Part Forty-three

Largemouth Bass Fishing, Part 4
By Tom Keith

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

I don't know if you have to get up early to enjoy good fishing, though some biologists say by the time most fishermen arrive at the lake, the majority of the fish have already moved back into deeper water. I do know if you arrive at the lake early, you'll enjoy the experience. There's a whole lot more to enjoy about fishing than just catching fish.

I remember how warm the water as I sat in my float tube and kicked my way across tiny Wild Plum Lake early one mid-July morning. The sun was just climbing over the dam at the far end of the lake as I glided into casting range of a small cove littered with lily pads. I have mixed emotions about fishing lilies. One one hand, I love the pads in the summertime because they provide excellent fishing, but, on the other hand, I just hate to fish them because there are 1,000 ways for a fly or fly line to get hung-up.

It's best, especially for beginning fishermen, to shy away from fishing lily pad fields with streamers, bucktails or any other types of flies that are fished below the surface. I think lily pads are the most difficult and frustrating of all types of cover to fish with fly fishing gear.

Most fly fishermen fish lily pads by working the outside edge of the mass and that's not a bad idea. They use a streamer or other sub-surface fly to work the outside edge of the field, and that sometimes produces fish, but most of the bass stay within the mass, gliding through the maze of stems and roots in shade provided by the canopy of large round pads floating on the surface above them.

We've found that one of the best and most productive methods is to use high floating Deerhair Frogs or Bumblepups and cast them to small spots of open water within the lily pad field.

We cast among the pads and slowly pop our lures across the surface. We try to imitate the action of a small frog as it swims on the surface, stops frequently to rest, then kicks forward a short distance before resting again.

I tied a No.6 dark green and white Bumblepup to my 4-pound leader and cast to a small spot of open water within the mass of bright olive pads. I popped the lure a couple of times and darn! I was hung-up already. My leader had cut through the top of a pad and the lure had become hooked underneath it on a stem. There was nothing to do but paddle into the mass of vegetation and loosen the lure.

Paddling a float tube into a mass of lily pads is like trying to leave a church service with a crying baby - there's just no way you can do it quietly and without causing a disturbance. But I finally freed the fly and got my line untangled. I figured I'd spooked every fish out of the area, so I just sort of flipped the lure away, no more than 8 or 10 feet, so I could straighten my line and make another cast. When I flipped the Bumblepup away, it landed on top of a lily pad and laid there while I fiddled with my line. I had my rod tucked under my arm and was working with the line when the lure slid slowly off the pad into the water.

I've been startled several times in my life - I'll never get used to a covey of quail exploding from under my feet, and I know I'll always remember the time I almost stepped on the world's biggest bull snake while sneaking up on a small farm pond (someday I'll have to go back and get the tackle I threw all over the pasture that morning) - but what happened next ranks right up there with the worst of them.

The Bumblepup had drifted to within 6 to 7 feet of the float tube and I wasn't paying much attention to it. Suddenly the whole lake exploded! The only way I can describe the feeling is to have you imagine being all alone, floating on a calm lake on a quiet summer morning when someone in a helicopter overhead drops a cement block into the lake right next to your float tube. One second everything was peaceful, and the next, SPA-KLOOOSH!

Lily pads parted, water flew, my hat went one way, my sunglasses another, my heart took the express elevator right up the back of my throat, and I caught a glimpse of a large bass falling back into the water. I managed to grab the rod before it went clear under water, and when I picked it up, the line was whipping through the rod guides. I tried to set the hook but I was too late and I was almost impaled by the flying Deerhair Frog as it zipped past my head.

I don't know how big that bass was, but it doesn't matter. I'll remember the thrill that fish fave me as least as long as I'll remember the 5 and 6 pounders I've actually landed. In fact, not knowing how big the fish really was is more fun in a way, because I can imagine the fish and enjoy trying to guess its size over and over. That's what they mean when they say there's more to fishing than just catching fish.~Tom Keith

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