Great Lakes Angler Blog

The Feathery Overlooked Opportunity for Bass

Wednesday, May 04, 2016
  Read Full Story

This smallie whacked a big streamer fished fast in clear water.

By David A. Rose


Statistics show bass being the most sought-after gamefish in the United States. This means there’s not many offerings a largemouth, smallmouth or spotted bass haven't already seen. From tubes, grubs, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jerkbaits...whatever, anglers have steadily reeled, dragged and juddered about every lure conceivable past their lateral lines.


Ichthyologists verify some fish species are capable of remembering, short term; bass, one of them. Overall, even though there’s no calculus or geometry processing throughout their pea-sized brains, bass are smart. When a bass gets stressed out too many times from getting sore-lipped from, say, a white spinnerbait, chances are that a fish will turn tail next time one goes ripping by.


So what are anglers to do when the catching gets tough, especially in waterways with heavy fishing pressure? Give ‘em something they don’t often see. But that doesn’t always mean rooting around the bottom of the tackle box in search of the rusty-and-less-than-trusty lure. Backsliding in time to one of the oldest techniques known for fooling fish may just be the ticket.


I’m talkin’ fly fishing.



St. Croix's Mojo Bass Fly was created specifically for hunting bass where conventional casting and spinning gear struggle to operate.



Overall, the flinging of feathers and fur for bass isn’t the dabbling of a tiny topwater-bug. Modern fly-tying materials allow the gurus of the fly tying community to create realistic minnow, crustacean and aquatic insect replications never seen before. And some of the biggest flies can be fished aggressively when it’s called for.


Then there are times fly fishing lets you to present an offering in ways standard spinning and casting gear can’t. And, frequently, the practice will outperform standard techniques.     


Crossing the line


I first met Russ Maddin on the banks of a river near my hometown of Traverse City, Michigan, about 25 years ago. The fly angler extraordinaire was casting and testing-out huge streamers newly designed and tied. Little did I realize I was observing the beginning of the big streamer revolution for behemoth trout. I also didn’t envision these big streamers would someday be crossing the line, becoming staple for catching big bass.


“A bunch of the streamers we have concocted for big browns over the years are indispensable for bass, too,” says Maddin. “We really whack them on ‘em because of how they dart, and the flash of the material reflects a lot of light.”   

While the tried-and-true streamers like 3- and 4-inch Clouser Deep Minnows still fool bass, many of todays articulated flies, like the Circus Peanut, and others such as the Flash Monkey and Murdich Minnow, measure out to 5- to 6-inches or more. And they have a swimming action that rivals the best jointed bodybaits and jerkbaits. To boot, unlike plastic or balsa baits, the soft synthetic and feathery materials never quit moving, pulsating even if the fly’s sitting stationary. Streamers rule when fished at high speed; the hustle generating strikes.



Mojo Bass Fly in action




Ploopin’ and Ploppin’


Love catchin’ bass on a topwater lure? Who doesn’t? And the attack from a bass as it throttles a big topwater bug is just as exhilarating. 

Big poppers are a standard; have been since day one. And, they can often be fished in areas other lures can’t. Most bass flies are tied on big, single hooks. Add a strand of heavy monofilament over that to surround the point and you’ve got yourself one heck of a snag-proof presentation that even the thickest lily pad or milfoil bed can’t grab hold of.


Then there are the subsurface flies, which dive mere inches under the surface, such as the Dahlberg Diver and Umpqua Swimming Baitfish. These patterns work wonders when young-of-the-year fishes are eating immerging bugs, and the bass are targeting the fish rather than the insects. One retrieve is to recover line so the diving fly dips under the surface for a few feet, and then give it a pause. This imitates a small fish swimming about and stopping to eat bugs. But don’t let this be your only technique. Steady retrieves are always worth a try.  



Streamer on a Bank robber top; bid deer hair popper on a Mojo Bass Fly underneath; “fluffy flies” in between the reels. These are all a bass angler needs to fool big bass on a fly rod.




