FLY FISHING EQUIPMENT FOR LARGEMOUTH BASS

Bob Boese - August 3, 2009

"If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there'd be a shortage of fishing poles."
- Doug Larsen

There are shoppers and there are buyers. I know a woman who can stand for a half-hour before a sales shelf that contains only ten items, deciding. In a perfect world there would be more than one store and more than ten items, but as a fly fisherman I can tell you, for every city that I have ever visited where fly fishing equipment is sold – that the choices there are limited to one. For decades, fly fishermen suffered the woes of the red-headed step child, watching fishing stores pander to spin casters, level winders and cane polers and then there was the Internet.  The end of this article lists major Internet and catalog sources for fly fishing equipment. Today, thanks to computer technology, before the first fly hits the water the bass fly fisherman must choose from a bewildering array of equipment. Hallelujah!  Now, how much to spend?

RODS: Experts debate over the optimal set-up to use for bass. Catching a bass on a 7 ½ foot 3 wt. system is exhilarating but nerve wracking, and catching one on a 10 weight system is a bit like using a tow truck. In years past, fly rods were made shorter (6'-8'), due to the heavy blank materials, but with today's ultra-light graphite/boron construction used in the vast majority of rods, lengths can be longer (8 ½ -9') with the weight being kept to a minimum and still deliver good action. Action (or flex) of the fly rod describes the bend in the rod when "loaded" during the cast. Rods are either “fast action” (tip flex), “mid action” (mid flex), or “slow action” (full flex). The stiffer the fly rod the more muscle it takes on the part of the fisherman, but stiffness helps generate more line speed during the cast making for a longer and more powerful cast. A medium action rod will bend from the top third to middle of the rod upward (top half) to the tip of the rod. The lower half of the fly rod, nearest the grip, will basically remain stiff. Medium action fly rods have enough backbone to be powerful but are generally forgiving because they generate slower line speed that gives more control and provide a mechanical assist in casting because of rod action in recovering from the flex. A slow action rod is very flexible. A slow action rod will bend for most of its length and are intended for short, accurate and gentle casts. Slow action rods help protect light tippets by absorbing the shock of a strike or hook set. For most bassing situations (because you don’t want to be standing on top of the fish), a longer somewhat stiffer rod is better; it provides more distance when casting, better line controlling abilities and better line mending. While there are exceptions, 8 ½ feet is a good all-around length. Obviously, for certain situations, shorter rods are useful (heavy cypress overhead cover and small narrow creeks) and the more a fisherman tends to use small insect imitations, the more comfortable that lighter and slower action equipment will be.

All rod manufactures print a rating on the rod just above the reel seat. This #rating tells you what weight line will work best with that particular rod. Using the wrong weight line makes casting difficult or impossible if severely mismatched. The #rating is known as the AFTM (Association of Fishing Tackle Manufactures) number. The lighter the system, the better reflex, responsiveness and sensitivity the rod will need, which ultimately means more money. Conversely, the more the fisherman tends to throw flies the size of a sparrow, the more comfortable he may be with heavier equipment and stiffer rods. Interestingly, stiff rods are deceptive and many fishermen cannot distinguish one fast action rod from another except by overall weight of the rod, which means a preference for fast rods may suggest it is worthwhile buying a cheaper system. But take care, a day on the water with a heavy fast action rod and your shoulder will remember it the next day. Carrying two rods to bassing waters is highly recommended, but after a few hundred casts with a 4 wt., moving to a stiffer 8 wt. may feel like you’ve traded a toothpick for a telephone pole. The best choice is to take a pair of similar rods, preferably an 8 ½ -9', mid-flex 6/7 wt. rod. Fortunately, this is the most common (i.e. easily available) rod.

