Bass and other warm water species get a bad rap for being easy to catch anywhere, but show a largemouth or a smallmouth the same lure or fly a few times and they’ll be as picky as a stuck up rainbow. That’s why soon after ice out, when everyone and their grandmother has gone bass fishing for the first time since last season, bass are already starting to smarten up. It takes the right flies in your flybox now that separates from the everyday angler to the fly angler that actually hooks up.
1) Woolly Bugger
I know. You’re probably thinking this is a cheap shot since I even listed the woolly bugger as a fly you always need for trout in the article linked above. I can’t say it enough though, any fly guide I talk to, no matter where I am in the world, says their go to fly is the woolly bugger when they’re not sure what else to throw.
The fact that this simple fly has so many variations that make it even better means you can have a whole box full of woolly buggers and always be throwing something different. Plus, all of them will work.
2) Clouser Minnow
Everyone, including me at times, always thinks of the Clouser Minnow as a saltwater fly, but that’s only because it works so well in the salt. What they might not know is that Bob Clouser, who invented the pattern, actually designed it for his favorite species, smallmouth bass.
The perfect blend of weight, simple and effective profile make this fly work no matter what species you’re throwing, but especially for bass. I love to tie it up sparsely, with minimal bucktail so that the shape is as translucent as possible to mimic my local baitfish. I could fish all day long only throwing a Clouser Minnow and catch fish from sunrise to sunset. I love this fly so much I’m even getting it tattooed onto my arm.
3) Crawfish Patterns
As often you’ll hear bass anglers talking about crawfish you’d think they would be the main forage for bass all year long. In reality, the only time fish are keying in on this tiny freshwater lobsters is during the Spring. That’s why having a wide array of colors, sizes and stages of crawfish is smart when filling your flybox this time of year.
The best part of fishing crawfish patterns is watching the eat. Like fishing for bonefish or striped bass on the flats, you can cruise the shallows of your local lake or pond casting crawfish patterns to smallmouth bass and watch them chase down their prey all day long. The only difference is you can actually see these bass coming. Usually.
4) Topwater Popper
You can’t always fish a popper during the Spring like you can while you’re wearing board shorts and drinking a cold one on those long Summer afternoons, but you can every once in a while. Whenever there is a string of warm, sunny weather, I’ll tie on a topwater popper and see if any bass are happy enough to want to come out and play. If I see any interest at all, that’s all I’ll throw for the rest of the day.
The trick to actually catching fish on a popper fly instead of just getting failed swipes and blowups without a hook up is patience. Instead of setting the hook as soon as you see the fish strike, wait an extra second until you feel the weight of the fish on your line. Also, sometimes bass just swipe at the fly trying to stun their prey. If a fish swipes, but doesn’t take it, pause the bait and wait for them to come back. Chances are they will.
5) Topwater Frog
Just like the topwater popper, a frog doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s probably the most exciting way to fish this time of year. The Spring is growing season and the lily pads in your local fishery are going to start filling in the shallows and coves in full force any day now. As the pads and stalks rise, so do your chances of catching a bass on a topwater frog.
Look for ambush points in the field of lily pads. Anything like points, edges, or empty pockets where bass can hide underneath and wait for something to cross above is where they’re most likely to be sitting. Give plenty of action on the retrieve to make the fly look like it’s swimming, but don’t forget to add in lots of pauses. Even long, 30-second pauses can be effective at fooling a big Spring bass into exploding onto your frog fly.
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