Part Forty-one

Largemouth Bass Fishing, Part 2
By Tom Keith

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

An angler fishing submergent weedbeds may have success using a wet tip or sinking tip fly line that puts the streamer low in the water where bass do much of their feeding.

Bass are usually considered to be rough-and-tumble fish, known for their hard strikes and stubborn fights when hooked, but several months of cold winter temperatures have a calming effect on even the largest, most belligerent old sow bass in the lake.

Linda and I fished a good-sized farm pond in late March a couple of years ago and that trip is a good example of how tentatively largemouth bass sometimes feed early in the year. Mild winters in Nebraska are about as rare as frost in the desert, but we'd struggled through a long mild winter that particular year. It hadn't even gotten cold enough to put more than an inch or so of crust ice on the lakes all winter, and no one had been able to do any ice fishing to speak of. We hoped that meant fly fishing would start a little earlier than normal, and as it turned out, it did.

That particlar day the air was chilly but the bright sunlight felt warm on our faces. The pond's water was fairly clear and there was a lot of brown, dead grass in the water along shore. It was too early for the vegetation to have started growing, the weather was still plenty cold, and deep-down we felt it was a little early for bass, There were some trees along the western bank at the north end, near the spot where a small shallow creek slowed very slowly into the pond.

I was still tying a No. 6 Super Silver Minnow to my leader when Linda started casting to a staggered line of shallow water stick-ups along the northern shoreline.

She laid her line along the inside edge of the line of stick-ups, across water no more than 2 feet deep and retrieved the No. 4 Black Ghost Marabou-wing Streamer very slowly. The streamer passed within inches of the stick-ups and she let it pause 8 - 10 seconds several times during the retrieve. Each time the fly paused, it sank very slowly in the water. It was a great technique and made the streamer appear to be very life-like, but she didn't get any strikes.

She made three or four casts in the same spot without success, then tried the deep-water side of the stick-ups. Her first two casts produced no takers, but on the third cast the streamer suddenly stopped in the water. For a moment she thought it was hooked on a weed, but then she felt the fish move and she quickly set the hook. The ensuing fight was slow and Linda said it felt like she was trying to drag a small branch though the water. When she lifted the 2-pounder from the water, it was larger than she would have guessed as she fought it. "It didn't slam the fly like bass generally do, I'm used to pretty hard hits, but this cold water must have really slowed them down."

That's typical of cold water bass, sometimes they strike like trout take nymphs - they just gently suck in, shut their mouths and swim away. Don't expect hard strikes in cold water.

We hooked and landed nearly a dozen 2 to 3 pound bass on slow moving streamers that afternoon, and all of them came from fairly shallow water. I'm sure the fish were in the shallow water because it was a bit warmer than the deeper spots.

Shallow water can be the key to catching bass in early spring. Look for them in shallow areas of heavy cover near the bank. In addition to grass and weeds, good early season cover includes stumps, logs, rocks and brushpiles. Remember, though, wherever you fish, a slow retrieval is crucial for catching bass in cold water.

Largemouths eat about anything they can catch, including many species of baitfish, small gamefish, worms, leeches, frogs, crawdads, tadpoles, salamanders, grasshoppers, moths, the whole spectrum of flying insects, large nymphs, and occasionally small mice, muskrats, snakes, and even an occassional bird. In the early spring, minnows and small fish are among the most abundant forage available and are the easiest for sluggish bass to catch. Consequently, streamer and bucktail patterns are very productive choices for early season bass fishing.

Late winter bass fishing is usually an "iffy" proposition at best, but fly fishermen should be out fishing on those occasional nice early spring days, trying streamer patterns in shallow water around some type of cover. The angler may have a hot day and catch a lot of fish, or it may turn out that all he gets is a few hours of casting practice. But whether he catches any fish or not, he'll find it's great to be our fly fishing after a long winter of doing chores around the house.

Next time, spawning time!

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