rod bass fishermen seem to be consumed with top water bugs. Elaborate
deer hair creations that imitate dragon flies, mice, little birds and
space aliens fill their fly boxes and decorate their hats. It's great
fun to cast and animate these lures and to make them act like tiny puppets.
The explosion of a good bass on the surface etches itself into the mind
of the angler. The only problem is that top water action produces bass
less than 25% of the time, because greater percentage finds the fish feeding
If we wander into the local fly shop or thumb through a good catalog,
we might find some underwater bass flies. Most of them will resemble hairy
snakes in black or purple. These "bunny strip" flies are intended
to be bottom bounced to dredge up reluctant bass. I'll admit that I've
been there and done that and I didn't get too excited about the technique.
For years I have collected and read old flyfishing books and since I wasn't
overly satisfied with current underwater
patterns and techniques I began scouring the musty pages to see what our
predecessors used. Each of the early books seemed to repeat the same idea--If
the bass won't hit on top, tie on a "spinner I fly combination and
start hauling them in. A spinner I fly combo? Isn't that like cheating
or something? Now you must remember that most of these tomes were written
pre-WW II, before spinning gear became popular in this country. Only three
types of tackle existed: cane poles, bait casting rigs and fly rods. Since
most real bass anglers had outgrown the pole and bobber, only two methods
were available. However, bait casting rods couldn't handle flies and fly
rods couldn't throw plugs and spoons.. .there was no middle ground. Necessarily,
if the flyrodder wanted to pursue bass into the depths of two to six feet
he often blended his terminal tackle and placed an in-line spinner ahead
of the fly. It was a spinner-bait for the flyfisher!
The more I read the more I found that some of those old authors actually
favored the spinner I fly above all else for bass. I'd never seen anyone
fish with that technique but they sounded so convincing I had to try.
The recipe for this type of flyfishing endeavor that I gleaned from my
study is as follows: one eight or nine weight fly rod at least eight and
one half feet long, a weight forward line to match, a simple, single action
fly reel, a six foot, level leader that tests about 8 or 10 pounds and
the spinner I fly.
advice I learned from my library suggested using a straight shafted spinner
with a blade the size of a fingernail (#0 or #1, Indiana or Colorado).
Silver, nickel or gold were the favorites. The wet flies and streamers
that were attached to the spinners were usually simple patterns tied on
hooks from size 4 to 2/0. Yellow, white, red and black are the recommended
colors and it seems that any pattern that incorporates these hues and
movement of hair or feathers will take bass.
Finding the spinner part of the rig was actually the toughest assignment.
I had to prowl several tackle shops and hardware stores before I found
some Hilderbrant spinners in the proper sizes and finishes. Fly shops
don't stock spinners, in fact it was sort of heresy that I'd even suggest
that a fly fisherman would us a spinner I fly. Evidently they hadn't talked
bass fishing with their granddads.
assembling my gear I aired up the float tube and headed to a nearby bass
lake. The lake is in the city limits and well within the reach of a half
a million people. However it has an 18 inch size limit on the largemouths
and this provides a healthy and hungry population of bass in the one to
four pound range. My first chance to fish this antique technique turned
out to be a dreary, mid-April day with a tough southeast wind. The waves
had churned my favorite shoreline into murk, so it looked like the perfect
spot to try a nickel silver spinner with a size two, white wooly worm
tied on a straight eyed hook. The use of a turned down eye fly interferes
with the movement of the spinner and causes the fly to ride at an odd
angle in the water. Make sure your flies are tied on ring eye hooks.
I kept my back to the wind and kicked my float tube along the shoreline
about thirty feet out. Following the instructions
of a mentor long since passed away, I cast my spinner I fly by picking
it up slowly after had reached the surface. I limited my false casting
and laid the lure close to the bank-side structure. I was surprised at
how easily the fly rod handled the light spinner. The water along the
bank dropped off sharply to about three feet, so I allowed some sinking
time before I began twitching the line with my left hand. I had pulled
and twitched and recast for about 20 feet down the clay bank when the
initial bass hit. The seventeen incher seemed to strike, shake and fly
through the air all in one motion. The hook held and the first of several
good fish, that the old timers would have been proud of, were landed and
released. Now I know that a single outing does not an expert make. I'll
be the first to admit that I'm still learning and experimenting with spinner
I flies. I've used them in shallow, weedy lakes for largemouth and pike.
I've fished them for smallmouths and Kentucky bass in Ozark rivers and
have caught white bass, channel catfish and assorted panfish along the
way. That's what makes flyfishing so much fun
.gee, I love this stuff!
Try some spinner I flies yourself, maybe even ask your grandpa if he has
any left over in his tackle box, do a little researching. let me know