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!
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!
Fly Tying Vise Magnetic Hook Tray
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 north central 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.
Muddy Water Fly Rodding
The spring in Minnesota has been early and a bit on the wet side. We started on small tributaries to the Mississippi with mixed results and this condition has carried through into the last three weeks on the big river. The water color and visibility on the upper Mississippi has remained limited and murky due to repeated rain.
Early fishing in late June on the big river was pretty good, even though the visibility was limited to about 3 feet, which isn’t bad on the Ole Miss. Also interestingly enough nearly all the action was on top. Underwater streamers and the like did not produce nearly as well as surface poppers, divers and gurglers.
This is no surprise since the sound and vibration of poppers help fish key in on the fly or lure when visibility is limited.
We went two days ago on a stretch we’d fished four days previous. The earlier trip saw mainly smallmouth 17″ and up. Very nice fish although the numbers we’re mediocre. They hit hopper patterns and hardware, such as Chug Bugs and Buzzbaits.
Last Wednesday, July 6 was a gorgeous day with no wind and mild temps in the upper 70’s. Normally the fish should be going nuts under these conditions, but they were largely shut down for nearly the entire day. We managed a few “sympathy” fish on Murdich’s late in the day. Very weird.
Generally with high or muddy water, your best bet is top water for any number of reasons. The color of the poppers or sliders can sometimes make a difference, as does the cadence with which your work the flies. So experiment with fast and slow, or sporadic retrieves until you find what the fish like.
I hope your fishing is not as up and down as ours, but alas, that’s fishing!