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Hot Summer Largemouths On The Fly�
By Rich Johnson

   Having waved the “long wand” back and forth across the country the better part of 30 years, there are a few things I’ve learned about fishing for Micropterus spp, a.k.a. black bass. The foremost being, hot weather affects his response to certain stimuli and the hotter the weather the tougher the fishing. Being a licensed New York State fishing guide, obviously I need to maintain a certain degree of success to keep clients coming back. I can’t let the fact largemouth bass don’t want to feed, or cooperate during periods of heat interfere with this. This puts added pressure to maintain a high level of achievement and good fortune for my clients. I’ve had to develop a few “tricks of the trade” to keep pace with the changing personality of the black bass.

Expanding an arsenal to stack the odds in your favor when out on a lake or pond isn’t hard to figure out. Whether it comes through trial and error, subliminal learning or osmosis, just watching how bass react and rise to insects, small fry and frogs during hot weather can be a learning experience. One thing comes through loud and clear, the capacity to catch bass on the fly when all other methods fail! When the sun is too bright, the mercury too high or conditions seemingly too tough, it’s time to break out the fly rod. The quivering of rubber legs, flowing marabou and the buoyancy of deer hair, has proven over the years to be very effective when conditions are at their meanest. The inherent movement of these natural materials will out produce plastic & wood 10 to 1 during summer’s heat.

GETTING STARTED. Before you can throw the first fly, you need to set yourself up with the proper fly fishing outfit. When fly fishing for largemouth bass, you set sail to larger flies and poppers than you normally would for trout, so you need to step up in size. I’d recommend an 8-weight combo. An outfit of this weight enables you to throw the larger patterns associated with bass fishing. A rod of 8 to 8-1/2-foot is ideal with fly lines matching the weight of the system chosen. However, I would increase the length to 9-foot or so, if sitting in a boat or float tube. The extra foot in length is more forgiving and cuts down on slapping the water when in a low profile position.

As for leaders, use either packaged leaders or a straight piece of 10 to 12-pound monofilament. Anything over 5-1/2 feet is a waste of time for two reasons. First, largemouth bass are not line shy by any means. When a bass wants something, he takes it! Secondly, short leaders make casting & presenting large bass baits much easier. Casting large flies on a long trout leader makes presentation very difficult and cumbersome. A long mono leader takes away the momentum of a cast, resulting in wasted energy and a cast that falls flat. There’s too much distance between fly line and fly, therefore the fly line can’t do its job of presenting the fly. Besides, when bass fishing with any sort of tackle, most fish caught are hooked within 40 feet of you, so long casts are not needed.

MAKING A SPLASH. Topwater fly fishing is as exciting as it gets! Seeing bass chase, catch up to and inhale a surface popper is what makes flyrodding so exciting and enjoyable. This kind of surface action is available during a special time of morning, before the first hint of light peeks from behind night’s curtain of darkness. The water's tranquil surface at the most peaceful stage of the day while crickets chirp and bats circle above. This special time can produce best!

As bass go on their morning feed, there are a couple of flies topping my list and first out of my vest pocket. The first, a fly rod hula popper. The fly rod Hula Popper is as good as it gets for drawing strikes from sulking and/or feeding fish. This popper has been around for what seems like forever and for good reason!

As the peaceful water lies before me, the first cast made is with a black hula popper. With the low-light conditions of pre-dawn and early morning, I'm more interested in presenting a large silhouette, be it insect or small frog, with some attracting noise. Short, sharp strips of the fly line really set this bug singing-and-a-poppin’ with bass coming from great distances to cash in on this meal. As skies brighten, look to lighten the color with frog patterns, red/white combo's or yellow. If you're looking for larger fish, these poppers come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. However, some true trophy largemouths have come on these small poppers!

Most knowledgeable bassers’ know the importance of frogs in a bass’ diet. My favorite frog pattern is the deer hair frog with leather strip legs. The fly is tied with green deer hair & spun in bass bug fashion then shaped with a razor. Made weedless with a piece of heavy mono, the eyes can be tied in or glued on, the choice is yours. This dynamite pattern is deadly in and around weed lines or lily pads. It even draws strikes at rest on a flat calm day!

