When water temperatures in Kentucky’s small lakes, streams and major reservoirs rise into the mid-to-upper 60s largemouth bass begin feeding along the shoreline, in preparation for spawning.
For fly fishermen it’s the start of some of the best largemouth bass fishing of the year.
This “topwater” action continues post-spawn into May, when water temperatures warm into the mid-to-upper 70s, and bass are up shallow, early and late in the day.
The appeal of fly fishing for largemouth bass has always been about the subtle presentation that yields such dramatic results. It’s an experience not soon forgotten — the sight of the fly line rolling forward, a bass bug landing on quiet water with a resounding plop, a tug on the fly line makes the bug pop and gurgle, sending tiny ripples outward.
The lure is motionless for an instant. Then a bass comes up and engulfs it in a swirl of water.
With a sweep of the fly rod, the fish is solidly hooked. The fly line rips a gash across the surface of the water as the bass accelerates. Then it cartwheels out of the water in total abandon.
Fly fishermen have several options when going after largemouth bass during the spring — wading streams, walking around the shoreline of ponds and lakes, or fishing from boats. The fishing kayak has made it possible for fly fishermen to access wetlands and other shallow waterways that can’t quietly be navigated by larger boats,
But, more importantly, kayaks give anglers the option of launching almost anywhere without the need of a boat ramp. This is especially true on large reservoirs and rivers that have highways running alongside their banks and crossing major inlets. Just pull off, carry the kayak down to the shore, launch and start fishing.
Bass Bugs and Flies
Fly fishermen have a deep bag of tricks for enticing largemouth bass to strike — bass bugs that pop, dive, wiggle and tease. Traditional bass flies are tied to imitate insects, frogs, minnows.
Using cork, foam, or deer hair for their bodies, and finished with bright paint jobs, over-sized eyes, feathers (maribou), buck tail (deer hair), rubber bands or tubing, tinsel and strips of rabbit hair, these bass bugs have a sexy action that hungry bass can’t resist.
Bass anglers tying their own flies don’t have to stick to recipes. Part of the fun of fly tying is experimenting with new designs, or modifying existing patterns. For example, contouring the nose of a cork popper into a point, so that the lure dives, then floats back up, as opposed to just popping or skipping across the surface.
A traditional trout fly pattern that bass anglers have used with great success on smallmouth bass and largemouth bass is the Wooly Bugger, which has a soft chenile body accented with fuzzy hackle. Its wiggly tail, a tuft of marabou, is often highlighted with flashy tinsel.
For smallmouth bass, the Wooly Bugger can be tied with a brown or black body to imitate a hellgrammite, the larva of the dobsonfly. For largemouth bass, tie the Wooly Bugger or a larger hook (No. 2) and try color combinations that mimic minnows, such as a white body, yellow and gray tail, with silver flash.
Cast it to cover and let is slowly sink. The fly drifts as it sinks and has a seductive wiggle that bass can’t resist.
Store Bought Bass Bugs and Flies
For anglers who don’t tie their own flies there are many companies selling quality bass bugs and flies at affordable prices, compared to the cost of bass crankbaits and plastic lures.
Here are two links:
Fly Rods, Reels, Lines and Leaders
A nine-foot fly rod, rigged with a floating, weight-forward fly line, is ideal for largemouth bass. A seven or eight-weight fly rod is needed to cast the larger flies and poppers, but a six-weight is okay when casting smaller poppers.
Bass aren’t leader shy like trout so a long leader isn’t necessary. If casting small poppers or bugs, anglers can get by with just a four-foot length of 8 to 10-pound monofilament line, but if casting larger bugs a tapered leader is recommended.
Purchase a good quality rod, but it isn’t necessary to spend a lot of money. Shop around. There is a wide price range of good rods out there.
Click and pawl reels work great and are inexpensive, but anglers must play the fish with line in hand. Reels with disc drags are more expensive, but allow the angler to play fish on the reel by cranking its handle, like conventional casting or spinning reels.
Floating fly lines are best for fishing surface lures. If you’re going to cast big bugs, you might consider buying a line that has a bass taper. It will cut the wind and help you cast farther.
A sink tip line in combination with a buoyant fly is a good option to consider when bass are suspended just off the bottom. The line will sink to the bottom, but the fly will be just off the bottom, right where the fish are. Fishing a fly to about 10 feet deep is no trouble at all.
Fly fishing adds a new dimension to spring fishing and the largemouth bass is an eager participant in this piscatorial adventure.
Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for NKyTribune and KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.