Part Forty

Largemouth Bass Fishing
By Tom Keith

From Fly Tying and Fishing for PANFISH & BASS
Thanks to Frank Amato Publications for use permission!

The largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) is thought by many fishermen to be the greatest of all freshwater gamefish. Whether you share that opinion nor not, there is no denying bass are fun to catch.

The largemouth is a slender, streamlined sunfish that is named for the size of its mouth. The upper jaw entends well past the position of the eye. The dorsal fine has two parts, a spinous portion and a soft portion that are separated by a deep, easily recognized notch. There is a broad, dark, continuous stripe that runs horizontally along its sides.

Largemouth bass vary in color depending largely on the quality of the water in which they live. If the water is dark and murky, the fish will tend to be pale, while whose from clear water will have deep, rich colors. They are typically green to pale olive across the back, green on the sides with the distinctive dark lateral line, and pale white or yellow on the belly.


The largemough bass is one of America's most popular gamefish and has had a greater inpact on sport fishing than any other single species. When bass fishing exploded into popularity a couple of decades ago, it set the stage for accelerated rod, reel, boat, motor and electronic fishing accessory development and created an atmosphere in which increased knowledge of fish and fishing techniques became important to even the average fisherman.

Fishermen pursue largemouth bass year-round, but most agree the best and most productive fishing occurs in the spring.

Bass fishermen usually equate their sport with stiff casting rods, heavy lines and large artificial lures, but regardless of how those fishermen view their world, fly fishermen have proven they can take the same number of fish and the same size fish as those using heavy equipment. In fact, in some instances the fly flinger may have an edge over other bass fishermen.

Fly fishermen have the opportunity of fishing a wide variety of fly types that imitate the sizes and types of critters bass eat at different times throughout the year. Because of limitations on their equipment, bass fishermen who restrict their fishing to spinning and bait casting gear are able to fish only lures that imitate a very few of the larger organisms bass consume.

The small size and light weight of flies and bass bugs necessary to imitate everything bass eat from nymphs to small fish, amphibians amd crustaceans is of little consequence to the fly fishermen. He can cast his fly accurately and present it very quietly to avoid frightening wary fish. Fly fishermen have a definite disadvantage in only one aspect, namely, it's difficlt for most flyrodders to fish very deep water. But the good news is that a competent fly fisherman rarely needs to fish very deep to catch largemouth bass if he used the right flies, fishes the right spots at the right times, and uses techniques and equipment suitable for the particular situation. Sounds simple, right?

Well, it can be, but it's also possible to do everything right and still come up empty. But hey! That's what it's all about. If a full fish basket was guaranteed every time you went fishing there wouldn't be much to hold your interest.

Largemouth bass fishing begins in the spring after warming temperatures melt all of the ice from the lake. Because farm ponds and other small bodies of water warm rapidly in the spring, bass fishing on these small waters starts earlier than it does on large lakes and reservoirs.

After a few warm spring days shallow water temperatures begin rising and largemouth bass drift into the shallows to feed. Many minnows and small fish look for food in that same shallow water and become food for the larger bass. Streamer and bucktail patterns are especially productive in the early spring because bass are programed to depend on minnows for most of his groceries, and a well-presented minnow-imitating fly is sure to attract his attention.

The fly fisherman should work "fishy-looking" spots as thoroughly as possible by making several casts before moving on. Because the fishes' metabolism is slowed by cold water, bass won't move very far for a bite to eat in the spring, nor will they expend much energy trying to capture a fast-moving lure. Fishing deliberately, thoroughly and very slowly will produce many more strikes than using a quick hit-and-miss, rapid retrieve system.

We recommend an 8-foot long fiberglass or graphite rod and size 7 or 8 weight-forward floating line for cold water bass fishing. Streamers such as the Black Ghost Bucktail, Woolly Bugger, and Super Silver Minnow, which were discussed in the section on crappie fishing, are excellent early season bass lures. We recommend sizes 1/0 to 8 for use on largemouths, though smaller ones will also take fish. Use a leader at least 7 1/2 feet long, tapered to about 4 pounds at the tippet, and concentrate your efforts on fishing water from 1 to 5 feet deep.

Remember, bass are in the shallows feeding on small minnows which are there eating zooplankton and insects associated with vegetation growing in the warming water. If you can locate a shallow, weedy spot adjacent to a deep water dropoff, so much the better - the bass will use the deep water travel lanes to move from one shallow spot to another.

Early season fly fishing requires accurate casting and deliberate, slow retrieves. Casts should be made from deeper water to shallow for several reasons. For instance, it allows the angler to fish the deep-water side of cover which is more likely to attract fish during certain parts of the year. It puts him in a position to guide a hooked fish away from the weeds, branches and other obstructions. It also allows the fisherman to cast accurately to fish-holding shallow water spots that are difficult to see or recognize from the bank.

Heavy cover, like submergent and emergent weedbeds, weedy or brushy shorelines, and even logs, stumps and downed branches always attract early season bass. Sometimes fishermen accurately locate spots bass are using but fail to find fish because they don't work the area thoroughly. The best method is to start shallow - sometimes early season largemouths will venture into water less than a foot deep - and work slowly and methodically away from shore, covering every foot of potentially productive water along the way.

Continued next time!

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