishing down to the 10' level and deeper, a sinking line will be a better choice. Go shorter with your leader/tippet too. the idea is that the line gets the fly down, and if the leader is long, the line may be at the level of the bass, but the fly may still be too high in the water if it's not weighted or only lightly weighted.

I also go heavy with my leaders in that situation, and again because I stick with the bigger flies and to add some extra abrasion resistance. This is not to say that you can't catch them on smaller flies, just that it's more likely they're going to move for a bigger meal.

As far as flies, I doubt that makes a lot of difference what you choose most of the time for patterns. Bass are opportunists, and will eat a variety of prey. Sometimes they will key on specific prey, so the idea of match the hatch may apply, I generally use generic patterns that may imitate a variety of prey. Then concentrate on size to match. For example, if they're eating shad, and they're mostly 4" long, then a basic white streamer 4" long should produce as long as you get it where they are.

I also use what I call creature flies, many tied with rabbit strips, that may imitate various prey, and may be up to 8" long. I've used longer, but 8" is a good size and still not that difficult to cast any distance when needed.

If you're using lures of a certain size, and having success, then it doesn't make sense to use flies that are a lot smaller.

Of course, you have to use flies that fits with the gear that you're using. I would go to the big side of the size range.

What I have said here is a mind set adjustment too. It's not trout fishing. If you're going to target bass, then don't think in the same terms as you might while chasing trout. Think more like you're using the conventional gear, but do what is needed to get the flies in the same places as you might with lures.
 

mike126

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Jim - you make a lot of sense. Last year I was fishing a 10wt rod just so I could throw a larger popper or weighted leech pattern. Over the winter I built an 8wt which I use almost exclusively when bass fishing. I do need to use a heavier leader though to turn over the large flies. I tie my own flies so I can experiment with size and colors etc. Pretty much everything I tie for bass are 3" and longer (bunny strips, marabou, etc.) and I am starting to add more weed guards as the plant life in the shallows is getting very thick. I've read that later in the season as the bait fish grow the flies need to get larger as well. I think I'll tie up a few bass crawlers with weed guards as Archer recommended and aim for the thick stuff weeds in the morning and then go deep in the late morning. I know the deeper ones are there as I see them on sonar and my son is catching them.
 

trev

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A short very stiff leader on a 9wt floating line will snake it's way through some pretty heavy vegetation, weedless hooks and 3" bulky flies reach into the weeds as far as possible, wait for the ripples to fade and strip jerk the fly back to open water, move over 20' and do it again.
In the deep, I never had much luck at getting a normal fly deep enough with any kind of control, I'd switch to crappie jigs and long leader there, big oval lob of cast (not the best approach maybe but fly rod is all I carry so it has to adapt).
 

bigjim5589

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Mike, you'll get many kinds of advice for targeting bass with flies, just as you will with conventional tackle. Everyone recommends what they use and what works for them, and none of it will be wrong. If it works it can't be wrong. However, IMO, I think a lot of folks who fish for bass with fly tackle tend to go small & lighter than I do, and much of the advice you may read will be from that type of perspective.

I still fish for bass with conventional gear and make a lot of my own lures. Many ties I've used lures that I also use for Striped Bass. I've read a lot of things that contradicted what I had said above, and followed that line of thinking for a long time until I finally made a change and progressed to what I said above. It finally dawned on me that it made no sense to fish small & light with a different method, unless there was a good reason, and when using conventional gear I wasn't fishing small & light for the same bass. I've caught plenty of bass too with ultralight spinning gear and small lures, but there was a specific time & conditions for which that worked well. If I didn't learn anything, it was that there's a need to be adaptive to be successful.

I miss some fish using the wire weed guards, but I don't spend as much time snagged and I still hook some bass too.

How I fish for bass is not something a lot of folks are willing to do, but it has worked very well for me. I have several "offshore" poppers that I've thrown for bass, when I go real big with poppers, that are 6" long and longer. Have even had some guys make jokes about it, until I hooked a decent size bass on them. These big poppers are no larger than many typical lures used for bass, yet some folks will think they're too big, because they target bass with a 5 wt, and a size 6 woolly bugger. Again it's a mind set.

