With so many magazines, websites, and television programs
dedicated to both bass fishing and fly fishing, both sports
are enjoying ever-increasing popularity. Ironically, however,
those of us who combine these pursuits - anglers who primarily
fly fish for smallmouth bass - are often treated as oddities by
our fellow fishermen. The proprietor of the upscale fly shop
looks up disapprovingly from his Orvis catalog when we ask if
there are more foam popper bodies in the back. The good old boy
at the stream side bait store eyes us suspiciously when we drop
some dusty tippet spools on the counter. Fishing magazine articles
about fly rodding for bronze backs are only slightly more common
than those featuring catfish noodling or holiday carp recipes.
Even longtime fishing companions, with whom I've spent many days
flipping jigs from bass boats, are perplexed by my obsession. To
maintain some level of respect for a misguided comrade, they've
adopted several popular justifications that they feel explain why
I might trade a day on the open water for a trudge through some
overgrown creek. However, these explanations do not apply to me,
nor, I would suspect, to most of the fly fishermen angling for
bass in your local stream.
Certainly, it isn't because on fly tackle, even small fish are fun
to catch.? If 'fun' were my motive, I can assure you effortlessly
sailing a spinner bait to a precise target thirty feet away would
be the way to go. Instead, I exchange that efficiency for the act
of acrobatic contortionist required to back cast between overhanging
branches so I can drop my streamer into a riffle, all the while
terrified of wrapping my delicately knotted tippet around yet another
tree limb. Once you've completed this maneuver (a few evenings of
which will get a chiropractors phone number on your speed dial),
the realization that your fly is lodged in the jaws of five-inch
sunfish will not set your heart soaring.
Also, I do not fly fish for smallmouth because "it is more sporting"
at least in the oversimplified definition of that term--which means
something like on more even terms with the fish. Putting myself on
even terms with a smallmouth isn't enticing at all. Those of us well
acquainted with Micropterus dolomieui know him to be a vicious,
ambushing brute--among the least pleasant creatures in nature. Once,
while wading, I had a hooked bass run straight at me and encircle my
legs with my fly line twice before I could think to reel. To this day,
I'm firmly convinced he planned to drown me and mount my hat on his
wall. To subdue such a creature, I will gladly utilize any advantage
evolution or science can provide.
Moreover, it's not because "it's the popular thing right now." Though
fly-fishing has become quite fashionable, that alone won't keep you
coming back to a stream. I won't deny that one can get a rush of
narcissism when an elderly gentleman and his grandson halt their
stream side hike to admire your casting. When Grandpa says "Just
watch him, Timmy," you can get caught up in the moment, stirred
that you've become a scene from A River Runs Through It set
before their eyes. It makes you wish you knew how to 'shadow cast,'
and that bass might appreciate such a thing.
However, inevitably, I'm certain to shatter Gramps' and junior's awe
by botching up something with remarkable clumsiness. My specialty is
the roll cast that crashes into the water with a splash only slightly
less than that you would expect if I tossed in a lawn chair. Nothing
can make you realize you aren't Brad Pitt like Timmy saying: "Grandpa,
look how fast the fish can swim away!"
No, my love for this sport is actually due to my satisfaction with
the holistic experience. In my favorite creek, I've felt out every
foot of the stream bed, and learned not only which boulders to
target, but also which side of the stone offers the best haven
from the current. I've come to appreciate the smallies that won't
chase a Garlic-impregnated grub no matter how well it's presented,
but which will emerge from beneath a log if a huge, leggy nymph
floats by at just the right point in a nearby riffle. I've been
awed when I've felt a big bronzeback run, feeling it not through
the yank on my rod tip, but through my fingertips on the line.
I've come to know this fish and its world in a unique way, and
it has been an extraordinary education.
And from this education, I believe, we warm-water fly anglers
have much to share to other fishermen. To fly fisherman, we can
assure you that great fly angling opportunities don't necessitate
plane tickets to famous trout waters. You likely drive past them
daily while grumbling about the long wait until your next fishing
To traditional bass fisherman, we can share simply this: in a
river or lake you frequent, between a boulder and an undercut
bank, there is a fish growing fat, smugly watching his na´ve
brethren chase after worms. If somewhere in that boat you've
got a 9-weight and a muddler minnow, you have an excellent
chance of introducing that lunker to the wonderful world
outside of water.
That's when you'll know that suffering a few odd looks at
the boat dock is well worth the reward. ~ Jason McKinley Williams (C) 2007