Ramblings of a Catskill fly fisher

Bass on the fly

By TONY BONAVIST
Posted 8/11/21

When I was in high school, my friend Tony and his father had a routine when it came to outdoor sports. Fortunately, they included me in that routine. When trout season opened, we fished for trout …

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Ramblings of a Catskill fly fisher

Bass on the fly

Posted

When I was in high school, my friend Tony and his father had a routine when it came to outdoor sports. Fortunately, they included me in that routine. When trout season opened, we fished for trout until it got too warm, then we went bass fishing.

Back in those days, bass season began on July 1. We fished for bass well into the fall, using live bait and a variety of lures, depending on what worked.

At that time, we were fortunate in that there was a lot of ponded water in our area. There were several New York City reservoirs, and a number of ponds and lakes which we had access to, and that had good populations of bass. One lake that we fished almost exclusively was owned by the Swope family. It was a shallow lake, with lots of lily pads. There were wooden boats that rented for about a dollar an hour. When we first began to fish there, it was strictly live bait. When we got older, a variety of lures were added to our tackle boxes. At first at dusk we used spinning rods to cast jitterbugs and hula poppers to the lily pads where the bass lurked. As we got older and got into fly fishing, we started to use large streamer flies, small poppers, and deer-hair bugs. I have not fly-fished for bass since those early days at  Swope’s, having dedicated my fishing to pursuing trout with the fly rod. And I miss it!

As the summer doldrums begin, and insect hatches diminish, fly fishing for trout will become more and more difficult. So for those anglers that wish to pursue a different, but still rewarding, even exciting, fly fishing experience, bass fishing could be an interesting diversion. There are several lakes and ponds in the western Catskills that have good populations of bass. And of course, there are the four large New York City Department of Environmental Protection reservoirs: Cannonsville, Pepacton, Neversink and Rondout. They all have excellent populations of smallmouth bass with some largemouths. All of these impoundments are steep-sided, there are no lily pads, and there is little room for back casts. So a boat is essential.

For those anglers that have boat or kayak access to the reservoirs, casting toward shore early in the morning and at dusk can be very productive.

For the dedicated waders, the East Branch of the Delaware, where it runs into the Pepacton Reservoir, has excellent smallmouth bass fishing in late summer and early fall when the reservoir is full, as it is this year. Poppers and black wooly buggers work well.

In addition the mainstream Delaware, from Callicoon on downstream, has a good population of smallmouths. And I’m guessing the Susquehanna River does too.

The best way to fish for bass with a fly rod is from a boat. Early morning and late evening are best. That’s when bass move from deep water inshore to feed. Fly fishing for bass is usually a two person operation, with one person rowing while the other casts from off stern. If there are lily pads, it’s a good idea to stay about thirty feet away from the edge and quietly row and drift along, while the angler casts toward the “pads.” Since kayaks are widely used these days, fishing from one of those should work very well.

Unlike trout fishing, bass fishing requires stout tackle. Not because of the size of the fish, but because of the wind resistance of the flies and poppers that are used. Depending on the size of the lure, at least a 7 weight rod will be required. That combination will provide the power necessary to cast small- to medium-size poppers, streamer flies and bugs. Anglers need to keep in mind that the bigger the lure, the heavier the rod/line combination. So if very large poppers and flies are planned, an 8 weight outfit will be required to cast them. In addition, short, heavy leaders are necessary to help cast the larger lures.

Casting a 7 or 8 weight fly rod is very much different then casting a 4 or 5 weight outfit. So if you decide to fish for bass and move up to an 8 weight rod, make sure to practice with it before going fishing. It’s best to do that slowly, because moving from a light outfit to a more robust rod can create arm and shoulder problems. Anglers who decide to cast large flies and poppers need to keep in mind that due to the size of the lures, a completely different casting stroke is necessary. Large flies and poppers, in particular, are wind resistant and create a lot of drag. So the casting stroke must be slowed considerably with the fly line loop opened, so the rod, line and lure can work in concert. In addition, fly fishers need to keep in mind that it takes a bit of practice to cast large lures competently with a fly rod.

Now, with summer in full swing and too much water in some Catskill rivers, bass fishing can be an exciting alternative. When a bass takes a popper off the surface, the rise form is explosive, very different from a trout taking a number 12 dry fly. And just think, you won’t have to fish with tiny flies and 7X tippet!

Bass fishing with a fly rod is a lot of fun and a lot less technical than fly fishing for trout. There are a lot fewer anglers, too. Check it out, you might be pleasantly surprised!

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