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Warmwater Fly Fishing Bass, Bream, Perch, etc...

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Old 01-29-2005, 10:10 PM
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Default Fly Fishing the Bass Spawn

Hey Cliff

Tell us what you know about fly fishing the bass spawn.


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Old 01-30-2005, 08:51 AM
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Cliff Hilbert Cliff Hilbert is offline
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That was a loaded question since I just posted an article about that on the Lone Star Fly Fishers website - :lol: :lol: :lol: Ok, here's the article.

By Cliff Hilbert

Last year was the first time I have ever fished the bass spawn, so the information I put forth in this article is surely not from an expert. However, I was very, very successful fishing the spawn at Lake Fork last year so I feel that there are things people can learn from my experience. How successful? How about a 9 lb, a 7-2 a 7, two 6s, and over 20 bass between 3 – 5 lbs, plus a bunch of smaller ones? I caught them all in one area of Lake Fork fishing out of my 10’ Water Spider boat, and all on a 9’ – 6/7-wt St. Croix Imperial rod loaded with Scientific Anglers GPX Mastery Series Floating Line, with 17 lb test mono as a leader.

I’m not a person who can go to a trout stream and see the trout in the water. I haven’t been trout fishing but about 5 years and haven’t trained myself to “see into” the water yet. By the same token, I’ve never trained myself to sight fish for bass either. But Lake Fork offers opportunity to sight fish for bass for even someone like myself . Most of the beds I saw were in 2-5’ of water and were easy to spot because of the rounded, cleared-out areas that the bass fan for their beds. These were not in the heavy grass, they were made in the scum on the bottom. When the bottom is covered with dark green scum (moss-like vegetation), the cleared-out, rounded areas are very easy to spot. That’s not to say that all bass beds are in the scum because at Bellwood Lake in Tyler I have caught bedding bass that were in the grass in 3-6’ of water and I couldn’t see them or the beds and had no idea they were there. . I also saw at least two beds at Fork that were on the top of logs lying on the bottom. There was one nest on a 2’ x 2’ flat rock on the bottom. Many times the beds were half under floating vegetation.

Most of the beds I spotted had one or two bass on them, the smaller one being the male and the bigger one the female. Some of them didn’t have a bass on them at the time I spotted them, but you can be sure that there was a bass nearby. There were times that the bass would move off the beds into the nearby cover as soon as they spotted me – from what I’ve read, these are the bass that have not yet deposited eggs on the nest. Most of the time when I spotted bass on the beds I could get within 20-30’ of them, make numerous casts to them, and they stayed on the bed. And numerous casts is what it takes to catch bedding bass. If possible, I tried to have the sun in front of me instead of behind me.

When I would spot a bass on the bed I would cast and let the fly sink to the bottom and hopefully land right on the bed. If it didn’t land on the bed, the bass would usually not pay any attention to it. Many times the bass would not care about the fly even when it landed right on the bed, even right in front of its nose. Most of the time I let the fly sit for at least 10 seconds before I twitched it an inch or two. Most of the time the bass would still act like it didn’t even know the fly was on the bed. Sometimes the bass would go up to the fly and smell it, but would then move back to its original position on the nest. Other times the bass would even follow the fly as it moved off the nest, sometimes follow it for a couple of feet off the bed, then go back to its nest without touching the fly - very frustrating, to say the least.

Sometimes my leader would land over the bass’ back and would actually touch the bass while I was retrieving it. Sometimes the bass was spooked, other times it didn’t bother them. There are no set rules in this type of fishing.

There seems to be a “sweet spot” on the beds, I think this is the spot where the eggs are laid, and if you land your fly right there the bass will get very agitated. They will dart very quickly around the nest and it is obvious that they don’t like your fly there. But that doesn’t mean that they will hit the fly. They could even move off the bed when this happens, you just never know what they will do. But it is apparent that they are upset. If you’re real lucky they will pick up the fly to move it off the nest. That’s when you hit them. That’s when the fun begins!

Last year I tried to set the hook using the power of my rod to sink it in their mouths. I learned about strip-setting the hook this summer, and during the spawn this year I’ll use that method whenever possible and I’m sure it’ll result more hook sets.

Rarely will a bedding fish hit the fly on the first few casts. Most of the time you have to sit there patiently making cast after cast hoping the fish will get angry enough to grab your fly. That’s what it takes, irritating them enough to take your fly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dragged a fly right if front on the fish’s face only to have it ignore my offering. They won’t take it because they are hungry, they will hit it because they are mad at it. I have sat there with my boat anchored and cast for 45 minutes and have the bass continually ignore my fly, then I just go find another fish to cast to.

Does the kind of fly make a difference? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. After making a bunch of casts with one fly, I’ll change to another fly. Sometimes that makes a difference. Sometimes color makes a difference, sometimes size makes a difference. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you throw at them, they are just not interested. You just have to keep trying different flies seeking to find one that the bass will pick up.

If I have a preference for one color, it would be white. Why? Because you can see a white fly 4’ down in the water much easier than you can see a darker-colored fly. Many times because of the lack of clarity in the water you won’t see a fish take your fly if it is a dark-colored fly. The only indication you’ll have that it picked up your fly is when you notice your line moving. But with a white fly you’ll have a better chance of seeing it disappear..

Just because you see your line moving doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to set the hook. There are times when they simply pick up the fly in their lips to move it off the bed. It is not actually IN their mouth, so you can’t hook them no matter how you try. But, even if you miss them once it doesn’t mean that they will stay off the bed. Most off the time they’ll go right back to the nest. Sometimes they will leave the bed for a few minutes and then come back. If they took your fly once, then they will probably take it a second or even third time. If not that fly, then maybe another one. One of the 7# bass I caught took the same fly three times over 15 minutes before I finally was able to hook her.

