Not A Fly Fishing Snob? We Forgive You!
I’ve been fishing, writing and selling fly fishing related information and equipment for a long time. In the summer, me and my cohorts fly fish for bass at least once and generally multiple times per week.
I’ve decided to come out of the fly fishing closet… I’m Not A Purist!
Yes, there are those that choke at the thought of picking up a spinning rod when pursuing river smallmouth – not me.
I’ve taken so many trips where the fish just are not interested in flies. We always start with poppers, just in case they’re going on top early in the trip. If that fails I’ll start working my way down the water column until I get a hint at what they want.
We generally time our daily sojourns to start around noon or early afternoon, fishing into the golden hours of the late afternoon-early evening, when the water warms and fish often look up.
There are times when the fish simply will not come to flies with enough frequency to satisfy my needs.
Therefore, I always carry a stout medium-heavy spinning rod with 8# test and tie a snap or clip to the end (not a swivel – a snap or clip). The snap allows for a quick lure change, a low profile and allows for free movement of the lure.
I generally use a Strike King Mini Buzz Bait in chartreuse or white. I doctor the attachment end of the wire loop which, unless you tie on direct, will slip out of position when using a snap, clip or swivel. I think this is a design flaw.
To remedy this, I slide a small 1/4″ diameter piece of shrink tubing over the protrusion and heat it up to shrink it down – allowing enough open space at the distal end to clip or tie on direct. I do this on any spinnerbait type lure that comes in this conformation.
I also use a surface plug like the famous Storm Chug Bug. I like plug poppers somewhere between 2 1/2″ or slightly larger.
I remove the forward treble hooks on the plugs to make release so much easier and to avoid damaging the fish as much as possible.
I have personally witnessed countless days on rivers, especially smaller ones, where fish were very reluctant to eat a fly, but will slam a buzz-bait or stick bait. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but it happens a lot.
Without the spinning rod along on a typical 4 – 5 hour float, the lack of fly rodding action would make the jaunt nothing more than a nice, relatively boring canoe or float trip.
I will always go to back to a popper or high riding streamer, if the top water spinning action heats up, just to see if their mood changed and they will now cooperate with the more gentlemanly persuasion of fly fishing. I actually prefer the topwater explosion of a bass hitting one of the aforementioned surface lures over streamer fishing, in many cases.
A spinning rod is also the perfect antidote for either a non-fly fishing partner or someone who can’t cast well enough to get the fly where it needs to go. Believe me, you won’t have much trouble getting them to use the spinning rod, once the water starts roiling with pissed-off bass.
No, I’m not a purist. I like to catch fish – especially on top. If you have the fly fishing blues due to recalcitrant bass and want to stir things up – try some top water spinning presentations and get ready for some bonus excitement this season!
Question: How often do we go back to the same fishing spots over and over again?
Answer: A lot…Too Much…
My brother and I recently tried an entirely new river system for smallmouth bass.
It’s a finicky watershed that drops very quickly in the spring to early summer making navigation almost impossible by mid June. We were watching it closely after hard rains had colored it and filled it with water.
Last week my brother reported it was down and clear. For river fishing fanatics, that means go time!
We planned a mid-week trip, as we generally do to avoid competition. We picked a specific stretch after questioning some locals, hoping for a 4 – 5 hour float in a canoe, which is generally what we go for.
We always anchor when someone hooks up, so if the trip takes alittle longer, well that’s OK.
Early in the season in Minnesota, we hit tributaries of the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers that offer some great action before the lose their water and are “un-floatable”.
On most rivers, large and small, we carry both fly rod and spin rod outfits. You never know on a particular day if the fish will prefer flies, top water plugs, buzz baits, streamers, etc. So we go well armed for any eventuality.
Also, the sternsman, in a canoe, can fire off quick casts on slow sections with a spinning outfit that would be very cumbersome to try with a fly rod. Usually the bowman, is flogging away with the fly rod. We switch about every hour or after the frontman has hooked up several times or is tired.
This river was perfect, this day. Just enough water for us to glide over most of the large rocks that bespeckled the riverway, punctuating stretches of riffles and runs, slowly meandering through forests and fields.
Early spring is also a great time to be unmolested by biting insects that can really raise hell on small rivers in just a few more weeks.
One remarkable aspect: All the action was top water!
I’ve seen this before and it’s something for which we all pray. I started out with a “tried and true”k jointed Rapala and then a Murdich Minnow streamer. No takers.
I then put on a Chug-Bug (my go to top water spinning plug) and caught a nice fish while steering in the stern of the canoe. My brother saw that and switched to a white blockhead popper. Then things started to happen. It so happens the fish were mainly looking up this day and we were more than happy to oblige them.
The average size of the smallmouth was very respectable – about 16″. We caught very few fish under this length and several over, up to 18″. We lost a couple of bigger fish. On most trips you’re always going to miss some fish, drop hooked fish, and occasionally land some, if the fishing gods are with you.
