THE PERFECT FLY FOR BASS
Just so no one wants to shoot me at the end of this article, there is no one fly I’m going to identify that is THE perfect fly for bass. Perfect is...difficult.
Boudreaux took a bus trip to visit his cousin Eustis in Jeanerette. He walked out of the station just as the only cab in town was just driving by.
As he got into the taxi, and Patin, the cabbie, said, “Perfect timing, Mon ami. Poo-yie! Yes, Sir. You're just like Jacques.”
Boudreaux said, “Who?”
“Jacques LeBlanc,” Patin said. “Now there's a fellow who did everything right. Like my coming along just when you needed a cab. It would have happened like that to Jacques.”
Boudreaux said, “Well, nobody's perfect.”
Patin answered, “No, Mon Ami, Jacques was. He was a great lover. He was always clean and did housework without a complaint. He was a wonderful cook and a terrific athlete. He never drank or smoked. He sang like an angel and danced like a dream. He had a memory like a trap and could remember every date that mattered. He made a wonderful salary and could fix anything. He was perfect in every way.”
Boudreaux said, “Pooyie! No wonder you remember him so well. Did you know him all of your life?”
Patin shook his head. “Well, no. I never actually met Jacques.”
Boudreaux asked, “Then how do you know so much about him?”
Patin explained, “I married his widow!”
Most fly fisherman claim the perfect fly simply doesn’t exist. Fish appetites are attuned to their environment and using a fly that matches the predominant prey is a critical factor in success. In a world where 2 and 2 always equals 4 that might be true, but, thanks to modern math, that’s not here, not now.
What? Uh-huh. Let me explain. The contraption you are using to read this article works because it uses what is called “base 2” arithmetic. In this “base” there are only two numbers – “1” and “0”– and yes, two plus two is essentially four, but it is written as “100”.
Unless you are math competent (which most of us aren’t), this concept is always confusing. What you need to do is to think of the original kind of filling-an-entire-room computers. They had a series of large switches that were either “on” or “off” with “on” being 1 and “off” being 0. If the computer wanted to think of numbers it only had on and off (0 and 1) to work with, so it had to do the best with what it had. [New computers basically think the same way but with microscopic switches.
So here’s the old computer with only two digits to work with, and that meant 0 could be 0 and 1 could be 1, but to make a “two” the computer had to combine 0 and 1 to create a new number so the next lowest combination was “10”. (I would have said “01” but I guess that’s why I don’t do math.) Then 3 became “11”, which is the next lowest possible number in line. When the computer got to 4 it still had only 1 and 0 to work with, so it had to make a brand new number, and that new number ends up being “100”, again the next lowest possible combination of 1 and 0. From that point on: Five = 101. Six = 110. Seven = 111. Hey, don’t fuss at me. I didn’t make this up. Eight (now the computer has to go to 4 digits) is 1000. And so on and so on.
All of which means that 2+2 = 100, which is about how many flies most fishermen take on the water.
An afternoon thunderstorm took out the television antenna, so Boudreaux and Clotile were left to talk to each other. After several failed attempts to find any common subject to discuss, Boudreax suggested that they each tell a joke. Clotile said she knew a good one and started.
“Once upon a time,” she said, “a perfect man met a perfect woman.”
“Do we know them?” Boudreaux asked.
“No. Hush. I’m telling this story,” Clotile fussed.
“I just thought....”
“Hush. Now, after a perfect courtship, they had a perfect wedding.”
“Never heard of that. Do we know them?”
“Hush. From that time on they lived a perfect life with a perfect family and perfect pets.”
“No, for sure don’t know them,” Boudreaux said, and Clotile just shook her head and continued.
“One stormy night, the perfect couple was driving their perfect car along a winding road.
“I know where there’s winding roads a plenty, but what kind of car they got that’s perfect?”
“It’s a story, Boudreaux,” Clotile insisted.
“Would be nice to know what kind of car,” Boudreaux said.
“A perfect car,” Clotile yelled, and continued. “They noticed someone hitchhiking at the side of the road. Because they were the perfect couple, they stopped to help.”
“Why they want to do that? Did they look to see if the hitchhiker had a chain saw?”
“No, Boudreaux. They didn’t look for that. And besides, the hitch hiker was an elf.”
“Wouldn’t expect a chain saw then.”
“Anyway, they gave the elf a ride but the storm got worse and worse and going around a turn they had an accident. Only one of them survived. Who was it?”
“Who was what?”
“The one who survived.”
“You didn’t say this was going to be a test.”
“It’s a story. You only got to guess who survived.”
“Then why don’t you tell me?”
“Because.oh, alright. The perfect woman survived because she was actually the only one there. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as an elf or a perfect man.”
Boudreaux thought about this for a long time, scratched his head and stroked his moustache, and finally said: “So...that means the perfect woman must have been driving. Okay, that explains why there was an accident.