If there are both a male and female on the bed, you can sometimes catch both of them. I caught a 7# female off the bed and a few minutes later caught the 4 ½# male off the same bed. Taking both off the bed was something I did several times. Don’t worry about them abandoning the bed after you let them go because they will return to the bed soon, and you could probably even catch them again if you wanted to.

Not all the bedding bass I caught this year were from sight fishing, and not all of them required numerous casts. The 9# bass I caught was enticed off her bed on a cold, cloudy, windy morning when I couldn’t even see the underwater grass, much less her or the bed. I was casting with a #1 chartreuse Peck’s Popping Bug just hoping to get the thing near the shore while the wind was blowing me fairly quickly down the lake. I had no idea the bass was there, but she hit my popping bug less than 3’ off the bank as soon as it hit the water.. She immediately took off for deeper water and buried herself in the grass. I thought she had me wrapped around a stump down under the vegetation. I had no idea how big she was because I hadn’t seen her yet. But I kept constant pressure on her and she eventually broke free of the grass and came to the top. When I saw how big she was I reached for my landing net and got her in it and into the boat. She was a beauty! After I weighed and measured her and took her picture I let her go back home. I caught a 6# bass and several more in the 3 – 5# range just casting my popping bug near the grass around the shoreline. Whether they were on the beds or not, I couldn’t say, but I suspect some of them were.

There are times when it is cloudy and windy and you simply cannot see through the water to see the beds, then you are just blind casting like we do most of the year. Sometimes you get lucky, like I did.

The most important ingredient for fishing for spawning bass is patience, patience, patience, patience, patience, patience and more patience. You’ll cast time after time after time after time, hoping to get the bass to hit your fly. Sometimes it pays off. Sometimes you just have to move on.

The flies I’ve used have included popping bugs, dahlsberg divers, clousers, wooly buggers, zonkers, Enrico’s Bluegill fly, Gene Bethea’s crawfish pattern and several others which I can’t remember. Jim Green’s Purple Pigboat took several bass off their beds. I found that the faster-sinking flies were better because you could place them easier on the beds, coneheads were the best ones for easy placement. Many times you’ll be putting the fly on the heavy vegetation at the edge of the bed and pulling it until it falls over the edge of the vegetation onto the nest, so weedless flies work better in these situations.

I think fly fishermen have an advantage over other fishermen because many times with a large lure or large soft plastic, the fish will just pick up the tail end or edge of the lure or worm or lizard and move it off the nest, without taking the hook into its mouth. But flies are much smaller and the fish will almost have to take the whole fly into its mouth to move it off the bed. Rarely will a fish on a bed eat the fly out of hunger. It attacks it because you aggravated it enough to make it mad enough to pick up the fly and move it off the bed. There are the rare times when the bass will actually gulp in the fly like it’s eating your offering, then setting the hook is easy.

Go out expecting it to take 20-30 minutes to catch a bass off its bed. Many times you’ll be rewarded in a shorter time period. But when you go out planning to spend a lot of time casting to the same fish, you won’t be as impatient and you’ll work each bass thoroughly. The spawn is a great time of the year to catch that trophy bass you’ve been waiting for your whole life.

There are many variables in catching spawning bass and it is impossible to cover them all in a short article. Nor do I know them all after only one year fishing the spawn. I tried to cover the ones that I remembered from last year.

Go out and catch yourself a trophy bass this spring spawning season. Good luck!!
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Old 01-30-2005, 09:27 AM
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Yea... you got me on that one. That’s a great article. Very informative. Thanks for posting it.

Btw folks... The Lone Star Fly Fishers web site has a new forum that we're also trying get going. Cliff is also active on that forum. The LSFF site also has a monthly newsletter that’s informative, entertaining and educational. Check it out at


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Old 01-30-2005, 05:37 PM
Gordon Bryson Gordon Bryson is offline
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Good stuff Cliff. Not sure I have that much patience, but it sounds like a lot of fun. I may have caught bass off beds in the spring and just didn't know it, but I'll be looking for them now. Thanks.
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Old 02-03-2005, 10:29 AM
WGSFlyfish WGSFlyfish is offline
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If you are going to fish for bedded bass here are some important things to keep in mind:
1) Use a sharp, barbless hook. Flies tied Clouser style are less likely to kill fish by gill hooking them.

2) Use at least an 8-weight fly rod with heavy tippet, play the fish as quickly as you can. Yes, you can land big fish on a 6 weight, but the additional fatigue and lactic acid build up the fish experiences will probably kill it within a few days.

3) Once you have the fish beside the boat the best tactic is to unhook it without removing it from the water. If you want to take a photo, hold the fish in the water until the camera is ready, take the photo and return the fish to the water. Never touch the fish with wet hands or lay it on boat carpet.

4) Don’t use a landing net, unless you have to. If you have to, be sure to dunk the net before netting the fish. Dry netting will remove the protective slime layer from the fish.

5) Be selective- Don’t fish for bedded bass in heavily fished areas and avoid fish that are on exposed beds. These fish are going to be caught many times in a day and often die from exhaustion or abandon the bed.

6) Never fish for a single male bass that is holding tight to one spot on a bed, this indicates that he is guarding eggs that have been laid and fertilized. Always look closely for a cloud a small fry around the head of bass you see moving about in shallow water. In both cases, the fish will be easy to catch, but the Bluegills, Crawfish, etc. will have a feast while you are having fun catching the fish.

7) Don’t spend the whole day fishing for bedded fish. There are plenty of pre-spawn and post spawn fish that are feeding and will readily take your fly.
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