One of the questions we are frequently asked about fly fishing for largemouth bass is “How many different presentations do you use and what are they?” Although there are as many variations as there are places to fish, we recommend a fundamental five and provide each the name we use to communicate to each other while fishing: the “do nothing, do just a little bit,” “strip, strip, pause,” “structure-bumping, “yo-yoing, “and “bottom-bouncing.”
The “do nothing, do just a little bit” can be performed with a variety of flies in all sections of the water column from the surface to the bottom. As the name implies, the fly is cast into position and then is allowed to either sit motionlessly or fall freely toward the bottom. Poppers and deer hair bugs that rest motionlessly while the rings from their splashdowns fade away can provide triggering mechanisms for an ambush predator like ol’ bucketmouth.
How long should this waiting period last? Twenty seconds at the minimum, but if you know he’s home, a full minute or more isn’t unreasonable. If the strike still hasn’t occurred, the “do just a little bit” phase of this presentation may provoke the desired attack. Try to impart the slightest twitching action. Often this can be accomplished by wiggling the rod tip. Keeping the rod tip low with all slack removed not only minimizes the movements necessary to impart a tiny amount of action but also makes the hook-set much easier.
To employ the “do nothing, do just a little bit” tactic on a wet fly, cast to likely cover and let the fly drop naturally through the water column. Watch for the slightest twitch or hesitation in the fly line. When this occurs, remove the slack quickly and set the hook. If the fly reaches its destination without being taken and has remained motionless for what often feels like an eternity, impart the slightest crawling-type movement.
“Strip, strip, pause” can be employed in nearly any situation it involves pinning the line to the rod with your rod hand and pulling it through your fingers with your line hand. The strips can be very short (one inch or so) with long pauses, very long (one foot or more) and nearly continuous or in any combination. Choosing the appropriate retrieve speed depends on the attitude of the bass and the imitation that you’ve chosen.
If the fish are very aggressive and in a chasing mood it enables the fly caster to fish faster and therefore covers more water. Usually, this is not the case, and we’d recommend starting slowly and speeding up only when it’s apparent that slow motion is not productive. Fly choice is also a factor. A snake imitation, for example, needs continuous action as it swims across the surface, while a Dahlberg Diver needs pauses to bob seductively back to the top. An erratic “strip, strip, pause” that combines long and short strips effectively imitates injured baitfish.
“Structure-bumping” offers a powerful trigger for disinterested bass. It simply means pulling a fly into the wood, weeds or rocks, then pulling it away. Stout tippets are suggested for this work, as the flies that are heavily weighted near the hook eye. By pulling a Clouser, for example, into a dock piling or into a stump, the fly head collides with the fish holding structure and makes a noise detectable by nearby bass. When it is pulled away from the structure, the predator may believe a stunned or wounded prey is escaping an attack, even though it may not be feeding.
This tactic is also good for fishing a weedline. Allow your heavy fly to tumble down the edge of the weedbed and actually hang up in the weeds. Then rip it free, moving the weeds in the process before allowing it to sink so that the process can be repeated. Again the bass responds as if some hapless prey has invaded his home. Often big largemouths sill move relatively long distances to see what the commotion is all about.
This valuable tactic is not only effective on wet patterns but some floater-divers as well. Once, when we were fishless and unable to put a fishing pattern together, we stumbled across pitching rust-colored, hard-bodied floater-divers next to rip-rap. When we “clinked” them into the rocks and scurried them toward deeper water, they were inhaled lustily.
“Yo-yoing” enables the fly fisher to fish deep submerged structure that has long been the domain of the hardware slingers. Fast sinking line, a short (3 ½ to 4 feet) but strong (16- to 20-pound test) tippet and heavily weighted flies are a must. To perform this operation simply drop your fly vertically into the area to be fished. When the proper depth has been determined (a locator is helpful), stop the descent of your line and fly. Slowly lift your rod tip so that it points overhead, and then lower it to the water surface. Repeat the process slowly. An extra-heavy Calcasieu Pig Boat is a good choice for this work, but bunny leeches and Clousers can be good too. Use “yo-yoing” on lake points, submerged creek channels, against steep bluffs or in flooded timber. This technique is our least favorite to perform because the joy of the cast is lost, but its effectiveness cannot be denied.
“Bottom-bouncing” is usually best accomplished with sink-tip or full-sinking line. Heavily weighted flies are also important. Allow the fly to settle to the bottom before lifting and stripping the fly. This causes it to appear to swim upward from the bottom. The rod tip is then lowered, allowing the fly to make contact with the bottom again. This hopping action gives the bass the impression its sick or injured prey is trying to escape but is instead falling helplessly to the bottom. Silt that is disturbed by contact only enhances the effectiveness of this presentation. The little clouds of mud that result help to convince our quarry that the prey has enough heft to command it attention. It’s important to remember that as the fly is falling, slack is created so again watch the line intently.
Hook-setting on largemouth bass is, in our opinion, a much-misunderstood subject. The commonly held notion that it’s important to “cross their eyes” or “rip their heads off” is hogwash. It’s showboating plain and simple. Over 50 years ago, no less an expert than Jason Lucas (angling editor of Sports Afield wrote, “. . . I advised working the sharp hook in a series of jiggles, rather than trying to set it with one strenuous jerk which would tear it through its hold.” The conventional wisdom is that a bass’s mouth is bony and therefore hard to penetrate. Actually, there’s also a lot of very soft flesh inside a bass’s mouth that provides a large area for the hook to penetrate. Hook-sets are made easier by using sharp hooks with large gaps between the points and shank (we tie a lot of our largemouth flies on TMC 8089). Don’t contribute to the injuries and deaths of bass you intend to release with destructive hook-sets.
One last suggestion. Release all the largemouth bass you catch. It takes a long time to grow a trophy and all fighters deserve the tribute of freedom.
The Flyfisher, Keokee Co, Publishing, Inc., Sand Point, Idaho. Summer 1998.