We would encounter periods where we wouldn’t get a bit for 1/2 hour and suddenly hit two or three fish in rapid succession. This is all pretty typical on a good day’s fishing.
The weather was ideal, about 75 degrees with no wind to complicate fly casting.
We also hit enough rough water to appreciate the experienced canoe skills we’ve garnered over almost 50 years of canoeing. If you’re on tricky water, it helps to have an experienced bowman who can help steer and call out hazards.
Without rain, and if this river dropped only 3 – 4 inches, our trip would have been a lot different.
As it was, we lucked out on this new water, which is always a crap shoot, but ALWAYS worthwhile.
So quit hammering the same tired spots, rivers and lakes over and over and explore a bit in your area. Try that little lake you’ve been thinking about for years. Drop into that little stream or river and give it a shot.
You just might find your new favorite place to fish!
A good quality fly fishing outfit for freshwater bass can be used on a number of other fish, all over the world. In Minnesota, we suggest people use an 8wt outfit using either 8wt or 9wt weight forward floating line when fishing large rivers.
I love the “bass tapers or bass bullet” type profiles to aid in shooting line. Remember this: to become a proficient fly caster, you must be able to shoot line! Once mastered, you can take this equipment almost anywhere and do some real damage.
This type of equipment can be put to use on many other species besides bass:
- Baby tarpon
- Silver Salmon
Everyone should have an 8 weight fly rod in their arsenal if you’re serious about going after other fish in other lands.
I recently returned from a tarpon trip down to the western Yucatan of Mexico where we had good fishing for baby tarpon. These fish ranged from 5 – 15 pounds and showed some great acrobatics when hooked. The outfitter suggested 9 & 10 weights, but the 8’s worked great in most situations.
Heavier equipment helps when the wind is blowing, so it’s not a bad idea to bring some beefier rods. But in almost all cases, the trusty eight weights did the job. If wind is a problem, which it always is, some of my party simply up-lined to 9 weight line on the 8 weight rod – this combo worked great.
In my opinion, fly fisherman should have at least two rods. Get a 5 weight for trout, panfish, and lake fish such as smaller bass. You should have an 8 weight for the aforementioned applications mentioned above for larger fish.
I will also say a saltwater reel, while helpful, is not a necessity when jumping a plane for the tropics and saltwater. Most of the fish we encountered did not go into the backing and if they did, only around 50 feet. The key is a smooth start-up for the drag.
As long as you thoroughly rinse your reels in freshwater, each day after saltwater fishing, your bass equipment will work well. (I disjoint the nine foot rods in half and put everything in the shower with cold water running over them for about 10 minutes, after each days fishing.)
The exception to freshwater reels are bonefish, of course. They will easily rip out line – well into your backing on the first run. A quality reel with a trustworthy and smooth starting drag is essential.
There are good quality “freshwater reels” that will handle bonefish provided you have enough backing capacity.
A sealed drag system, seen in nearly all saltwater reels, will ward against incursion from saltwater. So if you plan to do a lot of salt/brackish water fishing – you should invest in a quality saltwater reel.
Fly fishing line manufacturers make a lot of money selling specie-specific fly line. You can get line just for bonefish, tarpon, largemouth, smallmouth, and a bunch of others. Most of the time you’re sight-fishing in shallow water and floating fly line works the best. For example, in Mexico recently, I used a $25 Canadian cheapo fly line on my 10 wt. rod and it worked superbly in the wind. So don’t be fooled by all the marketing hype.
Remember, most lower priced fly line is manufactured in Canada by the same fly line mill and sent off to retailers for labeling, etc. These lines generally work very well in most situations.
You can use an inexpensive fly line, provided you have a good thick bullet taper or head, to shoot line with gusto. Other considerations, for larger tarpon or subsurface applications, where you may need a slow sinking intermediate sink line. In these specialty situations, you may need to invest in this specialty line – based on where you’re going and what you’re after.
Most of the time though, the same gear you use for smallmouth bass in the river, will work great in nearly all other environs!
Like many of you, I like to sniff around hardware stores and other similar stores that sell a variety of stuff. I’m always looking for better glues and tools to help in my fly tying.
You place these trays on any metal aspect of the machine you’re working on and it keeps things stabilized, so you don’t lose important components (which have a bad habit of falling into an unretrievable crevice within an engine block or similar).
These magnetized trays work great as a cheap add-on for your vise pedestal. The strong magnet not only holds the tray fast to your pedestal, but keeps hooks and beads stuck within the tray until you need them.
Try to find one that has a light colored background making it easier to ID your components. Just like that, you have a great hook holder. These can also be used for beads and any other components you don’t want to be crawling around on the floor in search of. Metal objects adhere the best, but any other type of components can be laid in these handy trays as well.
I found mine at an “unclaimed freight” store in northcentral Minnesota, but I’ve seen them all over the place in hardware stores, tool stores, and the like. I like the small ones like the ones shown in the photo, but they come in all sizes and colors, including metal finish.