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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Essay: Chrome, Plastic and the Big Empty

When the alarm clock rudely lives up to its name, I can think of ample reason to groan, roll over, and drift back into dreamland. 

Not the least of which is the prospect of spending a goodly portion of my day perched upon – or cramped upon as my aching back is bound to proclaim – a 12-foot piece of rotomolded plastic being tossed about on a wind-swept inland sea in North Texas known as Lake Texoma. 

Ignoring an assortment of bodily protests, I will myself out of bed and move towards the day’s objective: the catching of sweetwater chrome, striped bass on the fly.  

Chrome, both from a Chrome Clouser fly and a kayak caught striped bass, both have a way of restoring the angler's soul.

 

If pursuing a pelagic fish species by way of a sit-on-top sea kayak and a fly rod seems a bit unconventional, I suppose it is. 

But then again, when it comes to outdoor pursuits, I’ve rarely been called conventional. 

The challenge is the thing, the central aspect that brings to me the allure of fly fishing, bowhunting, and kayak fishing. In short, the more difficult the outdoor pursuit is, the more sweet the rare reward when it comes. 

Today, however, what I am seeking isn’t just the chance to hear my Orvis fly reel sing as a well-shouldered striper peels line out into the deep. 

Thanks to the uncertainty of these times and a run of misfortune, I’m hoping to lose myself – figuratively, not literally – upon the “Big Empty” expanse of the 89,000-acre reservoir that separates Oklahoma from Texas just miles from my back door. 

A day of little if any problem solving, a dearth of contemplative thinking, and a minimal amount of cerebral energy spent is the goal. 

Instead, what I come to the lake actively seeking is a day in which to lose myself in the grand wash of physical senses as I see what the Creator’s daily canvas has to offer in the way of restoring my soul. 

And of course, to catch a striped bass or two in the process. 

If there is a fish made for the fly-rodder’s non-trout game, then it must be the striped bass, a sleek and muscular predator that prowls relentlessly in pursuit of its next meal. 

On Lake Texoma, that is shad, either threadfins or the larger gizzards, whichever species happens to be the most handy to these rockbass at the time. 

Like my guide pal Steve Hollensed says, “On Texoma, it’s always a shad, shad story.” 

While reservoir stripers in the southern Great Plains may in fact be distant cousins of their wild northeastern kin, the linesiders in my home water have made themselves quite comfortable in these local environs that mimic the current filled, wind tossed, and rocky waters of New England brine.     

With similar internal metabolic engines that rarely stop churning, the book on Texoma striper fishing success has routinely been to chase them over the vast acreage with a big boat powered by a large engine consuming many gallons of petrol. And when the on-board electronics show stripers below, toss over a live shad speared on a 2/0 hook and hang on. 

My 2/0 Chrome Clouser (a silvery Krystal Flash filled version of Bob Clouser’s original fly, tied up this way by a Texas Hill Country fly-rodder named Casey Smartt) will have to do. 

And so it does as I trail the fly behind my Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 and bear down on the paddle for a distant point. 

As sudden as a Texas spring storm, a linesider is on. 

Brought quickly to the boat, or my flimsy excuse for one, I unbutton this unexpected fish and admire its sleek form and simple chrome beauty as the warm springtime rays of early morning sun sparkle. 

I then release it to delight another angler on another day. 

Or terrorize a school of shad, whichever comes first. 

As I float bobber like in 60 feet of water, I come to realize that there is a minor point lying immediately in front of me, a blip in the lake’s bottom contour that I was about to speed by, admittedly a relative concept in any craft powered by muscle alone. 

So while a known commodity of past angling success lurks in the distance, I decide to turn my exploratory instincts loose and to see what this nearby structure might hold. 

It holds plenty of striped bass and white bass it turns out, both species reacting to the underwater topography that is allowing a southerly breeze to push the phytoplankton/shad/striped bass food chain into motion. 

Soon, I’m attached to another striper, a lean and mean 20-incher that puts a serious bend in my Temple Fork eight-weight fly rod. Brought to the boat and released, another linesider, and then another, and then another are all caught by the metallic looking creation tied at the end of my 15-lb. leader. 

