JEFF KNAPP: Going bassin' with flies
Mid-spring provides one of the best times of the year for shore-bound or wading anglers to enjoy quality largemouth bass fishing. It’s also a great opportunity to catch bass on a fly rod.
In preparation for the year’s spawning activities, largemouth bass invade the shallows as water temperatures move up in the 60s. This typically takes place in early to mid-May, depending on the weather of the year as well as the physical characteristics of a particular lake. Shallow, stained water lakes warm up quicker than deeper, clearer lakes.
Expect to find largemouth bass back in shallow bays and coves, as well as the lake’s headwaters. On smaller lakes with dense largemouth populations, bass tend to use much of the lake’s shallow-water zones, even just off main lake shorelines. By summer a significant portion of the bass population will have moved to cover options in deeper water such as outside edges of submerged weeds and wood cover like brush piles and cribs.
In most lakes, a considerable segment of largemouth bass will stay shallow throughout the summer, particularly if that zone sees the development of shallow vegetation by early summer, i.e., something to help hold the fish there. Bass can certainly be caught from the shallows in summer, but it’s often a game played with heavy tackle, one where the fish are derricked out of the slop. But at this time of year, before the heavy thin-water weeds have fully developed, a person can enjoy shallow water bassin’ minus the strong-arm tactics.
It was with this in mind that Tom Ference and I traveled up to Kahle Lake last week. Kahle is located on the Venango/Clarion county border. It has a strong largemouth population, along with quality fisheries for yellow perch, crappies and bluegills. During a prior outing a week earlier — from my boat — I had caught good numbers of largemouths in 1 to 3 feet of water. This time we were leaving the boat at home and breaking out the fly rods.
Tom’s an expert fly fisher, a former ESPN Outdoor Games competitor capable of throwing out nearly 120 feet of fly line. While it was my job to put us in an area with shallow bass, it was his to provide the tackle recommendations and flies. He loaned me a reel loaded with a No. 8 weight forward line, which I attached to my 9-foot, 6-weight moderate-action rod. He explained that within reason, a heavier line (than the rod’s rating) can be used when conditions require casting big, wind resistant flies, a situation compounded by the strong breeze. I selected an assortment of streamers, gliders and poppers from Tom’s supply, and we were off.
A short walk through a patch of woods led us to the lake portion that I figured would provide the best chance of taking largemouths via the fly. Originally we’d hoped to use top-water popping bugs. A strong west wind had the lake churning, so subsurface flies seemed a better option.
Kahle’s been under a drawdown of around six feet the past few years, one driven by concerns about the dam’s spillway structure. While terrestrial weeds and a smattering of small trees and shrubs have sprouted from the exposed lake bottom, by and large it’s open, providing plenty of room for back casts. It didn’t take long for Tom to dupe the afternoon’s first bass, a 10-incher. A few minutes later a better bass in the 2-pound range drilled my white streamer, one constructed primarily of white flashabou and a frizzy synthetic hair.
During the next couple hours we picked up bass at a fairly regular pace, working our way up toward the headwaters of the lake. Most of the fish came from 3 to 4 feet of water. Waist-high waders proved perfect, as much beyond the 2-foot depths the bottom became very mucky and difficult to navigate.
Prior commitments prevented us from staying into the evening, when the wind likely would have tired and the lake flattened out. Still, we were able to land a dozen bass and miss several others. The fly rod approach was an interesting challenge, though I suspect we could have caught more bass armed with spinning gear and a few soft-plastic baits.