About bass

To Catch a Lunker

By Terry and Roxanne Wilson

Far too many fly fishers believe that the capture of a largemouth bass of 4 pounds or more is either sheer coincidence or beyond the capability of a wispy fly rod. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most genuine lunkers are caught by properly equipped anglers who understand bass behavior and utilize presentations designed to take the big ones.

The serious fly-wielding lunker hunter must first choose equipment capable of wrenching brawny bigmouths from the heaviest cover. This is a job for 8-weight and 9-weight rods with plenty of butt strength. A large capacity single action reel loaded with hard-finish, weight forward line and flat, 30-pound Dacron backing can handle this assignment. Soft-finish lines won't stand up to the constant, abrasive wear of brush and weeds and flat Dacron backing sheds water quickly and resists rotting.

Leaders should be carefully selected to match the fishing situation. For surface bugs and floating/diving flies a 6-foot leader does a good job. Use of sink-tip or full-sinking lines calls for 3-1/2- to 4-foot leaders so flies won't bow back toward the surface. In each case a 15- to 16-pound test tippet performs best in presenting the larger, more wind-resistant flies necessary to interest big bass. Remember, fish brave enough to challenge snakes, birds, and baby alligators aren't leader-shy.

One of the most important principles that flyrodders need to understand is that the larger specimens hit a big bait much more readily than a small one. The reason for this is really quite simple. Large bass don't feed nearly as frequently as smaller ones. A big largemouth may only feed once every 3 to 5 days, whereas a yearling feeds nearly continuously. While small bass consume massive quantities of miniature prey, a lunker lies quietly for long periods to ambush a large meal. The energy gained at this feeding far outweighs the energy expended in its capture. Small bass are chasers-big ones are ambush predators. When we choose to selectively fish for the big ones we must understand that if they only feed once in several days, we must utilize presentations that shift the odds in our favor. The key is action. Often, bass flies are tied to catch fishermen with "look-alike" cosmetics. Largemouth bass don't care. Action that replicates real bass prey easily out fishes those fancy replica ties.
Bass flies should be divided into four categories according to the depth they're fished: surface flies, floating/diving flies, mid-depth flies, and bottom flies. Let's take a look at examples of big flies in each category that could be chosen for lunker prospecting.

Surface selections can include cork poppers, closed cell foam poppers, and deer hair bass bugs. All are available in a variety of colors and patterns. Our personal choice is a specific cork popper called "Peck's Popper." They are manufactured in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by the Accardo-Peckinpaugh Company using the same original process created by E. H. Peckinpaugh to manufacture the first commercial cork poppers shortly after the turn of the century. They can be purchased in many tackle shops and discount stores nationwide. Our favorite deer hair poppers are Dave Whitlock's Most Whit Hair Bugs. Deer hair bugs sit in, rather than on, the water and make a unique gurgling sound when pulled through the water. When treated with fly floatant, they will float for long periods before needing re-treatment.

Whether cork, foam or deer hair, we prefer poppers tied in sizes 2 to 1/0 and preferably tied on wide-gap hook such as TMC 8089. Even though black can be an excellent popper color under low light conditions, light colors such as white, yellow or chartreuse are much more visible to the angler.

Deer hair flies that have a Dahlberg Diver-shaped head can be pulled under the surface, then, when line tension is released, allowed to float back to the top. These patterns are especially visible to the bass and appear to be prey struggling to swim away.

This vulnerable looking creature is irresistible to bass located near the surface. Just as a lioness is able to instantly focus her attention on the crippled or sick gazelle from a herd of hundreds, so, too, can freshwater's most efficient predator isolate the erratic movements of its most vulnerable meal choice. These divers can be lethal when fished with rhythmic strips followed by pauses. Adding a quick rod-tip pumping action to simulate an "escaping" movement can trigger even reluctant bass. Just like a car-chasing dog, bass find the escaping meal irresistible.

Two large mid-depth flies have earned first string status in our fly boxes. One is the late Tom Nixon's Calcasieu Pig Boat. Its rubber tentacles produce great action at slow speeds and it's equally effective as it's allowed to drop vertically through the water column or retrieved by erratic strips. The original black pig boat is very effective and chartreuse is just as reliable. Another very effective bass pattern is our own Bass Bully. Recently we've modified the pattern from the one included in our book, Largemouth Bass Fly Fishing: Beyond the Basics. The new version has a rabbit strip tail and stacked wool head trimmed to shape. We tie it in four colors: black, rusty brown, olive, and chartreuse.

Favorite bottom flies include the Lead-Eyed Bunny Booger originated by Wapsi Fly, Inc. founder Tom Schmuecker, and our adaptation of Lefty Kreh's Deceiver pattern that we call the E-Z Deceiver. The Bunny Booger is dynamite in purple or chartreuse when fished along the edges of weedlines or brush. The E-Z Deceiver can be bounced down steep drop-offs and over humps. It's most effective in red and orange.

Using 8- or 9-weight rods with large reels, heavy leaders, and large flies will help you zero in on the big bass in your neighborhood. If you'll also practice catch and release and encourage others to do the same, largemouth bass with their explosive attack, head-shaking leaps, and bulldogging style of fighting will thrill you for a lifetime.


Terry and Roxanne have had articles pertaining to fly fishing for bluegill, largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, channel catfish and shortnose gar appearing in many national magazines including: Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Journal, Warmwater Fly Fishing, Fly Fishing Quarterly, Bassmaster, Ontario Out Doors, Popular Flyfishing and the Flyfisher. Their first book, Bluegill Fly Fishing & Flies, was published in 1999. Largemouth Bass Fly Fishing, Beyond the Basics, is their second book. Terry and Roxanne are life members of the Federation of Fly Fishers. They live in Bolivar, Missouri.