In the process – and without realizing it –  the frantic pace that I hit the water with earlier is down-shifting into a lower gear as I adjust to the rhythm of the wind, the waves, and the fish. I do my best to intersect with that rhythm by the methodical casting of my fly line. 

After a period of steady action, I commit an angler’s unpardonable sin – leaving fish that are willfully biting – to continue my quest elsewhere. 

After a fairly short paddle, I reach a cove that looks deliciously inviting to the unrepentant black bass fisherman’s soul that lies within me…largemouths, smallmouths, and spotted bass beware.  

Problem is, as tempting as the cove is, I can’t find a single piscatorial critter at home among the rocks, the ledges, and the stick-ups. 

So I move on, pausing at another minor point jutting out from the rocky shoreline. 

This point, however, is a bit more shielded from the wind and as a result, I can only find a couple of stripers intent on the Morone saxatilis version of a “Happy Meal.” 

After another session of pulling hard on the paddle, I arrive at my intended destination. By now, however, I’m nearly a couple of hours into my day and it remains to be seen if the fish I expected to find are actually there or not. 

On Texoma, active schools of striped bass can cover a dozen or more miles a day in their never-ending quest for protein-rich sustenance. 

I’m banking on the fact that not all game fish in this vast reservoir possess such a nomadic spirit. 

Some stripers, according to my guide buddy Mark MacNamara, find “shad-trap” structure to their liking and more or less set up shop, at least as much as a wild striped bass is prone to do. 

A couple of casts across this point yield nothing and I begin to fret. 

But then the Rio sinking line is greeted by a sharp jolt and a strip-set strike later I am fast to the best fish of the day. 

Like his earlier pals – or is it her pals? –  this fish reacts to the sting of the hook with an initial bull-dogging run. 

But unlike the previous fish, this fish has plenty of muscle and continues to sound for the deepest contours of the lake bed below me. I grunt, lean hard into the fish, and allow it to get onto the reel where the see-saw battle slowly turns towards my favor. 

Finally, I catch a glimpse of the fish and its 24-inch frame in the water, H2O that has been made disturbingly clearer in recent months after the undesired arrival of aquatic filtering zebra mussels. 

But any concerns about the long-term effects of these invasive exotics on Texoma’s sizable and shad-driven striped bass population are momentary at best as I finally bring the quarry to hand. 

As I hoist this fine fish up for a photo and an admiring glance, a smile creases my face. 

A smile made possible by the gleam of chrome, a piece of space-age plastic, and the big emptiness of my home water. 

Back in its liquid home and revived, the fish turns and swims for the depths of the point below. 

Meanwhile, I pause and instinctively check my fly and leader…and unknowingly smile once again. 

And not because of the epic day of fly rod action that will continue to unfold around me over the next several hours. 

Instead, that outward sign of inward peace arrives on my face thanks to the realized and simple joy of being alive and blessed by God with another day upon this spinning rock. 

As that fills my soul, I gather the fly line into my hand. 

And I cast again.

 

Super Striper from Maryland?

Right off the bat, I’ve got to admit that I don’t know if this fish is fly caught or not. 

Although the unidentified angler in the photo is wearing Simms Fishing duds, the Montana-based maker of some of the world’s best fly fishing gear. 

But what I do know about this photo is this…this is one monster of a striped bass from the East Coast!  

Can anybody say genuine pig?   

Is it live...or is it Photoshopped? The Internet is alive with angling chatter about this monster striped bass reportedly caught and released in Maryland.

 

According to the Noreast.com saltwater fishing forum, this striper was caught and released earlier this month in Maryland.  

This big oinker’s weight was reportedly estimated in the 50s by the angler and his crew.  

Internet chatter speculates the fish could be even larger, perhaps in the  60s or even the 70s.  

I have to agree – I think this is a seriously big striped bass that could easily have weighed more than double nickels.  

In fact, so ridiculously big looking is this piscatorial critter that some cyber-talk has opined that this pic was “creatively edited” in Photoshop.  

