ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

Bobbin’ for bass and browns

Posted 12/27/23

Those of you who read this column know that most of the articles I write are dedicated to fly fishing. However, once in a while, I come across some notes or recall a fishing event that might appeal …

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ramblings of a catskill fly fisher

Bobbin’ for bass and browns


Those of you who read this column know that most of the articles I write are dedicated to fly fishing. However, once in a while, I come across some notes or recall a fishing event that might appeal to anglers who fish with bait in lakes and reservoirs, as well as fly fishers.

So what I’m about to explore with you is a method my friend Tony developed, that is extremely effective for fishing in deep water lakes for brown trout and smallmouth bass. It’s a bit complex, requires some special equipment, and live sawbellies (alewife herring) if you can find them. 

Tony invited me to go along with him on a fishing adventure to Pepacton Reservoir one late August day. Tony kept a very sturdy 14-foot aluminum boat just below the Shaver Town Bridge. We were able to find some sawbellies, which were kept in a cooler with a little ice and O-Tabs, which add oxygen to the water. 

Before I continue detailing the method we used to fish with, let me explain that sawbellies are extremely sensitive and difficult to keep alive in bait buckets, and quickly die, even with small temperature changes. Live shiners are more durable as bait, but not as good. The reason sawbellies work so well is they are the main forage (food) in Pepacton Reservoir.

When we arrived and launched Tony’s boat, he explained the technique we would use to fish with. First, we rowed to the middle of the reservoir. We did not drop anchor, because it was too deep in that location. More importantly, Tony had found it was better to allow the boat to drift when fishing this way. In theory, a breeze allows the bait to cover a significant amount of water and be exposed to more trout and bass. 

Once in position, Tony sent an electronic thermometer over the side of our boat. This instrument had a very long cable, calibrated in feet. It was powered by batteries. As the probe made its way into the depths, Tony explained that once the display revealed a water temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit, he would check the depth—and that’s where we would send our sawbellies in search of bass and trout. 

While we waited for the probe to do its work, I asked Tony, “Why 60 degrees Fahrenheit?” He explained that his research found that was the water temperature that sawbellies preferred. And of course, as trout and bass were fond of these bait fish, they would be found in that zone too. The trick would be to get our bait to that level and keep it there.

This is how the system works: Once we found that 60-degree water was at 35 feet, we slid long, slender bobbers onto our spinning lines. There would be no fly rods today! Then we measured a length of 35 feet off of our reels, where we attached size 8 bait hooks to the monofilament line. I think we used an eight-pound test. The lighter the better, keeping in mind that trout in excess of 10 pounds inhabit Pepacton Reservoir. 

We then added enough spilt shot to get the sawbellies down to the 35-foot level. When all of that was completed, Tony removed a few very small rubber bands from his tackle box and handed me one. Then he said, “In a minute, you will see why these rubber bands are the key to fishing this way.” 

Tony then proceeded to cut his rubber band in half, leaving a piece about two inches long. Next, he tied that piece of rubber band to his spinning line, right above the bobber; pulled the band very tight; and then snipped the ends, leaving about an eighth of an inch on each side. 

He went on to explain that because the ends of the rubber bands were cut so short, the line could still be wound on the reel and cast, albeit delicately. The rubber band acts as a stop, holding the bait at the set depth.

Once we had our tackle set up, we baited the hooks with sawbellies. Tony and I had two spinning rods each. The baited lines were then cast off all four corners of the boat. So we had four baited lines, covering a good amount of water. 

It didn’t take long for one of Tony’s bobbers to disappear. He waited a few seconds before setting the hook. After a short fight, Tony led a nice, fat, smallmouth to net. I attached that fish to a stringer and dropped it over the side, to be dealt with at the end of our fishing. 

As an aside, most fly fishers, myself included, seldom keep trout. However, when we fish for bass and trout with bait, in a reservoir like Pepacton, we take a small number of the fish we catch to eat. Both the trout and bass from these clean, clear lakes are excellent table fare. 

 A few minutes later, my bobber went under, and I added another smallmouth to the stringer. After a short break in the action, Tony hooked and landed a six-pound brown trout.

Of all the ways that there are to fish, bobber fishing with live bait is the only method where I would guarantee results. I’ve caught fish every time I used it! 

The key to fishing this way, is finding a thermometer with a very long cable.

ramblings, catskill, flyfisher, Pepacton Reservoir,


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