NOTE: In choosing a rod, the style of rod grip is sometimes an option. Grips come in five basic shapes as shown by the illustration: the full wells (FW), the half-wells or western (MF), the reverse half-wells (RFW), the ultra fine (UL) or the cigar shape (C). While the grip has the least amount of affect on the performance of the rod - it does make a difference between enjoying a day casting and one that is uncomfortable. If you have a choice, select a grip that fits your casting style and hand size for the best performance, but keep in mind, fuller grips perform better for long, powerful casts with heavy rods, while lighter, thinner grips are the preferred choice for shorter casts and more accurate, delicate presentations with lighter rods. The full wells and half-wells are generally preferred for anything other than insect patterns. If you are going traveling by air or in a mid-size or smaller car, do not consider a 2 piece rod. Many excellent (and easily packed) 4 to7 piece rods are available, and with the advancements in rod material and ferrule technology, multi-piece rods are as efficient as a two piece and are available in several price ranges.

REELS: There is little need for an expensive reel to bass fish. A top-of-the-line may look pretty, but bass rarely get “on the reel” and the reel primarily serves as a repository for line. A bass fisherman may never see his backing exposed. Consequently, cheap reels are fine as long as the weight of the reel doesn’t adversely affect the balance of the rod. Rod/reel combos are sold matched for balance but you want to pay for rod quality not reel cost. Note also that some reels have very loud clicker drags that can be irritating.  Reliable choices in aluminum reels are the Hobbs Creek Large Arbor from www.bass-pro.com at $40 or the Prestige Plus from www.cabelas.com also $40.

LINE: It is worth paying for good line. Most bass fishermen use WFF (weight forward floating) bass taper line matched to the rod’s #rating (or a size up from the # rating) to throw larger flies. They will use double taper (DT) or WFF of a size matched to the rod’s #rating to throw insect replica flies. Double taper line is cheaper and is supposed to roll cast easier, but is often not capable of turning over larger flies. Some bass flies throw like kites and where the casting technique may fail, the line taper and heavier line can compensate. However, fishing a cypress forest rarely allows for a backcast and the need to curl a low roll cast around a log or under an overhanging branch is not unusual. In this instance a double taper line may be the best choice. The fisherman carrying two rods of similar weight would do well to have a DT on one and a WFF on the other. Sink tip lines are unnecessary in shallow lakes and should be kept on an extra spool.

LEADER & TIPPET: should be comparatively short and heavy. Bass are reactive predators and rarely notice monofilament. (Consider that using 10 pound test leader will be almost half the line diameter of a conventional bass fishermen’s line.) A 2-3' section of 20-30 pound test monofilament should form the but section (attached to the fly line with a nail or nail-less nail knot http://www.fishandfly.co.uk/knots/nless/index.html ). Next, a 3-4' length of 6-12 pound test monofilament finishes the leader/tippet. That’s it. Short and simple. No graduated taper is required. The larger the fly the heavier the mono tippet should be which will assist in turning over larger flies. Insect replicas will rarely be smaller than size 12, which works fine with 6 pound test tippet, but big bass are known to snap anything less than 10 without trying hard. For subsurface flies, fluorocarbon tippet has better sink rates for a cost ($7-$13 when sold as a 30 yd. tippet spool) ten times that of standard monofilament. While some folks think this might be a wasted expense for bass, tests have shown that fluorocarbon Vanish ($9/250 yds/6# test) is practically invisible in the water, slightly ahead of Trilene Clear XL ($5/330 yds/6# test). Buy a regular spool of Vanish, it will last you and all your friends for a year.

MORE KNOTS: There’s not much argument in this arena. For joining the butt section to the much smaller tippet, a double surgeon’s knot http://www.netknots.com/html/fishing_knots.html is traditional, functional and easy but not necessarily a fisherman’s best choice. Try instead using a blood knot or double uni-knot http://www.netknots.com/html/fishing_knots.html or double pitzen  knot http://www.pechetruite.com/Noeuds/hook2.htm which are smoother and more reliable. To tie on large flies with a large hook eye, a Palomar knot http://www.go4bass.com/palomar.html is the best choice. For smaller flies the pitzen is again a good choice. A tool called a “Tie-Fast” is frowned upon by fly fishing purists, but helps immensely in tying complex knots (especially nail-less nail knots and double uni-knots).  A line-clipper/Tie-fast combo is available and very convenient for$13. Go to www.cabelas.com (search for “Tie-fast”).

Please note that each of the knot tying Internet sites will have many knots described. The ones shown are believed to be the easiest to follow for a particular knot.

The following links are a great starting point provided by Bob..

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