After all, no striper could be that big, right?  

Well, after researching existing saltwater and freshwater striped bass records and looking at a few photos, I’m not so sure.  

In fact, I think this striper caught by this unnamed chap is world-class.  

And maybe then some.  

Why is that?  

Well, first up is “Exhibit A,” the official IGFA (International Game Fish Association) all-tackle world record saltwater striped bass, a ridiculously proportioned fish in its own right.  

Caught on the Vermont Ave. Jetty in Atlantic City, NJ on Sept. 21, 1982, Al McReynolds’ mega bass officially weighed 78-pounds, 8-ounces.  

According to StriperSurf.com, that leviathan is said to have measured 53 inches in length, 34 1/2 inches in girth, and was estimated by biologists to have been born in 1946, putting the fish’s age at approximately 36 years of age.   

Al McReynolds landed this 78-pound, 8-ounce world record striped bass in Atlantic City, New Jersey in September 1982.

 

Incidentally, McReynolds world record was reportedly battled for 1 hour and 40 minutes. The angler landed the fish on a five and a half-inch long Rebel black-backed silver minnow plug tied onto 20-pound premium pink Ande monofilament line.  

While that record has officially stood for nearly three decades now, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a run or two at the throne.  

According to info I found on the ArkansasStripers.com Web site, a mammoth striper that would have shattered the McReynolds’ WR catch was “caught” in Maryland in the mid-1990s.  

Why didn’t it topple the existing IGFA mark?  

Read for yourself: “It did not become the new IGFA record because it was caught in a net by the Maryland DNR during a research project around 1995. The striped bass was a massive 92 pounds and hangs on the wall of DNR in Annapolis, MD.”  

Staying in the salt, how about fly rod records for stripers?  

Beryl E. Bliss owns the all-tippet class record with a 64-pound, 8-ounce striped bass caught in late July 1973. Incidentally, that huge fish – pulled from Oregon’s Smith River – was caught on a 12-pound class tippet!  

Then there is a much more recent IGFA 20-pound tippet class world record striper pulled from Virginia brine late last year on a 10-weight fly rod.  

That fish – caught on a 3/0 blue/black Clouser minnow on Dec. 17, 2009 by Norfolk, VA angler Richie Keatley – was landed around piers of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  

Keatley’s early Christmas present fish weighed 51-pounds, 5-ounces, measured 48-inches in length, and 29-inches in girth according to StripersOnline.com.  

Richie Keatley got an early Christmas present in Dec. 2009 when he caught this IGFA 20-pound tippet fly rod world record striper in the Chesapeake Bay.

 

But salty stripers aren’t the only ginormous examples of Morone saxatilis.   

Take the IGFA world record striped bass pulled from landlocked freshwater.  

That fish was caught by Hank Ferguson in O’Neill Forebay, San Luis CA on May 7, 1992 with a weight of 67-pounds, 8-ounces.  

As tremendous as Ferguson’s catch was, it barely outclasses the number two all-time sweetwater striper, a 66-pound fish also pulled from O’Neill Forebay in June 1988 by Theodore H. Furnish. 

And those two giant landlocked stripers are just the ones that are officially on the books, mind you. 

Another O’Neill Forebay giant was reportedly landed in August 2008 when Frank Ualat hooked a fish that weighed 70.6-pounds on unofficial scales

As big as that is, the FishSniffer.com Web site indicates that this unofficial world record freshwater striped bass – which is said to have measured 52 1/2 inches in length – apparently weighed 73-pounds the night before! 

(Note: FYI, O’Neill Forebay is a 2,250-acre freshwater reservoir in Merced County and is a part of the California Aqueduct System).  

But Cali is far from the only place to find big sweetwater stripers. 

Excuse the Lone Star State bravado, but my home state of Texas is a premiere striped bass destination for freshwater anglers too. 

