Fly-fishing for bass

I was lying flat on my belly in the long grass
Issue date 31 August 2007

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I was lying flat on my belly in the long grass. I was fresh out of school and, rambling through the open veld, stumbled upon a deep, water-filled quarry in the middle of nowhere. From a high bank, I could see three green fish, their fins moving rhythmically back and forth. A blue dragonfly skimmed over the surface, dipping her abdomen into the water as she went. One of the fish shot forward, jumped clear of the water and caught the dragonfly in mid-air. In the grass beside me something moved – a flightless green grasshopper. I caught it and tossed it on the water. All three fish exploded to the surface to grab it. I was amazed – I’d never seen something like that before.

The next day I went to a fishing tackle shop and asked them about the fish, but they didn’t know what they were. I inquired whether they had any lures with which I could try to catch them. big man stepped towards the counter. “Boetie, you’ll be wasting your time. Rather try pap or worms, those silly lures don’t work. But if you insist, I’ve got the name of a guy we sometimes order stuff for.” he “guy” turned out to be Prof Ben Engelbrecht, who later became the doyen of lure fishermen in SA, and the big man allowed me to phone him from the shop. Prof said the fish must be American black bass – although they were green. He asked the assistant to sell me two “poppers” out of a packet he’d ordered from the US.

Back at the quarry all his advice on presentation was in vain – the bass slammed that popper every time I dropped it on the water. To this day popper fishing remains my favourite way to catch this green “black” bass. A favourite strategy M any effective ways exist to catch bass. I’ve practised all of them, been one of the pioneers of plastic worm fishing in SA and successfully taken part in bass tournaments, but nowadays I fish for this aggressive fish exclusively with a flyrod because it gives me the most pleasure. lthough nothing matches the heart-stopping thrill of a big bass savagely smashing a flyrod popper lying motionless on the mirror-image of the sunset, lately popper fishing isn’t practised by most bass anglers. W ith so many anglers owning flyrods today, and trout, yellowfish or saltwater species only available to a few on a constant basis, while bass are found in many rivers, large dams and farm ponds across SA, I fail to understand why more anglers don’t extend their fly-fishing pleasure to bass. he reason, I think, is threefold.

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Firstly their approach to fly-fishing for bass is wrong, secondly they don’t know how to use a bass popper properly, and, finally, they lack the necessary patience. The ways of bass hile trout and yellows evolved to live actively in fast water and take hundreds of small insect meals a day, a bass is an opportunistic stillwater ambush hunter. With a mouth almost large enough to swallow itself, a big bass doesn’t eat often and pays little attention to small prey. Where they coexist, big bass will even eat small crocodiles. Larger trout flies will catch small bass, but to catch “lunkers”, flies, bugs and poppers must be really big and bulky. B ass fishermen are also conditioned to continually cast and retrieve. This doesn’t work with bass poppers. Not all poppers are fished the same way either. saltwater popper imitates a floundering baitfish trying to get back under the surface and must be fished fast. Bass are used to bugs falling in the water accidentally.

They lie motionless for long periods, twitching only now and then. When fishing a deerhair-frog or mouse, you might try to imitate the true action, but I doubt whether a bass will recognise what the lure represents – to him it’s just a bug. If you think you’re fishing too slowly, you’re probably still too fast. F or most bass fishermen the problem is often a lack of patience. Everybody lives in a rat race. Fishing is about slowing down. Cast your popper out, let it lie until all ripples are gone, and if nothing happens, give it a slight twitch, then wait and watch, but pick up all the slack. If still nothing, twitch it harder to make it pop, then wait. popper works best when it’s doing nothing. Be ready – the strike can come at any time and if it does, act swiftly but don’t jerk the rod. Just pull the line and lift the rod to set the hook. Make your own poppers If you’re using a hard cork or plastic popper, the bass will instantly spit it out. I make my own from spongy foam. Any foam will do, but the closed-cell type is best. I’ve even used styrofoam but it’s very brittle. To cut the foam I bend a piece of binding wire to form a ring with a handle. I heat the ring over a candle and when it’s hot, push it through the foam to cut out a rounded length. I trim the length and cut a slit in the bottom. Into this I insert a long shank hook, onto which I tie a tail and bend a kink in the shank to prevent it twisting, and glue it with Pattex or Genkem clear adhesive.

Better still, take a piece of thickish trace wire and form an eye on both ends, with a hook in one eye. Leave the tag ends long and at right angles to the shank, with the dangling hook riding upside down. Fit it into the slit and push the tags into the foam, glue and tie a tail onto the hook. It will come through grass and weeds without hanging up. Hairbugs are the flyrod bass fisherman’s equivalent to dry flies and a delight to use. Under the surface I’ve had the most success with large leach flies or Mcheni tubeflies, and once caught 73 bass on Mchenis during three outings to a local dam. I’ve even had considerable success on bass casting miniature crankbaits and small plastic worms with a flyrod. I mostly use floating, shooting-head flylines, one weight heavier than specified for the rod, but a WFF (weight-forward floating line) is just as good. Avoid a bug-taper, it’s useless. I also use intermediate and sink-tip lines, but rarely full sinking lines. I prefer to fish the shallows, although deep water often harbours the really huge bass. To cast bulky flies, bugs and poppers and to handle big bass, you need a sturdy #8 or ideally #9 rod with sufficient backbone. I use a double-handed rod. Not that a bass is such a strong fighter – only the Yanks think so – but you have to fight both the fish and its environment. Big bass live in an abrasive underwater jungle of fallen trees, thick vegetation and sharp rocks.

If you hook him there, haul him out quickly or risk being wrapped up and losing both your fish and your lure. Therefore, your leader is your most important piece of equipment. It needn’t be longer than 2m, but nothing less than abrasive-resistant 12lb nylon will do, and 15lb is better still. In really tough spots I won’t hesitate to use even 20lb. My old quarry was eventually destroyed by the development monster. They built the N1 right past it and today it’s surrounded by human habitation and polluted by sewage. If you have bass water that’s still intact, the best time to fly-fish for bass with poppers and bugs is right now (August/September) and again in autumn (April/May), but they can be caught throughout summer in an early-morning and late-afternoon pattern when they move into the shallows, so don’t wait – go get them! – Abré J Steyn Contact Abré J Steyn on 083 235 4822 or e-mail [email protected]. |fw