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Examining conversion to flyrodding
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For the past 20 years, I’ve lived about 300 yards from the Stanislaus River as it flows through Ripon.

In fact, I moved there because of the river and the great flyfishing for bass there. It’s about a 5-minute walk from my front door to being knee-deep in the river.

Unfortunately, I don’t spend nearly enough time fishing. Work seems to get in the way. Clearly, I’ve got to readjust my priorities.

I first got hooked on flyfishing as a child by my dad. We fished at least one day out of almost every weekend in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I literally cannot remember when I began flyfishing for trout. In fact, until I was about 12, I pretty much thought that flyfishing was the only way people fished for trout.

I also fished for bass, panfish and catfish but that was with spinning gear or baitcasting gear. It simply never occurred to me that you could fish for bass with a flyrod.

There was no blinding epiphany where a bolt of lightning or a parting of the Heavens revealed flyfishing for bass to me.

Along about the middle 1970s I accidentally stumbled across catching bass with a flyrod. In looking back, my flyrodding for bass was a sort of gradual conversion that probably began on the Merced River downstream from Yosemite Park.

There are some really nice trout in the lower Merced with big pools connected by rocky riffles. In the El Portal stretch of the Merced, the water gets pretty warm in summer and occasionally my fly would get slammed, and my rod almost jerked from my hand, following which a glistening smallmouth bass would leap into the sunlight trying to rid himself of my fly.

I’d yell with delight until I realized that it was just a darned old bass fouling up my trout fishing.

Slowly, it began to dawn on me that maybe these bass weren’t simply a distraction from my beloved trout, but a darned good game fish that deserved more attention. I began to check out bass fishing at the local library and found that some people actually fished for bass with a fly on purpose.

The local flyfishing club was also helpful and had several guys who tied flies specifically designed to catch bass. Bass flies are quite different from the trout flies I was used to tying.  They are almost always larger than trout flies which is good for beginning fly tiers, because big flies are easier to tie than microscopic trout flies.

Many bass flies are tied with deer hair which is hollow and floats extremely well. It takes some practice to learn to spin deer hair around a hook, but once you figure it out your flies become almost unsinkable.

As you progress on your metamorphosis in becoming a bass flyrodder you learn that smallmouth bass prefer moving water at temperatures warmer than those preferred by trout, but cooler than that preferred by largemouth bass.

Smallmouth also prefer rocky bottoms.  By contrast, largemouth prefers warmer, slower moving water and sandy or clay bottoms. In essence, smallmouth are stream dwellers and largemouth are lake dwellers.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but if you fish the rivers on the valley floor, you’ll almost always find the Largemouth in the slower waters and the smallmouth in the swifter runs. Fish rocky or rip-rapped stretches for smallmouth and quieter back eddies with overhead cover for largemouth.

Why fish for bass with a flyrod at all?

Clearly the most productive methods are bait and spinning gear. The answer is excitement. A fly rod, by definition, is a longer rod that bends easily and uses lighter lines.

I heard a presentation the other day by a former bass pro who says he regularly uses 80-pound test line with his bait-casting bass rig. I think that the heaviest fly leader I’ve ever used in my life was 15-pound test.

In flyfishing, the rod does the work of subduing the fish instead of the line. When you have a large bass slam into one of your hand tied bass flies for the first time, it will be you that gets hooked, not the bass.

The strike of a big bass is so savage that it will make your heart race and you’ll think you’ve hooked into a 100-pound ocean dweller that got into your river by mistake.  Believer me, if you hook a 5-pound bass on a flyrod, not only will your heart race, but you’ll be a flyrod bass fisher for ever more.  

Don’t take my word for it, get out there and try flyrodding for bass!

Until next week.

Tight lines