For starters, there is the world-renowned Lake Texoma, an 89,000-acre reservoir where gazillions of striped bass are annually produced by way of a natural spawn (no significant numbers of stripers have been stocked in the two-state reservoir since 1974) that occurs courtesy of the lengthy Red River and Washita River watersheds that feed the lake.  

While I’ve got to admit that Texoma is my home water, in my humble opinion, there is simply no better freshwater venue in America to pull ample numbers of solid-sized striped bass from, fish that are often in the five to 15-pound class.  

Texoma aside, there are also some real Texas-sized linesiders in the vast state including the benchmark 53-pound striper pulled from the Brazos River in May 1999 by Ron Venerable. That fish tops the state’s “Top 50 Striped Bass” list, an impressive collection that takes a striper weighing 31-pounds, 5-ounces or more to even get on the board.  

Speaking of Texas, the ArkansasStripers.com Web site  mentioned above reports that a Lone Star State angler may have caught – and released – the biggest striped bass ever pulled out of any body of water.  

Fresh or salt.  

And that is apparently no 10-gallon tall tale either.  

In October of 2005, Weatherford, TX angler Joe Mann caught the behemoth linesider near Point 7 on Lake Ouachita, a beautifully clear and deep striped bass honey-hole near Hot Springs, AR.  

Fishing in a FLW-BFL Regional Championship bass tourney, the Web site reports that the angler was using a Zoom Trick Worm on a 1/0 Gamakatsu hook tied to 12-pound Maxima line.  

Mann, who was not fishing in his boat, apparently did not want to impede on the boat owner’s tournament time so he opted not to take the fish in to be officially weighed.   

When he later discovered exactly what it was that he had turned loose, it was a decision that he would ruefully regret.  

Mann did measure the big fish however – with four witnesses and another boat watching – and then weighed it on a 50-pound scale that was in the boat.  

What happened when the fish was weighed?  

 “(It) broke the scale in two, and fell to the deck,” says ArkansasStripers.com  

With a length of 53 1/2 inches and a girth of 37 1/4 inches, later formula estimates by Arkansas Game & Fish Commission biologists indicate that the fish could have weighed between 70 and 90 pounds!  

For what it’s worth, there’ s ample reason to believe such a tale. 

That’s because Arkansas is without question a premiere sweetwater striped bass state in its own right. 

So much so that the land of the Razorbacks boasts its own behemoth striped bass state record, a 64-pound, 8-ounce linesider pulled from the White River below Beaver Lake on April 28, 2000 by Jeff Fletcher. That fish is a top-five all-time striper among freshwater catches according to the IGFA record book. 

So back to the Maryland striped bass caught earlier this month that spawned all of this linesider talk in this column. 

Was it a real world-class fish?  

Or a software induced striped bass silicone hoax?  

You be the judge.  

Me? I’m going to grab the fly rod and go striper fishing.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Thunder, Lightning and the Wet Bandit

In East Texas, this week's thunder, lightning, and the "Wet Bandit" articulated fly continue to produce big fly rod bass.

 Word from Lake Fork today is that the season’s best big bass fly fishing action is on.  

And so is the spring severe storm season.  

As tornado watches this afternoon caused East Texans to glance nervously at the region’s stormy skies, guide Rob Woodruff and his client Graham Sones hoped to take advantage of the falling barometer to hook a giant bass.  

A sudden cloud-burst interrupted those plans, forcing guide and guided to duck under a bridge in an effort to keep from getting speared by a lighting bolt.  

A half-hour later, with the stormy weather having passed safely by, the duo was back at it trying to conjure up a big jolt from a lunker largemouth.  

In one electrifying smash-mouth moment, mission accomplished.  

A nine-pound, four-ounce largemouth bass caught on the fly. 

“(This was the) biggest bass landed in my boat in 2010,” Woodruff said. “It was caught on the (Danny) Soltau Wet Bandit fly.” 

The client was obviously thrilled with a near double-digit fish on Texas’ best lunker bass water.  

And the guide was equally thrilled as warm weather, near perfect water conditions, a later than normal spawn, and an approaching full moon appear to all be coming together for a run of epic warmwater fishing on the fly.  