Have you noticed when the air is still on a hot summer day, and the water has that mirror quality to it, even a dragonfly dipping down to the water's surface creates large ripples? There’s a new dragonfly pattern the same size as an adult dragonfly and is made from foam bodies creating “high” flotation. The wings lay flat like the real McCoy and it takes a heap of punishment. Rolling it into a ball in the palm of your hand (like silly putty), it will “spring” back into shape. This pattern fished in small twitches has taken quite a few trophy bass for me in the heat of a summer’s afternoon, and smallmouth like it too!

Once the sun is high in the sky and the heat of summer starts to boil water, there’s still considerable surface action to be found. Around this time, I’ll switch over to deer hair bugs or poppers. The bulk of a deer hair fly or popper landing on this looking glass of tranquility, creates a "tidal wave" of commotion, which in turn sounds the lunch whistle. This large silhouette bug has the size and bulk to make a bass come from the cool depths for a meal that seems calorically worthwhile. These bugs are worked around weed patches and Lilly pads, where the shallows give way to quick escape routes to deeper, cooler water.

   Most of these flies have rubber legs, tail feathers or bucktail for added attraction, but what I like most about them is they have a "quiet" or stealthy type of surface action. Even upon landing, the texture of deer hair makes for a “soft” presentation, not spooking lazy summer bass like wood or plastic. The qualities of deer hair makes them unsinkable and can be fished all day. When tying your own, you can shape deer hair with scissors or a razor to create diving/floating type flies. There isn't a lot of work involved when fishing this fly. The bass seem to find it well enough on their own with just a bit of motion applied on your part.

GETTING DOWN.   If bass are finicky and hunkered down in the water column, the most preferred and often violently attacked fly may be the muddler minnow. This particular fly in the #4 through #8 sizes, may represent minnows, baby crawdads or nymphs. It can be fished down deep, mid-way or, stripped just below the surface, to create a wake that is readily walloped! This fly comes in an assortment of colors and body tinsel.   

   Don’t overlook marabou muddlers in black, white and yellow. I black early or late, with white the rest of the day and yellow on cloudy days. Fish these flies with a variety of movements until you find the pattern bass are honed in on. If no strikes occur, allow the fly to sink farther on each successive cast, until the strike zone is found and a pattern developed. When fishing deeper water, a sink tip line with sinking leader helps tremendously.

   My next mid-level favorite is a large white streamer (4-1/2 -5 inches) with a deer hair, muddler type head. Long white hackle feathers on a #4 or #6 hook always seems to do the trick and pickerel are also very fond of this particular fly. Worked along at mid-depth, retrieves ranging from long smooth pulls of the line, to short stop and go motions will create havoc with bass. Don't be afraid to go big with this pattern. I’ve caught bass on what would seem to be striper flies with no problem.

   We would be remiss if I didn't mention the old standby, the woolly bugger in sizes' #6 through #2. Colors can vary, and the fly is inexpensive to make at home. Black, olive and white are my preferences as far as color. These come weighted or un-weighted. Experiment with both, but I have found the weighted works better for me when really getting down is imperative for success. Rabbit strip leeches are a very successful pattern when summer bassin'. Black and olive are my favorite and whether the fly has glued eyes or not, doesn't seem to matter. Working this fly with a slow, pausing retrieve has worked well for us on the water.

NYMPHS. Not to be forgotten are nymph imitations. These patterns have taken more than their share of bass when largemouths tend to be lethargic and not in the mood to chase prey down. Large dragonfly nymphs and stone fly patterns in sizes' #6 through #2 are a good choice. Just cast and let sink with slight twitches is all that’s needed.

Last but not least is a crawfish pattern with lead eyes tied into it. I’ve only been able to find this one at Beckmann's Bait & Tackle (516-593-7288) in Lynbrook, NY. I'm sure they’re available at other locations if you look hard enough. This pattern is deadly on bass and gets right down into the strike zone. This one to two-inch pattern looks like it was tied with burlap or heavy yarn and the lifelike claws really set this apart from the others. Use short, darting type retrieves with this pattern. This makes the fly look like an escaping crayfish as it dart backwards.


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