Falling slowly


Fly fishing is severely overlooked by lake-bound bass anglers. Consider that June-ish period when your sonar absolutely clogs with clutter. Those zillions of tiny specks on my Humminbird ONIX signify mayfly nymphs waggling their way from the bottom.


This is where smaller “jigging flies” come into play. These are tied with heaps of marabou-like feathers, which undulate non-stop like a nymph’s gills, and tied with weighted eyes so they waft ever so slowly down through the water column. Work them slowly on or near bottom with a stop-and-go, and hang on.


Out of the box


Can soft plastics be rigged onto fly tippets and allowed to sink at a snail’s pace? You bet. (Gasp!)


Back in the day, my father would hook a night crawler mid-point (known today as wacky rigging), lob it out into the drink and let it fall like a feather. Needless to say, he out-fished everyone. Wacky rig a do-nothing-type worm and you’ll get the same results.

I tried something similar just last year, nose-nipping a Custom Jigs & Spins’ Pulse-R Paddletail, with a size-6 octopus-style hook with no additional weight. The results? The ultra-slow fall was too tantalizing for smallmouth to pass up. Cast the same rig on conventional gear and the bait wouldn’t make it three feet past the tip. But with the right fly rod, the offering can be cast 100 feet or more. And the clearer the water, the further your cast needs to be.



Surface poppers, fished-on-the-fly, make even average sized bass feel like a diesel on duallies.




Gear head


Today’s fly rods are becoming as technique-specific as standard spinning gear.


Maddin’s into casting shorter sticks as of late, with lengths under 8 feet slowly taking over his arsenal. Because of his fixation with the short rod, I opted to try out St. Croix’s new 7-foot 11-inch Mojo Bass Fly; which is within bass tournament regulations, being under 8 feet.


“You can make a more accurate cast with a short rod, which is imperative for catching all species of fish,” says Maddin. “Bass during a cold front, for example, won’t move a mere inch off structure to eat. Your fly needs to be spot on each and every cast.”

If you’re not sold on short rods yet, St. Croix’s 9-foot Bank Robber series (VIDEO)—which was designed for casting big streamers by fly guru Kelly Galloup—also works wonders for topwater and slow-falling flies. The most versatile fly rod for bass catchin’ is a 7 or 8 weight.


As for lines, it’s best to have three reels or a couple extra spools filled with different types. A weight-forward floating line is needed for topwater, an intermediate sinking line for slow falling flies, and sinking line for streamers and the like.

Whip it out


Fly fishing for bass is not the dainty dabbling of tiny flies many think it is. Big streamers fished aggressively will rock a bass angler’s world; topwater is still exhilarating; and the slow-fall will catch fish during the most difficult conditions.


John Chesney holds the Fresh Water Hall of Fame’s 10-pound-test tippet line-class world-record smallmouth bass, landed while fly fishing a Clouser Diving Minnow in a northern Lower Michigan inland lake.



David A. Rose is writer, photographer and fishing guide who lives near Traverse City, Michigan.