” Things are finally getting rolling at Lake Fork,” Woodruff said. “The next couple of weeks should be great.”  

After hearing this report, three thoughts strike me.  

First, while most anglers despise the passage of a spring front, the truth is that some of the spring’s best fishing action will often be on the pre-frontal side of things.  

When the barometer falls, the opportunity to catch bass rises.  

One of my best days ever came in such a scenario as a powerful spring front approached.  

As the southerly breeze fueled the atmosphere with juicy Gulf of Mexico air, the day’s intermittent rain showers and clammy temperatures made for some uncomfortable conditions. 

But the lightning paced big bass action more than made up for that. 

Second, I’m becoming a huge believer in tossing articulated flies for big springtime bass.  

I’ve seen first hand this month how well the Danny Solatu “Wet Bandit” fly fishes for shallow water spawners at Lake Fork. 

This salamander like fly seems to infuriate skinny water fish with its wicked motion in the H2O. 

On the trip I chronicled in “Bucketmouths,” I watched this tan and white fly momentarily hook up with an 8-pound bass. 

Later that afternoon, the Bandit struck again for a 5.25 pound bass that was brought to the boat for a quick CPR session. 

This past Sunday, Woodruff’s Louisiana client Randy Street used a Bandit – in inclement weather conditions as a cold front approached, no less – to boat an 8.0 pound largemouth bass of his own at Fork.  

And after today’s stormy action, I’m betting that Mr. Sones is now a big believer in tossing the “Wet Bandit” fly when the thunder rolls.  

Why do articulated flies like the Bandit prove to be so successful in hooking bedding bass? I’m glad you asked – look for a blog column on that topic early next week.  

The third idea that leaps out at me from today’s report is that I’ve got to get to Lake Fork.  

ASAP.  

Pronto.  

Without fail.  

And you need to do the same – beg the boss, plead with the boss, bargain with the boss.  

Do whatever takes to get out of the office and onto this hallowed Lone Star State water body during the upcoming seven to 10 day period with an eight or nine-weight fly rod in your hand.  

Because my prognostication is that the spring’s best run of big bass action is about to unfold at the 27,264-acre East Texas toad factory.  

Call it a good week to be on Lake Fork, perhaps a great week to be there, maybe even an epic week to be there as another wave of late spring spawners moves up shallow on the April 28th full moon cycle.  

Sore back or not, I’m going to be there.  

Slinging “Wet Bandits” and praying for the barometer to be falling on the cusp of another round of Texas spring storms.  

And with a little piscatorial luck, maybe this time next week it will be my double-digit fly bass that you’ll be reading about.  

I can only hope so.

 

Beginnings – Part 1, Equipment

After reading a query on how to properly gear up for fly fishing this week on Texas Fishing Forum.com, the thought occurred that a blog post like this one was in order.

If getting involved in this great pastime has ever intrigued you, then please note that getting off to a solid start in fly fishing begins with good equipment.

In this particular endeavor, that means a serviceable fly rod; a fly reel loaded up with a matching fly line and backing; leaders (monofilament line attached to the business end of a fly line), tippet material (extra monofilament line), and of course, flies to cast to the fish that you want to pursue. 

A properly balanced fly rod, fly reel, and fly line can be a joy to cast and fish with.

Today, very good quality fly rods and reels can be purchased for reasonable prices from such manufacturers as Temple Fork, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Echo, Gander Mountain, Redington, Ross, Orvis, Sage, Scott, and St. Croix among others. 

For the record, my own personal favorites are the Orvis Helios fly rod line – if money is no object – and the Temple Fork TiCr-X fly rod line if you are on a more modest budget like I am. 

Because fly fishing is an angling sport where the weight of the line actually casts the fly rather than vice versa, purchasing a fly rod, a fly reel, and a fly line that matches up and is appropriate for the type of fish you will pursue is important.

In other words, you don’t want to buy a tarpon rod to catch bluegills with.

Nor do you want to buy a bluegill fly rod equipped with a tarpon sized reel and fly line.

