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Observations in Pan-Fishing, Part 2

Fritz Fratz
By Randy Fratzke, Iowa

Bass

Many books have been written on the subject of bass and there are probably a dozen magazines that are written specifically for bass fishing. Television shows and numerous regional, national and international tournaments have been based on bass fishing. I think more money has been spent designing and marketing boats, rods, reels, tackle and baits for this family of fish than the rest combined. So what is so special about this species of fish that attracts so much hoopla? That's an easy question to answer, as far as I'm concerned:

1.) There's an extremely wide territory that the species can be found. Literally, bass can be found coast to coast from Canada through South America.

2.) It has a very wide range of conditions that it has adapted to live in, from muddy swamps, farm ponds and lakes to clear, pristine, fast moving rivers.

3.) There are a large number of subspecies, large mouth, small mouth, rock, white, striper, wiper (hybrids), peacock, and sea bass.

4.) Finally, and in my opinion, probably the most important, they are easy to catch at almost any time of the day and all year long.

Bass are generally territorial, aggressive fish. Many times bass will strike a bait, regardless of the type, merely because it's in its territory, not necessarily because it's hungry. That's what makes it easy. Bass also relate primarily to structure of some sort, fallen trees, logs, rocks, reefs, sand bars, weed beds, docks, etc. Find the structure and you'll find the fish. Find the fish; toss a fly into its territory, and it'll strike. It's really pretty simple.

One real variable I've found to catching bass is the weather, especially large, windy storms with a lot of lightening and thunder or an extreme cold front. In a case like this the fish normally will go to the deeper areas of the water for a day or two then resume its normal feeding and territorial patterns. The spring spawn is one other variable. The bass will leave its normal haunts and head for the spawning grounds, they become extremely aggressive at this time. One important factor here is that it's the males who build the nest, take care of the eggs and protect the new hatchings (for up to a month) after the eggs hatch. If you are fishing a spawning bed please be sure and release the fish as safely and quickly as possible so that they can get back to their beds and take care of business.

Ok, what to use for fly fishing for bass. In this part of the country, the upper Midwest, the white, stripers and hybrid wipers tend to run in large schools which many times can be seen "finning" (the dorsal fins actually extend out of the water) at the surface of the water. When they're in large schools, feeding on bait fish, toss them a streamer (match the hatch). I have lost track of the number of whites and stripers I've caught on a Clouser or Muddler tied with a medium to light brown top, a dark brown middle and a white bottom. I tie these from size #6 to #1 and use very little weight or a very slow sink tip line. Mend the line erratically during the retrieval so it looks like an injured bait fish, wait for the hit and hold on. I've followed a feeding school around for several hours at different times, catching as many as 30 fish in a couple of hours. Unlike other species of bass, fighting and making a disturbance in the middle of a feeding frenzy doesn't seem to disturb the school in the least. We've been able to float up to within 15 to 20 feet of the school without bothering them. It's a real ego booster after a dry spell to get into these fish.

The black bass, large mouth, small mouth and rock bass are more prone to be found one or two per location. Other than during spawning, I've never run into a school of them. In my humble opinion though, pound for pound, the small mouth bass is one of the best fighting fish there is, not to mention, pretty good table fare. I usually start out fishing with poppers, from about inch to inch in size. My favorites have either legs or whiskers made from "living rubber" and a marabou feather tail. The color is dependent on the weather and the time of year. Again, on overcast days I use a darker colored popper, bright sunny days, and a lighter colored popper. The other thing to keep in mind is the time of year. Around here frogs don't start appearing until late April or early May so using a frog colored popper in early March probably won't work too well. Another favorite is the streamer, a Clouser, Spruce, or Silver will all work well. 3 to 4 inch bunny tails and marabou leaches also work very well when mended erratically along the structure cover. One of the best flies I use is the crawdad (or crayfish) tied on a # 8 to # 4 hook. These flies work especially well along a rocky shoreline or a midstream or lake drop off. The best tip I can give you on using a crayfish fly is to remember how a crayfish swims; in a rhythmic, slow, up and down motion.

Other top water flies that work well on bass are hoppers, crickets, and ants. For deep running flies try a large hellgrammite or stonefly. That's probably what I like best about bass, they're not real fussy. When I've cleaned bass I'm always surprised to see what's in their stomachs. There's usually a little bit of everything that's in the local water, crayfish, minnows, frogs, insects. In one I found an entire spinner rig, complete with plastic worm!

Another great thing about bass is that you can catch them from shore, in a float tube or from a boat. They're usually found fairly close to the shore line where the sides are rocky and the bottom drops down fairly quickly. But other times along the sides of an eddy formed by a rock midstream or next to stumps or downed logs and along the edges of weedbeds. They like to ambush their prey, streaking out from their hiding place, grabbing it and heading back for cover. If you get a hit, but miss the hook set, keep trying the same area for a while, many times you'll irritate the fish into another hit.

If you've ever been using a popper or other top water fly and had a small mouth come crashing through the surface and engulf your fly you'll never forget that adrenaline rush of the explosive power of this fish. If you've never fished for bass on a fly rod you're really missing some major action! So tie something on and give it a try, you won't be disappointed. fritzfratz@earthlink.net. ~ Fritz Fratz

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