I've been told too many times over the years, for when I was targeting various fish, including trout & bass, "that won't work", and have proven that statement wrong many times. There are no rules with this, and no always predicting what any of these fish will or won't take. I remember when I was a kid, that I had tied some trout flies that were very flashy, and told they wouldn't work, but now there's a lot of flies that are very flashy and used for trout. The mind set there changed as did the materials that are available.

The bottom line is always what the fish we chase will respond to in a positive manner. So, I learned to try things that may not be what everyone else has been doing or will do. I'm not the only one, but very few folks fish with the big flies & heavy gear for bass. It sounds like you fit right in there too, but I think the only thing you're not doing is getting your flies to where the bass are hiding.

Give it a try, and of course be patient with it as it may take some time to get used to really big flies and fishing them in places you might have been reluctant to cast them in the past. You'll lose plenty of flies, so great that you tie too. Keep a good stock. It will work for you I'm sure, but might take some time to develop for you.
 

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bigjim5589

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BTW, I tie many flies on bass hooks, both offset & straight shank. Most of the flies I posted here are at least 5" long, and some are up to 8" long. The poppers are made on tubes. I bought them, but have made similar.
 

ddb

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Where and when you chase bass can also make a big difference.

Pounding shoreline w/o a plan wastes a lot effort and limits your chances at a bruiser.

Low light at sunrise and dusk, and cloud cover makes bass more active.

A topographic map of the lake you fish will help locate them bunched up. Look for areas where the bottom depth contours pinch together near to shoreline weed beds and other holding structure like points and mid lake, near surface, bars and islands. The bass will move up and down those depth 'stair steps' with forage fish. And in high summer, they also look for maximum comfort zones at depths where higher oxygen content and preferred temperature levels come together.

You maximize your odds of taking more, larger, bass by taking advantage of those conditions that bring them closest into fly rod range..
 

LOC

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Mindset...
Don't forget it is harder on the fly.
If you get shut down on the fly vs someone fishing conventional well that is how it should be.

Otherwise you would see fly rods winning the bass master classic!
 

mike126

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Jim - I’m more inclined to tie my bass flies bigger. Maybe not 8” but I might give that a shot. Lately I’ve been experimenting with rabbit strips with a deer hair head (Dahlberg and slider). I also tied a few over sized leech patterns with rabbit strip palmered and tail. So I guess I’m on the right track.


ddb- I usually fish a plan. I start at sunrise on the grass beds and shallows/coves. Then as the sun comes up and there are fewer shadows I move to the drop offs. Last month I did add a fish finder to the kayak so I am seeing the depths, contours and structure.

Loc - I don’t expect to catch more on the fly than conventional. I can fly fish all day and not catch anything and still enjoy my time casting. My wife is always bewildered as to how I can wake up at 4am and fish all day and not catch anything and still go back for more.



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LOC

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Loc - I don’t expect to catch more on the fly than conventional. I can fly fish all day and not catch anything and still enjoy my time casting. My wife is always bewildered as to how I can wake up at 4am and fish all day and not catch anything and still go back for more.



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When I first picked up a flyrod I went three years before I allowed myself to fish conventional again. During those times I would have rather been skunked on the fly rod than catch something on conventional. What got me through it was the pure joy of fly casting.

Currently I'm going through a revisit of this learning phase with a two handed rod. I know I could go catch fish on my one handed fly rod but I choose to go fish places I probably won't catch anything but I am having too much fun casting my two handed rod.

Fly vs conventional for LMB. In this environment the fly rod becomes a issue because of the delivery system.
It really has nothing to do with the angler skill. I know for sure if I cloned myself and my clone and I had a fish off for LMB on still water Clone is going to kick my butt because Close self would have access to way more water, tactics and a large variety of menu and do it all more efficiently.

On a trout stream a fly rod is the perfect delivery system for the tactics, menu and efficiency.

Offshore, conventional gets a big upper hand.