For most trout, river smallmouth bass, and lake or farm-pond panfish, I’d suggest that you start off with a four, five, or six-weight fly rod.

For largemouth bass, most striped bass, and most redfish, I’d suggest an eight-weight fly rod, although a seven-weight can work for smaller fish of these species.

For bigger saltwater species like the bull redfish that cruise inshore flats along the central Gulf Coast, double-digit stripers in the Northeast, or tarpon in the Florida Keys, a big fly rod ranging from a nine-weight to a 12-weight will often be necessary depending on the place and the species.

As for reels, the truth is that most fly reels that are designed for trout fishing or bass fishing are simply there to hold the fly line, not to fight the fish.

While I generally recommend buying as much quality as your budget will allow, less expensive fly reels can work for trout and bass anglers.

But when it comes to hard-hitting, hard charging freshwater or saltwater species, a high quality reel with a superb drag system and plenty of backing is sometimes a bit more of a necessity than it is a luxury.

So, does all of this seem as clear as mud?

Unless you’ve hung around a fly shop or two in your time, probably so.

So perhaps the best advice I can give concerning fly rods and reels — not to mention fly lines, leaders, and flies — is to do just that.

Visit with the fly fishing experts at a local fly shop, that is.

They can help you assemble a well-balanced outfit to make your start in fly fishing a fun and successful one.

And if that occurs, the odds are it will also be the start of something you’ll enjoy for the rest of your angling life.

 

The Best Big Bass Tip I Know…

Suffering from a bit of writer’s block today, not to mention my still too sore to fish back, I went looking for something to write about.

And I found it, sifting through the long forgotten recesses of my old e-mail files.

That’s where I came across a message from my friend Rob Woodruff after a trip he had guided on Lake Fork three April’s ago.

Now I must confess that I don’t know the client’s name nor do I mean him or her any disrespect with this post.

But if I understand correctly, after a tiring day on the water, the exchange in the boat between the guide and the guided went a little something like this.

“Rob, you fish for a little while, I need to rest my arm.”

With a nervous glance – and being fully aware of what could happen – Woodruff reluctantly complied.

One cast…nothing.

Two casts…still nothing.

Three casts…and a 9-pound, 12-ounce bruiser of a largemouth bass on the fly.

Which leads to the best big bass fly fishing tip that I know of.

And that is simply this: keep your fly in the water.

At all costs.

At all times.

Because you never know…you might only be three casts from the lunker of a lifetime.

Want to catch a bruiser bass like this? Then keep your fly in the water at all costs!

 

 

17 Pounds of Misery…

A load of pecan wood.

And a back that went out with the trash.

Thanks to that combination – care to supersize it mister? – that’s why I spent the weekend sucking down pain pills and lying in bed groaning like a man older than my three kids think that I already am.

Right in the heart of the Texas big bass spawn, mind you.

And right as the bluebonnets reach their glorious spring zenith on the Lone Star landscape. 

Laid up in the glory of a Texas spring...not a good time to be a fly fisher.

Not to mention just as the Lake Texoma striped bass begin to finally behave like they are supposed to.

So it was right on cue yesterday p.m. when word came from Rob, my fly guide bud from Lake Fork, that less than 15 minutes into a miserable weather day (often the best days to catch a big bass) client Randy Street had landed an 8.0 largemouth on a (Daniel) Solatu’s Wet Bandit.

Got to go Roberto, the back is calling you know.

This morning, I awoke to a back that seemed to be a kinder, gentler shade of unbearable.

Until the phone rang.

“Lynn, this is Steve,” confirming the wonder of Caller ID technology.

Instinctively, I reach for the Tylenol, knowing that this wasn’t a “How are you doing?” call from Steve Hollensed, owner and operator of the Lake Texoma based “Fly Water Angling Adventures.”

“Umm, I hate to ask this, but, umm, how is your back?” he queried as sound of a light spring breeze whispered in the background.

“Still sending me hare kari messages,” I moaned.

“Man, I hate to hear that. I was calling to see if you wanted to go fishing.”

Steady Burkhead, steady – here it comes.

