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


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