I like to tell guys who switch to fly (who start to overthink it) the following. The fish do not know what rod you have in your hand. The menu is exactly the same as it was before. The problem occurs trying to deliver the menu with the fly rod.
That's the big difference when you start comparing fly vs conventional for LMB.
 

mike126

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LOC - well put. Once i started fly fishing back in the 90's I rarely if ever fished conventional. I think most fly fisherman are less concerned about number of fish caught and more interested in the experience. I would much rather catch one fish on the fly than dozens on conventional. Fly fishing puts me into a more personal setting with the fish and environment. I think this is especially true when you start tying your own flies.
 

bigjim5589

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I enjoy fishing with fly tackle the most, but as I had said, still use the various other methods. I agree with what LOC said, and once folks figure out that difference, and how to adjust for it, it's really not difficult to catch any fish with flies. I do believe that many get stuck with the thought process and methods they read about, that may not really apply. Then they defeat themselves. I know that I did that.

I used to fish with a buddy who also liked to fish with the various tackle, and when we fished together, we would often carry both conventional & fly gear. Many days we would only use one or the other, but there was situations that allowed us to switch and take advantage of either type. So, it was still about the enjoyment of fishing.

My friend passed back in 2003, and now I really cherish those fishing trips and memories they provided. That's what any of this should be about! (y) (y)
 

wjc

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Lot of good posting here. LMB were the first sport fish I ever fished for with the fly rod as a kid. I liked poppers, and never fished with anything else for them. I made them from wine corks because there were no fly shops anywhere near where I lived, bending hooks between three 16d nails on a bench vise to make a hump to keep them from spinning on the hook, and keeping the cork high so it didn't close the hook gap.

I never went fishing for them until a couple hours before sunset, biking from my house to an abandoned concrete plant quarry filled with bass. That's when they came up cruising the shoreline and into casting range, and when the frogs, snakes and everything else got active. Big poppers were a real bass killer then, and still are when the sun gets low . But the thrill for me was always the topwater bite. Deadly in fading light but nearly worthless the rest of the time.

I don't use wine corks anymore because they are too small for my taste. The hardware store has bigger ones that the smaller fish, like circlids, usually don't mess with, nipping at the tail feathers.
 

karstopo

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I mostly leave them be in the summer. Bass get much more active in the cooler months, at least that’s my experience in this little corner of Texas. Bass aren’t quite the heat lovers they are made out to be. Water temperature makes a difference, a big difference, with almost any fish. Fish can’t really regulate their prefered body temperature. Bass tend to go deep if they can and sulk a little in hot water conditions, deep not really being ideal for fly rodding.

Hot and shallow water fish are redfish and gar with a few others in the mix. Redfish can handle and still be aggressive in really hot, 90+ degree water, LMB, in my experience, aren’t quite wired like that.
 
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A short very stiff leader on a 9wt floating line will snake it's way through some pretty heavy vegetation, weedless hooks and 3" bulky flies reach into the weeds as far as possible, wait for the ripples to fade and strip jerk the fly back to open water, move over 20' and do it again.
In the deep, I never had much luck at getting a normal fly deep enough with any kind of control, I'd switch to crappie jigs and long leader there, big oval lob of cast (not the best approach maybe but fly rod is all I carry so it has to adapt).
Trev, Baron here, Are you using Fiberglass for your 9wt? Or carbon?
 

trev

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Trev, Baron here, Are you using Fiberglass for your 9wt? Or carbon?
That was in old mill ponds back east where I could wade out and fish most of the shore line in ~3' of water and vegetation; I haven't fished that kind of water water for many years, but it was 'glass- St Croix and Cortland- the ability to reach back into the lilies and work a big top water frog-bug was one of the things that made me give up spin fishing. I liked to flop a big thing down right on a lily pad and then after a moment tug it off and swim it out to the open. With modern rods one could probably do that with a 5-7wt line, or maybe a 2wt? whatever will carry the bug of choice, the stiff leader pushes the the fly away from the weeds, or it did for me. I just wrote 9wt because I used one for all fishing for about twenty years, and that is what I know best. 9 was choice for stillwater trout where I learned, and it would do all the other stuff too. Took a lot of chain pickerel out of those weed beds that way too and one pike.
No weeds in Ozark streams and more SMB than LMB, these past many years, and I use 7wt mostly these days.

edit- in my experience it appears that water disturbance is a key factor in attracting black bass plop, splash, push water with bulk all work better than stealth for me.
 
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