Warmwater Tips

Bass Fly Animation

By Jack Ellis

Although big bluegill sometimes chase mm flows and fry, they feed primarily on insects and other small organisms that are unable to escape. Bass, on the other hand, hunt baitfish, amphibians and aquatic reptiles; animals that are at home in the water and fully capable of a swift dash to safety. When he sees such a creature, the bass must decide if attack is feasib1e whether he can catch it or Just calories in a fruitless chase. If the organism appears to he injured or preoccupied, the odds are stacked in favor of the predator. Simulating vulnerability, then, is axiomatic when using lures that represent aquatic foods.

Minnows, shad and sun- fishes, the main components of the largemouth diet, are extremely difficult to imitate with flies - especially in stillwater. Standard streamers, heavily- dressed with marabou to present a deep-bodied profile, are effective when bass are schooling or feeding intensely, but will only rarely entice fish lurking in ambush or cruising the bank. Action patterns of the Stewart/ Popovics genera, with diving bills, articulated bodies and spinner blades, do a better job of simulating wounded baitfish, but not as good as the casting plugs they seek to imitate.

Increasingly, I am using lure (cast on the fly rod whenever possible; switching to conventional bait casting when necessary) for subsurface presentation and restricting flies to topwater food forms - water snakes, frogs and, especially, large terrestrial insects. I use the rabbit strip slider for snakes, the Dahlberg Diver for frogs and a standard, flat-faced hair bug for large insects and other creatures that occasionally fall from the hardwood canopy.

Snakes hunts in the shallows, close to cover and weeds, only occasionally venturing into open water - behavior that's easily represented with standard fly fishing techniques. My Grinnel Fly is by far the deadliest pattern in my box. I slither it through "snaky" habitat with short steady pulls to maximize the action of the rabbit strip. Frogs are more difficult to imitate than snakes because they don't swim on top, but simply float motion less, suspended just beneath the surface, and dive quickly to the bottom when threatened. An appropriate Dahlberg pattern is the obvious choice. The diver, not surprisingly, is typically taken while dead on the water -- especially when it floats back to the surface after a dive. I catch a lot more topwater bass on sliders and bugs than on divers. The bug lets me take advantage of the bass's legendary willingness to eat any living thing that will fit into his mouth. The operative word here is LIVING.

The first step in fishing a bug is to conjure a fantasy creature in the mind's eye - a newborn cat squirrel or fledgling wood thrush that has tumbled from its treetop nest, or a spent cicada that, having deposited her eggs in the branches of an ancient oak, has fallen into the pond to die. Then manipulate the lure as that creature would behave if trapped in an alien, aquatic environment. Most terrestrial organisms are helpless in the water, struggling futilely, drowning, dying, unable to make any headway and utterly at the mercy of the nearest predator.

When the bug lands, slowly remove all slack from the leader and line but do not move the lure itself until all the rings have disappeared. The bass will slide back into his cover when it hits the water and then, after a period of time, he will cautiously ease toward the object. Relax and wait awhile. Then give the bug a solid, deliberate "pop" WITH AS LITTLE LATERAL MOVEMENT AS POSSIBLE. With practice, you will be able to pop the bug without moving it more than a couple of inches. Let it sit a few moments between subsequent chugs.
Most importantly, don't retrieve the bug too fast. Bass will sometimes observe a floundering organism for as long as two minutes before attacking. Fishing that slowly takes more discipline than many of us can muster, but at least try to slow down. Never start popping the bug right away unless you have some very specific reason for doing so (to discourage pesky bluegills, for example) when mimicking a swimming hopper. Largemouth bass, especially the bigger fish, are reluctant to chase-down an alerted organism.


The article first appeared in Jack Ellis's monthly newletter, Refections on the Pond. The newletter is not in publication any more. The reprint of this article was granted by the publisher.

Jack Ellis lives in East Texas on the shore of a secluded private lake. Jack has published two books: The Sunfishes A Fly Fishing Jouney of Discovery (A must for any warm water fly fisher) and Bassin' with a Fly Rod.