Recent Posts


Chicago barrier Jonathon VanDam Whale Pumps Walleyes Mary Snyder Boat lifts NAIFC Championship Chaco Glorvigen Audio theft Rain gear Steve Wood EZ Splice Fasteners Gill NA Mag Light Snow-Shoe Tip-Up Raritan South Haven Side Imaging Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel WFN Jack Links St. Croix Ultimate Flannel Shirts Shoes Bass fishing Spreads Interlux MWC Frabill Simrad Promise Keeper Minn Kota Skarlis Gear boat rental McMurdo Bob Schmidt thieves trailer tongue Ascend Rain suit Mercury Marine Bethel University STRATTEC Bro Brosdahl Tyee Conservation Marathon ice fishing, Bro Show, Traditions Media Line Frigibar Iaconelli Corey Schmidt exotic species InvisaSnap marlin National Guard Size limits award tackle storage Berkley Okuma fitness Bug bite relief Clay Dyer Bug repellent Bass Pro Shops Aqua Vu Boating Free Fishing Weekend Power Tim Popfinger Sport Shows Footwear ATV Mr. Twister Safe boating Coleman cooler Milennia MIL-iDock Plano Tackle Boxes Indiana DNR Tracker Marine MULL BLOG High school bass fishing Invasive species YUM Dinger GPS for Lightning Connector Personal Flotation Device Tournament Hevi-Beads Rubrail KVD Speedbag ABT University of Buffalo Bait Rigs Optima Northland Ranger Aluminum Deep V Series Ultracoat Kindle book Black Earth Creek Foul weather gear RedHead Tight Lines Jewelry Smart Guide Publications La Mar great lakes BOLT Padlock Marcum Niagara Falls Lake Superior Trout Unlimited Brite Wash HELLA Gary Dollahon dock lines Martin-Flory Oculus spoon Grunden's Radio Dollohan Green Bay Bad Elf Fishouflage Homeport Marine Marketing jigs Dollahon Soo Locks Bait head Lip-Stix Scott Martin Silver Horde redfish 360 Lock Navigation News/Social Dan Egan Asian carp toilet Innovative Outdoors Muskie Lure Wildlife Forever Ranger Boats Mazurek Baitcast Fishing Pole BBQ Lighter Crankbait Net Monel Metal Dave Mull Alaska Jeff Wenzel Stabenow USO Grand Rapids Ultimate Outdoors Show Hobie Swanson-Russell Insect repellent splice Kurt Mazurek Custom Jigs & Spins F-Series Storm Gear BoatUS Angler Brown trout Macho Minnow DuraSafe John E. Phillips Marine NewsWire Wounded Warriors Olcott, NY Marine Radio ChartSelect AmVets Skamania Mania Northwest Indiana Steelheaders Betsy Insurance Mark Chmura Kevin Van Dam Michigan Whale ShowSpan Orca Fin System Army Corp of Engineers Extended Warranty weather Kayak ODNR Fiberglass boat IGFA JBL Michigan City, Indiana 1675 Pro Guide Absolute Outdoor, Inc. MATE USA Aquatic AV Dogwood Canyon Trail Runs EZ Dock Husky Jerk Jeff's Tackle Shop Big Bear Products Knife sharpening Future Fisherman Foundation Seakeeper gyro TRAC Faria Michigan DNR Topwater Lake Ontario Ditty bag Scott Glorvigen Bibs Aqua-Vu The Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls Side Thruster Ice Fishing Z-Man SeaEra QC Masters Walleye Circuit Wild River series Owners tournament The Harry Lure Airmar Grady-White Earth Day Water Buddies Venice, Louisiana Swedish FireKnife Shelter Apps Jerky Flat Slider 75 treestand injury Catfish Electronics RAT FINKEE Lowrance Rushton Gregory Legend Gold YUM U.S.S.A. New York Tools Oshkosh Minnesota Dave Mull Blog Trade Shows Fish Hawk XD4 NMEA sunglass Quantum Patrick Hurst South Haven, Michigan Soft Jigwobbler Blue Collar Outdoors Brian Brosdahl TRAC Ecological Bass Pro Shops Four-Person Dome Tent with Screen Porch Thermacell Contest Video Pro Polish clubs Contaminants Ravenswood Media AKOYA Nautical SeaLife Cameras Synergy Outdoors Ditch B.A.S.S. KVD Boga Angler 175T Serious Shine JVD Davis Instruments Fort Wayne, Indiana Conservation Coast Guard cruzin eZSplice Lund Sun protection Rovermax LR 100 PRADCO Traxstech