Great Old Warmwater Patterns
Old Fly Rod Lures


By Dennis Galyardt

Today's fly 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 underwater organisms.
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.

The 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.

After 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 what happens.


Dennis Galyardt currently lives in Tecumseh, Missouri. He was the Warm Water editor of the Federation of Fly Fishers magazine Flyfisher. He is the 1999 recipient of the Federation of Fly Fishers' Dr. James A. Henshall Warm Water Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Promoting the Enjoyment or Convervation of Warm Water Fishiers.