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Spring Fling: Secrets, Tricks and Tactics for Largemouth Bass – Jake McKittrick

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

Glorious Carp on the Fly by Willy J Ambassador Jake Mckittrick

In many fly fishing circles, Carp are considered an unworthy fish but many anglers are realizing these golden beauties are one of the most challenging freshwater species in the World that command respect. In my home waters along the Front Range of Colorado, I spend countless hours chasing these beasts along rivers and shorelines.

 

The most prevalent Carp Types in the Us are the Common Carp, Grass Carp and Mirror Carp. Common Carp are dark bronze to golden in color and spawn in Spring and Fall multiple times annually. When Carp are spawning they do not actively feed.  Grass Carp are golden color to silvery and only spawn in rivers (Sterile in lakes). Grass Carp are also vegetarians where most other Carp are omnivorous and are the hardest to catch.  Mirror Carp look similar to Commons but look like they are missing most of there scales and have the same spawning behavior.

What carp lack in elegance and appearance they make up for in intelligence. Carp have extremely refined senses which make them easy to spook. They have acute chemoreception and can smell any unnatural smell on your flies (like tobacco, deet or sunblock). Their lateral lines are extremely sensitive and can detect movement both in the water and along the bank.  Carp also have acute eye sight with more rods and cones than many other game fish making seeing an angler easy in clear water environments. To make matters worse, Carp are social creatures that communicate with one another through pheromones. If a reckless angler spooks one carp they often spook all the Carp in the area and the fish will simply turn off feeding.

Carp are omnivorous and will eat anything from vegetation to a 6 inch baitfish. They are a hardy fish that live in most cool and warm waters of the US.  Carp Feeding Behavior varies but understanding there feeding mood is imperative for success on the fly. The most common feeding behaviors include:

A.  Tailers:  Tailing carp are the easiest to catch. Their nose is down in the mud actively seeking out food. Cast in front of and out from the fish and strip the fly into the carps feeding area. This is the most exciting Carping as it is visual. If you cannot see the fly then it is best to watch the Carps’ tale. If the tail starts moving excitingly and you believe your fly is in the zone set the hook as you don’t often feel the take with the fly line.

B.  Mudders are the same as tailers but they are feeding in deeper water making it hard to see the fish take the fly.  It is optimal if you can see the fishes’ tail to indicate the strike as described above. Otherwise knowing when they eat the fly can be difficult to detect but mudding is an optimal feeding situation.

C.  Risers/”Gloopers”: Carp often rise on an assortment of insects and vegetation. I have seen carp selectively sipping calibaetis of the surface of my home reservoirs. Carp are also big fans of Cottonwood seed, foam, grasshoppers and mulberries during certain times of the year. It is important to lead the carp as they are extremely weary when feeding on the surface.

D. Cruisers:  Cruising carp are difficult to fool but can be caught if you lead your presentation.  These fish are often not actively feeding and are just moving around. If you think a Carp is not in a feeding mood sometimes it is best to leave it alone and wait until feeding behavior is optimal.

E. Sunners:  Sunning carp hold tight to the bank and are notoriously spooky.  They are not feeding actively but can be induced into crushing a well presented fly.

Fly Fishing tactics for Carp in lakes differs from river tactics. Carp are very timid and are especially skittish in lakes (Rocky Mountain Bonefish). Sight fishing and stealth are critical for success.  Whenever I am carping I wear camouflage or natural colored clothing and approach fish slowly. As much as possible I stay out of the water when wading.  A subtle presentation is detrimental (lead the fish).  Since carp eat everything including vegetation, a wide assortment of flies in a variety of weights is best. I would say that small crawdad patterns are a Carps number one favorite food but the following fly types are proven to work:

1) Dry: Turks Tarantula, Griffith Gnat, Damsel flies, Calibaetis for risers (make sure to tie flies on stout hooks).

2) Wet:  Clouser swimming nymph, halfback, various damsel flies, small nymphs, Eagan’s headstands, weighted worms, small crawfish and nymphs. My solitude pattern known as the Carp Craw is particularly deadly.

3) Streamers: Meat Whistle, various leech patterns, wooly buggers, and small baitfish patterns with little or no weight.

 

Fly Fishing tactics for River Carp is similar to Carp in lakes but the fish tend to be a bit less spooky. The same tactics as Bonefish fishing are employed (Find them, get in position, perfect presentation) and having  various fly weights is imperative.  My favorite tactic though is a style I call dropping the fly in the tea cup.  With this method you throw the fly way out and upstream from the Carp and drag the fly quickly on top of the water to a position were the current will drop the fly right in from of his nose. This sounds easier than it is when fishing large fast rivers but this method insures the Carp will not be spooked by the splash of the presentation and the angler knows exactly where the fly is positioned.  This style also requires heavy flies that drop to the bottom quickly. I use similar flies except I tend to fish smaller nymphs and crayfish in rivers:  Weighted Pheasant Tails and smaller crayfish patterns (Carp Craw and Clouser swimming nymph). Generally speaking fly color is dictated by the water clarity so oranges and flashier patterns work in muddy water and more natural colors in clear waters. The major difference between rivers and lakes in my region is that the rivers can be fished year round. I like to fish worms in the winter as crawdads become less active. I hope this little blog helps Willy J fans catch more carp and realize these fish are worthy adversaries!