“The stripers are going nuts out here,” he continued. “They are up on the bank and feeding like crazy. My third cast produced a 9.0 pounder – weighed her on the Boga.

“Well, I hope your back gets better. Just thought I’d call and see.

“Like I said, they are going crazy out here.”

Sure thing Stevo, just like I am back here.

Going crazy that is.

With a 17-pound gorilla on my back.

 

Bucketmouths

Grasping a pot-bellied largemouth by the maw, I queried out loud to anyone who would listen.

“Why wouldn’t anyone want to do this?”

Catch a bass on the fly, that is.

Especially at Lake Fork, the best little bass fishing hole in Texas. 

Orvis fly guide Rob Woodruff shows that Lake Fork bucketmouths and fly rods are a match made in East Texas heaven.

Fishing on a windy spring day, a guide’s day off guinea pig outing for my Orvis endorsed pal Rob Woodruff, the two of us were looking to prove wrong a couple of subtle assumptions that most Texans make about bassin’ on the fly.

The first being that such an endeavor is seriously fun…as long as you like catching dinks, that is.

The second being that bass fly rodding is almost always a quaint topwater affair, a method truly viable only at a few select times of the day or a few certain times of the year.

That might be the so-called book on fly fishing for bass, but on this particular day, as we tossed a couple of sub-surface offerings, we were mounting a case that said otherwise.

Not long after our getaway from the easternmost 515 ramp, a three-pound buck bass served as “Exhibit A” as he took exception to the bluegill hued “Rob’s Patassa” fly that I was tossing near shoreline cover.

A hop, a skip, and a jump later, I was admiring a bass in Woodruff’s Xpress bass rig that someone else had admired once before.

How so? The fish had a clear mark in the corner of its jaw indicating that it had been previously caught…and released.

Too valuable a resource to be caught only once, score one for conservation.

After that encouraging start, Woodruff and I ducked in and out of east/west facing coves and creek channels to stay out of the gathering southerly gale that was rolling big white caps on the main lake body.

As I found the rhythm of my Helios eight-weight rod, our conversation drifted to the excitement of the night before when the NCAA basketball tournament capped its run in dramatic fashion.

Suddenly, all thoughts of Butler’s near-miss buzzer beater shot against Duke were gone.

“Oh my gosh Burkhead!,” Woodruff gushed aloud. “That’s a MONSTER bass!”

Sure enough, the nine-pound class fish was a monster, even by Fork’s lofty standards.

For those unaware of Lake Fork’s amazing reputation, allow for a brief history lesson.

Impounded in 1980 when the Sabine River Authority of Texas dammed its namesake stream, Fork was a lake built from the ground up for trophy largemouth bass.

Unlike other reservoirs constructed in Texas during the same era, the 27,264-acre water body in Hopkins, Rains, and Woods counties wasn’t scoured clean of its East Texas timber.

Instead, with the exception of boating lanes cut out of the forest, virtually every precious bass-attracting stick was left in place in the reservoir.

In addition, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department pre-stocked ponds and small lakes in the future lake bed by removing undesirable fish and replacing them with Florida-strain largemouth bass adults and fingerlings.

By doing so, by the time Fork’s timber choked waters began to gather in earnest, the lake was already well down the road to producing Texas-sized bucketmouth bass.

Ask Mark Stevenson, a Dallas based fishing guide who set the Lone Star State’s bass fishing world on fire on Nov. 26, 1986 when he pulled a new state record largemouth bass from Lake Fork, a fish that tipped the scales at 17.67 pounds.

The first bass to ever be entered into the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s innovative ShareLunker program (which accepts bass weighing 13-pounds or better for selective breeding efforts and to promote catch-and-release of big fish), Stevenson’s catch started a veritable big bass revolution.

Dubbed Ethel, the big momma largemouth went on to became a mainstay attraction at the Springfield, Mo. Bass Pro Shops location for many years until her death in August 1994

In both life and death Ethel has been the cornerstone of modern Texas bass fishing, followed to date by 500 additional ShareLunkers ranging in size from the program’s entry point of 13.00 pounds all the way up to Barry St. Clair’s current state record mark of 18.18 pounds.