Gull Lake Marine Boat names Hamlin Lake Assault Beckson Marine Tip-Up Tournaments Wake Fishing Headgear ABT X-2 Countdown VMC Lake Huron Kevin VanDam FRIDAY FUNNIES Grab Rail Ethanol Lakemaster Beckson 580P lenses spreader light Bait Holder Lake trout Evinrude Muscle Squared 65 Coleman Shurhold Titan Chain New Zealand GPS Speedometer Matt Straw Louie Stout Smartfind S20 Personal AIS Beacon Tommy Skarlis Ranger VS1780 EZ BoatPort Plano Walleye tournament Safety Line Recycle Bin Mack's Lure Mustad YUMphibian Weather Buoy Andrew Semprevivo Salmon Unlimited of Illinois Radial Aqualuma Strike King Sharpeners Lake Erie Chargers PFDs Cabela's Shock Wave Ryan Wilson PulseTech Rugged Shark Yamaha blue marlin Ranger Bass Pro Beckson Marine Stowaway Bag Plate Fishing Clubs Mike Seymour iPhone Sheldon's Streams Normark Beckson Marine Stowaway Bag Plates and Kits Boats Rough Weather Gene Larew Soul5 Tackle Labs Sunstream Boat Lifts Prosepec Electronics Hunting Gunnison, CO Gary Giudice Deck Plate Oakley Sunglasses Speakers One-Handle-Does-It-All System Fishing Dogs Batteries Accon Marine Fuel Lights Aluminum Deep V Series Volvo Penta Personal Flotation Devices Costa Sunglasses Black Velvet Mark Zona Manistee Global Spectrum Records Endura USSA Evolve USCG News Rippin Lips LakeMaster Western States Version Marine Lighting Air show iPilot Link Lake of the Woods Princecraft Wind Power radar Church Tackle Greater Niagara Fishing & Outdoor Expo Lead Mosquito repellent Tides Humminbird Games Chronglobal Chatterbait Pharmaceuticals Kill switch Swim bait Ryan Kleckner BASSMASTER CLASSIC Spencer Yachts SOG Jeff Gustafson iPilot Todd Sokolow USCGA Onyx Sunglasses Honda Marine General spinning rod Autotether MUSHING Odd'ball Fin Spin Team Aqua-Vu Technology Buff Great Lakes Troller Slide Moor DSC Smart Guide to Freshwater Fishing Larson Electronics Shoremaster DuraSafe Electronics Lock Forage Minnow FLW LOTSA Reese Boat US Delorme Tackle Bag Balog Downriggers Lake Michigan Marine Speakers Costa Ned Rig Clam Yamaha ATV Practical Sailor Matt Serbenski WeatherStation Keep Kool Wedding Ring Shipping Dave Genz Full Throttle Kayaks New Lures Brad's Alaskan Slender Spoon KVD Speedbag Wormfile Bristol Bay Salmon Micro-Mobile Pro Viewing Case Fish America Foundation Multi-species Sportsman's rights Walleye LineSnubber Scholarship Bass Wisconsin Lighting Rippin' Lips Alabama Rig Up Stream Hydration Back Pack Beckson Marine Deck Plate Turning Point Props tree stand injury thieves Fiberglass tiller Magnum Flow-Troll Acme PLB Angler Plano Synergy LineGrabber CMP Global Home Port Marine Marketing Mystery Tackle Box Swim Whizz Legend Extreme Traditions Vick BoatUS Extreme Baitcast Reel Green Bay, Wisconsin ASA bimini top CLASSIC inReach Knives Traditions Media Boat Covers Boat maintenance Bristol Bay Bass Pro Shops Gift Card Rescue Whistler Spoon Hobie Pro Angler Cannon Youth Mack's Lures mudsnail Moisture Muncher WileyX Glacier Glove On board Deep Sea Diver Reef Runner Bheestie Bag binoculars Sphaera Izaak Walton League trailer tongue Barry Brown Marine Telescoping JIggler Long Rod Launch ramp Uncle Norm's Lures Dunkirk, NY LCWCC Gravity Rapala Bass lure Blue Heron Communications Holland Marsh Madness Tournament Grade Circle Hooks EVOLVE FISHING CO CUSTOM JIGS 'N' SPINS Port of Indiana Brandon Newby OHIO Camera mount Triton Boats Rods Boating safety Costa Del Mar METS Catch & Cook Cliff Pace Pop-Up LED Bowlights Ice Features iPad Goby Rig'N Tails Multitools hardbaits Storage River Fishing Brian "Bro" Brosdahl Lund Boats ONIX Andrew Dordek BASSMASTER Salmon Tom Neustrom exotic invader St. Croix Rods Torpedo Divers Accessories