Unless an alligator or otter sneaks in, bass are the top of a lake’s food chain. Like anything else in nature, a good predator population is necessary to have ecological balance. There are four things that determine the overall health of a lake’s bass population: (1) how many bass fry grow to adults; (2) how fast they grow, (3) how healthy they are as they grow; and (4) the extent of juvenile bass mortality. Bass don’t always die because they are eaten, but occasionally because they lack sufficient nutritious food. Bass will instinctively hunt for prey that is good for them. Almost every lake, pond and river has at least some food bass will eat, and bass will eat almost anything that they can fit in their mouths. Fish, insects, crawfish, frogs, lizards, snakes and eels, ducklings and birds are all typical bass fare. Bass also choose their food based on the prey’s size. A bass will occasionally try to eat a fish as large as itself, but generally the bigger the bass, the bigger the prey. That doesn’t mean that the won’t eat much smaller items that are easy to catch.
Bass also choose food based on edibility. Shad and other torpedo shaped fish have a better shape for eating than large bluegill. Leaches are easier to swallow than crawfish. Ducklings are easier than baby turtles. But, in any lake with shad, that is the first choice. (The absence of shad usually means that anything is fare game.) Remember that bass fry switch from a diet of mostly insects to a diet of fish and other larger prey when they reach only a few inches. Consequently, bass over about six inches don’t intentionally eat plant matter. They might swallow some while inhaling a minnow, but not because they want or need the nutrition in greens. Nature has given bass strong stomach acids to deal with crawfish shells and fish bones, which, scientists also speculate, also allows them to disintegrate most swallowed hooks.
But do bass actually hunt for specific foods because they will provide the bass with vitamins and minerals they need to grow big and strong? Many scientists think they do, but that debate is still open. Of course, consider that spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, and a variety of wild-looking popping, splashing lures that really look exactly like nothing in nature, yet all catch bass. Some fishermen might find this curious because ninety percent of largemouth never make past age four and the older the bass the more opportunity it has had to eat a variety of foods, and to determine what it likes best...and what that looks like. However, most of the time, what bass like best is shad and these big ugly baits supposedly look like shad. Actually, bass need shad to be healthy. Bass populations in lakes with low shad populations have a lower juvenille survival rate, poorer growth and lesser reproductive rates.
Now if you fish a lake with no shad, the better fly might be anything from a terrestrial pattern to a nymph. But if there are shad present, that is what approaches perfection. Shad-ish flies include a variety such as clousers, minnows of siliskin, epoxy, foam and tuffeleye creations, crease flies, Puglisi style bait fish and a bucketful of streamer and wet patterns, all intended to replicate shad. Want to start an argument? Go into a room full of fly fisherman and ask what is the best shad fly? Be ready for an afternoon of heated conversation. Why the controversy? Because a great percentage of fly fishers caught their biggest bass on a particular shad imitation, which is, of course, their version of the perfect bass fly.
Geautreaux’s grandmother was getting up in age, and Geautreaux figured if he could get her interested in fly tying, it would occupy her time and keep her mind busy while, at the same time, filling his fly box. So he got the materials and Granny G tied flies. Her flies weren’t the best in the world, but they were tied with love and Geautreaux tried out every one she gave him.
Geautreaux came to give names to Granny’s flies because...well...for instance there was the Dandelion fly that exploded into a million bits the first time it was dragged through the air. There was the Bad Cat fly that she tied on a tiny treble hook which drew blood every time he picked it up. The hook on the Depends fly was completely enclosed by a layer of foam. The Hairball fly looked like...just that. And then there was the foam Dead Shad Fly.
It was a cool November morning when Geautreaux first tied on the DSF. He cast it out and it laid on its side on top of the water. He turned the hook eye. It laid on its side. He squeezed the foam this way and that. It laid on its side. About the time he was determined the fly was a complete loss the water exploded. Six bass later the DSF was a shredded remnant of itself. Before returning home, he stopped by to ask Granny to make another fly and found her and her friends sitting on the porch with an afternoon sherry. “Sit down, boy,” Granny said, and Gautreaux did because he really wanted another DSF.
The three older ladies were discussing the trials of getting along in years. One said, "Sometimes I catch myself with a jar of marmalade in my hand in front of the refrigerator and can't remember whether I meant to put it away or start making a sandwich."
The second lady chimed in, "Yes, sometimes I find myself on the landing of the stairs and can't remember whether I was on my way up or on my way down."
Granny said proudly, "Well, I'm sure glad I don't have that problem, knock on wood." She rapped her knuckles on the table. A moment pass then Granny said, "Oh, that must be the door. I'll get it."
Somewhere in the lost files of Granny’s memory is the DSF pattern. Somewhere hidden there is Gautreaux’s perfect bass fly.