While 60 other public water bodies and more than a dozen private lakes have produced ShareLunkers since Ethel’s historic catch, her home waters have never wavered in occupation of the state’s big bass throne.

As of this writing, thanks to its combination of perfect big bass habitat, superb genetics, and strict angling regulations, Lake Fork has claimed a staggering 246 of those 501 ShareLunker entries including St. Clair’s current benchmark bass.

And that’s not to even mention the legions of trophy bass ranging from eight to 12 pounds that are pulled from Fork’s hallowed waters every month of every year.

Woodruff and his clients have landed a number of those trophy largemouths down through the years including the guide’s personal best bass, a behemoth approaching nearly a dozen pounds.

Unfortunately, on this particular morning in question, try as we might, neither the Quitman-based guide with his white-hued salamander imitating fly nor yours truly with my bluegill imitator could entice the nine-pound bass in front of us to join that list.

A short while later, our failed efforts were forgotten when Woodruff abruptly drove the hook home as a solid eight-pound largemouth pounced on his offering.

“That’s a big fish!,” he grunted as he leaned hard into the eight-weight.

Despite a brief tail-walking show, we never got to see exactly how big the bass might have been on the Boga Grip since the sowbelly became unbuttoned en route to her CPR session – caught, photographed, and released.

No matter, on Lake Fork, there’s always another big bass opportunity lying somewhere down the bank.

A short while later, as the ripples from Woodruff’s deftly placed weight-forward “Bass Wonderline” gently disappeared, another largemouth proved that point.

When the fly met sudden resistance  Woodruff reared back into the fish, this time a bucketmouth that put on a fine show all the way to the boat where the Boga revealed her weight at a solid 5.25 pounds.

So much for dinks on the fly.

Stepping back from our quest only long enough to put away a couple of sandwiches and diet soft drinks, I peppered Woodruff with a series of questions concerning big bass on the fly including the late spring and early summer opportunity that exists to catch Fork’s post-spawn bruisers on full sinking lines.

But that’s another story for another time.

Because this day’s tale of bucketmouths on the fly wasn’t quite complete.

After wolfing down the last of the cola, a short boat ride put us into one of Woodruff’s big bass honey holes.

After working our way down a couple of shorelines, the guide pointed out a pair of sizable largemouths hovering in the shallow water.

“See that bass right there? She’ll go at least five pounds,” Woodruff said. “See if you can lay that fly in there.”

My first attempt was just off the mark.

But my second attempt was in the wheelhouse as the hefty female reacted angrily and swiped at the fly.

“She’s on it! Set! Set! Set!” Woodruff instructed.

Unfortunately, I pulled the trigger a second too late. As I tried to come tight to the fish, she had already spit the fly.

“Ok, she’s agitated, so lay that fly in there again,” Woodruff told me. “Not a bad shot Burkhead, now get ready. She’s looking at it…”

Burned once, this time I didn’t wait to feel the weight of the fish against the fly.

When I saw the sow move on the fly, I strip set and came tight to an angry bass.

“She’s on – you got her!” Woodruff shouted, drawing attention from every nearby metal-flaked bass boat.

With an audience of unsuccessful baitcasting anglers looking on in contempt, Woodruff’s alarm raised the stakes in the bay that we were fishing: could “Fly Boy” seal the deal and bring home the bucketmouth goods?

A couple of tailwalking jumps later, I was able to do just that as I eased the glowering largemouth to the boat where Woodruff scooped her up.

Moments later, after some CPR action, the Boga pronounced her weight at a solid 5.00 pounds.

No, not a new state record. And no, not another ShareLunker entry.

But as the big gal splashed her huffy goodbye a moment later, the grin on my face and on Woodruff’s gave simple credence to the point of our endeavors on Lake Fork that day.

A couple of pot-bellied five-pounders were proof positive that fly rods and bucketmouth bass are made for each other.

Especially on the best little bass fishing hole in Texas.