“I cast a big Near Enough deer hair froggie to the edge of a five-foot-wide pothole of open water, let it sit there for two, three, maybe four minutes and then gave it a twitch. The fly went down in a rise that looked like a toilet flushing. That’s what bass fishers say. It’s not the prettiest analogy in angling, but, I’m sorry, that’s exactly what it looks like.” — John Gierach, “Texas” essay in “Dances with Trout”
“There is just something terribly satisfying about watching the chug-chug of a bass popper get violently interrupted by a falling bowling ball.” — Louis Cahill, “The In-Law’s Bass Pond” essay on GinkandGasoline.com
What is the take of a bass hitting a topwater popper like?
Porcelain thrones and bowling balls.
As in the former flushing and the latter falling from the sky.
This morning, yak fly fishing on one of my local bass waters, I got to experience both methods of take.
Early on, fishing a shad colored Bob’s Banger over a submerged laydown that fell off the end of a main-lake point, the fly was there one minute before totally vanishing the next.
With a commotion and sound that could only be compared to…a toilet flushing.
By a big bass.
I’m sad to say that I was so surprised by the sudden turmoil in the water and unexpected absence of my fly that I failed to get a proper hook set.
Which was more than enough for a bass that was probably four to five-pounds or better to dive into the flooded jungle, gain some leverage, and throw the hook.
I won’t lie – it took a while for my jangled nerves to settle down after that furious swing and a miss. It was a big fish, the kind that rattles you for a spell.
But a half-hour later, I had settled down as I plied the shaded waters of a likely looking area – shallow water, a little vegetation, some timber, and a deep-water escape route nearby.
This time, I was more than ready when a bowling ball fell from the heavens and smacked the smithereens out of the black-and-gold popper that I was now tossing.
With a good solid hook-set, I was quickly buttoned-up to this bass no matter how much he protested. He jumped once, then twice, then tried to make my kayak swap ends a couple of times.
All the while as I smiled and remembered yet again why I love playing this grand game of fly fishing for black bass.
The fish showed plenty of courage – especially for one only pushing the scales to just under the three-pound mark – as I battled him to the ‘yaks side.
Once there, I admired him, slipped the hook from his jaw, and then let him slide away from my grip back into the dark oily water surrounding this shady spot.
Not a bad morning of popper fishing.
Complete with flushing toilets and bowling balls falling from the skies.
Which brings to mind a few other memorable takes of bass determined to turn my popper into their next Happy Meal.
Years ago, while fishing Lake Fork with my friend Rob Woodruff, the Orvis endorsed guide who knows the East Texas giant factory like the back of his hand, I tossed a frog-hued popper towards a wall of vegetation standing in three feet of water.
There was a soft plop as the fly found its mark. A brief pause to let the rings ripple away. And then a soft tug on the fly line.
That was followed by a ferocious splash as a solid four-pound bass decided it was breakfast time in the early morning gloom of a cloudy and humid late spring day.
There was a brief but intense fight during which the deep green bass vaulted skyward a couple of times and thrashed around as it desperately tried to throw the #1 hook on the Orvis bug.
On its second leap into the air, the bass flung its head in the direction of Rob’s Skeeter bass rig and did just that before returning to Fork’s timber-choked depths.
Noticing a pattern here? Wait – it gets worse.
A couple of springs ago, I was kayak fishing on Fork as the evening sun made its way towards the western horizon. I had enjoyed a fair day of bass fishing but had never made contact with the big bruiser I was hoping to hook-up with.
That changed suddenly as I threw a big white popper near some flooded timber next to a small drop-off in the bottom contour. One minute the fly was there, the next minute it was gone as the darkening water swirled around viciously.
I’d like to tell you that I landed this big bass, one that I estimated at eight-pounds or better. Unfortunately, I did not.
But at least I had a good two-minutes of hand-to-fin combat as the big bass pulled this way and that, tried to jump into the air despite its jumbo girth, gave me a pretty good kayak sleigh-ride in the process, and put a deep-bend into my eight-weight.
Just before I reached for my net to land the fish, the bass dove again and the line suddenly went limp as my popper came unbuttoned.
Leaving me to sit there in a trance-like state for several minutes as I soaked in one of the bigger disappointments I’ve had in warmwater fly fishing.
Notice I said one of the bigger disappointments I’ve had.
Because I’m not sure anything will ever top the close-encounter I had with a bass dubbed “Orca,” a big bucketmouth that came calling several years ago while I was fishing on Glass Lake in deep East Texas with Rob Woodruff.
We had already enjoyed a memorable day landing several good bass between us, most on topwater poppers. By mid-afternoon, I was feeling smug as we continued to work poppers along the hard edge of a weed-line.
So I was a bit unprepared for what happened next as I pulled the popper from the water, let it sail behind me on the backcast, and then propelled it forward as the fly line completed its unfurling journey.
In the exact millisecond that the fly touched down upon the water, a huge geyser of erupted to its side as a huge bass leapt out of the water.
Like a Discovery Channel shot of a killer whale arching above the H2O, “Orca the Bass” came up out of the water, turned hard to its right as it sailed up-and-over the popper, and then turned quickly downward as it sledge-hammered its way home to pile-drive the popper well below the lake’s surface.
Remember the old antique Heddon Lures sign of a bass doing exactly the same thing?
Well, as Woodruff looked on in amusement, I got to see the fly fishing equivalent of that tin advertisement.
After the initial shock of that explosive take wore off, I tried a half-second later to set the hook with bug-eyed wonderment. And for the briefest period of time – 10 seconds or less – I actually had the bass on.
Before the line suddenly went limp, leaving me with my jaw gaping wide-open once again.
Notice a pattern here?
I guess I’ll just call it field research as I continue to try to figure out which topwater take I like better.
The porcelain throne flushing.
Or the bowling ball suddenly dropping out of the sky.
I’ve had plenty of practice over the years as I continue my obsession with catching bass on flies. There have been plenty of catches. And more than enough spectacular failures.
So it it’s all the same to you, please excuse me from this space.
Because I think I’ll go back out in the morning and see if I can figure this whole thing out once and for all.
If you hear a big early morning yell from Texas, it will probably be me.