Let’s get excited spring is here! Many die hard trout guys get all poopy during run-off season but the truth is this is the time to hammer the warm and cool water fisheries. One of my personal favorite game fish and the topic of this article is the largemouth bass. Largemouth bass are Americas number one freshwater game fish species and is responsible for the all-star status that conventional fisherman enjoy. With all the money that can be made from largemouth bass it is no wonder why fly fisherman know very little about catching these amazing fish and conventional guys know everything about them. Pure Fishing (Berkley Conglomerate) annually spends more money studying largemouth bass than our industry spends studying every game fish known to man. I have paid close attention to all the information and tactics coming out of the conventional industry as part of my research for a comprehensive fly fishing book about largemouth bass and wanted to share some tactics to help the Willy j fans catch more giant largemouth bass this spring.
The most important needs of largemouth bass are temperature, food, cover, oxygen and spawning. The spring officially starts for me in the Rocky Mountains when the water temperatures start to hit 50 degrees in the shallow lakes (Mid April in the Rockies but may be as early as February in the South). This is known as the pre-spawn period. Largemouth cannot digest food efficiently below 50 degrees but once the temp starts to hit 50 the bass will come out of the deeper water and first appear in shallow areas on the sunniest side of the lake with the best cover. This is were the Willy J infrared thermometer is indispensable but take care as it is not water proof and should be treated with care. I usually start scouting the smaller, shallower lakes first or the areas were the weather has been the most stable. On the front range of Colorado, for example, many of the lakes along the mountains have completely different weather patterns than lakes on the plains and it changes every year. I keep a diary of lake temps throughout the eastern Slope of Colorado to help develop my tactics and to see variances annually. Also keep an eye on prevailing winds as they will cause lake temps to differ on different sides of the lake. As the temperatures climb up into the upper 50s bass will become more veracious and their metabolism climbs sharply. There are still only a few bait fish around in the shallows this time of year so look for bass cruising the shallows. When the temperature reaches 61-63 degrees, the bass will start spawning so always be mindful of temperature throughout the lake.
Largemouth bass are known as generalist because they will pretty much eat anything that moves that can fit in there mouth. The most important forage for largemouth in the Rocky Mountains are crawdads, shad, other bass, sunfish, and various minnows. Out of the black bass family, largemouth’s have the highest concentration of fish diets. It should be especially noted from my experience that largemouth love to eat other smaller largemouth. Always keep an eye out for baitfish and crawdads to give you an idea of what to entice them with taking special attention to forage size and color. I always carry markers with me so I can color my flies to match the baitfish as precisely as possible. Another great tip is rub your fly and your hands in the mud as soon as you arrive at the lake to neutralize any unnatural odors (like gas, deet and nicotine) as bass have great sense of smell but contrary to popular belief they cannot taste oil soluble matter (only water soluble). For example it is not the gas on your hands that is making the bass run away from your fly it is the detergent additives in the gas mix. Also, the retrieve is directly correlated to the water temps. So the colder the water the slower the retrieve.
Cover and structure are paramount to a largemouth’s happiness but there is a difference. Structure is any change in elevation and cover is anything that offers shade. In one study from Berkley/Pure Fishing a single bass was put in a tank and was super nervous and would not eat. The scientist put a penny in the tank and the bass immediately settled down and started to eat. The lesson here is to target the biggest bass in the lake find an area in the shallows that has great cover (like a tree) that has close access to deeper water (structure). Last week, for example, I was fishing a small pond and there are about 8 largemouth that are over 4 pounds and one in the seven pound class (Note: if you talk in inches bass fisherman will look at you funny so memorize this formula: length x length x girth/1200 = weight). All these bass were hiding under one submerged tree and would not move more that 6 feet away from the cover because it was the best cover in the shallows. If you remember that bass are only living in 5 percent of the lake than it is pretty easy to find them if you know what they need.
The oxygen level in lakes is more important in the summer Continue reading
With the current state of snowpack in the Rocky Mountain west, raging ditches force anglers to find alternate sources of entertainment. Lakes are being drained to make room for what is still to come, leaving tail waters that offer no reprieve. So we packed up the family and headed south to escape the Seattlesque weather. In search of warmth, sunshine, and a chance to fish some land locked flats far enough south to forgo the onslaught of rushing water.
Still a bit crisp in the wee hours of the morning, the sun not yet high in the sky, picking out lurking largemouths was rough. Waste deep in the cool water, I moseyed through ribbons of warmth. As my feet moved over finely textured sand, I felt like I was much farther from home. Taking in the scenic overtones I watched as an aerobatics pilot a few thousand feet above me, performed Lazy Eights and some negative-g Lamcovak’s. Soaking in the morning as the sun started its gentle arc overhead, polarization revealed targets in the clear water and the fun commenced. There were 10 half pounders to every 1 that was over two, so marking the targeted fish and those around him was important. After spooking a few fish I would love to have photos of, I finally placed my cast. The olive and yellow Hooker variation swam convincingly past the occupied bush and we had a taker! Standing in the water and watching a 4 pound bass mouth agape, tail walking toward me, brought out my inner Jethro. I hooted loudly so my uncle Cletus would know I had on a dandy, only I was alone, all alone…. I fished to some bass well over seven pounds but unfortunately someone had already shown them all three of the tricks I know. Another day I guess. Around noon the wake boarders showed up with the chop and the water clarity faded along with the action.
I sat down on the beach, sipped a yellow can and watched the boats roll by. On my way to the car I avoided a pop top so as to not blow out my flip flop.