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Category Archives: Largemouth Bass

Fly Fishing, Bass, and the Sick Wildebeest

Bassmaster Elite Series pro Kevin VanDam is without a doubt the most successful bass tournament angler of all-time.

If you don’t already know the following, consider these facts about the Kalamazoo, Mich. native: he’s the winner of four Bassmaster Classic titles; the owner of seven B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year titles; the winner of 20 B.A.S.S. events; has 96 B.A.S.S. “Top 10” finishes so far in his career; is owner of one FLW Angler of the Year title; and is a tournament pro with more than $5.6 million in combined career earnings.

When Kevin VanDam talks about how to be a better bass angler, it pays to listen closely and take notes. Even if you are a dyed-in-the-wool fly fisherman.

Put simply, KVD is the undisputed king of modern tournament bass angling.

Big deal you say? Yeah it is.

The man is a bona fide bass catching machine no matter where he fishes, the time of year that he is on the water, or what the conditions are like while he is there.

And believe it or not, KVD can teach a fly fisherman plenty about gaining more hook-ups with black bass.

As long as you’re willing to listen to what he (and other bass fishing pros) have to say and then figure out how to transfer that information to the skill set that you need while you are on the water with a fly rod in your hand.

Take, for instance, these tidbits I gleaned from angling writer Steve Price and the story he authored in the April 2010 issue of “Bassmaster” magazine

During that piece, Price queried KVD about whether or not irregular lure movement can be critical in triggering a bass to strike.

KVD’s response is one that both a lure fisherman and a fly fisherman should take to heart:

Absolutely. Bass are very much keyed to any irregular movements out of their prey, so I either use lures like tubes that have this irregular action built into them, or I add it myself.

“I’m going to jerk it, twitch it, stop it, start it, speed it up, slow it down – all the things I can do that are out of the ordinary. And I do some of them on every cast or flip. When I can combine an irregular action with speed, it’s even better.

“I’ve seen so many times when bass don’t show any interest in a school of baitfish or bluegill unless one shows a weakness, and that’s the one they pick. It’s no different than a lion chasing a wildebeest; the predator is looking for something that offers it an advantage, and bass are very good at using their habitat and the existing conditions to do that.

So how does that play out for a fly fisherman?

Simple. Don’t get caught up in the motions of making a rhythmic cast, laying your fly into a “bassy” looking area, and then methodically retrieving it back with a steady “strip, strip, strip” motion.

The same retrieve that 99% of all fly anglers seem to fall into by default.

The type of retrieve that a bass looks in the direction of before offering a yawn.

Instead, follow KVD’s advice.

Or my paraphrase of it: let your fly become a sick wildebeest.

Get the fly in tight to the places where a bass might lurk. Get the undivided attention of a big old mama bass as you strip the fly back erratically like a drunken sailor. Bang the fly into objects. Stagger it. Stop it. Start it. Rip it, pause it, and let it fall down. Vary the speed of the retrieve, fast one minute, slow the next, then somewhere in between.

In short, do all that you can to make your fly look like an easy pickings meal that a big predatory bass simply can’t refuse taking a swat at.

Do that once on an outing and you might hook a good bass.

Make that type of attention grabbing, strike triggering retrieve happen often enough and you might have an outstanding day on the water.

Learn how to incorporate such tactics into your arsenal each and every time that you take to the water and maybe one day, you’ll be known as the KVD of fly fishing for bass.

If I don’t beat you to that title first, that is.

Thanks to figuring out how to make my flies look like the sickest of all wildebeest.

 

Bass: Poppers, Porcelain Thrones and Bowling Balls

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.

What’s the take of a popper like as a bass comes calling? It’s like porcelain thrones and bowling balls.

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.

 

John Gierach on a Texas 10-Pound Fly Rod Bass

In keeping with my primary blogging topic of this week, I turned to the great John Gierach today for a little perspective on landing a 10-pound bass in Texas.

Here’s an excerpt from his essay “Texas” pulled from the book “Dances with Trout:”

10 Pound Bass Release

John Gierach provides insight into landing – and losing – a 10-pound largemouth on the fly in Texas.

I never did land the ten-pound bass on a fly rod — which you can do in south Texas — but I had one on. At least that’s what a gentleman named Dan said from the seat next to me in the big red bass boat one day. I was fishing some kind of a streamer on a sink-tip line and had gotten a little lazy, as you can do on a hot day fishing from a plush seat, roll casting with your right hand and holding a cold Lone Star in your left.

The fish hit, I struck and had him on for about as long as it took for him to come to the surface, jump and throw the hook. “That would have gone about ten,” Dan said casually. “You should have set up harder.”

I was trying to fix in my mind that fleeting glimpse of the biggest largemouth bass I’d ever seen alive and I almost said, “How the hell am I supposed to set up harder with a beer in my hand? but of course the answer was obvious. You can fish and drink at the same time, but you can’t do both well.

Later I told Ed about the big bass that had gotten off. He said, “Well, that’s another one you can think about for the rest of your life.

Losing a 10-pound bass on the fly rod? Yep, I’d think about that for the rest of my life too.

Morals gleaned from this Gierach story?

1. Fly fish in Texas – 10-pound largemouth bass do exist here and can be hooked on the fly.

2.. Don’t get lazy when you fly fish because that will be the moment that a fish of a lifetime will strike your fly.

3. Leave the beer cooler back in camp. You can’t catch the fish of a lifetime and guzzle Lone Star at the same time.

4. Set up harder.

5. Have a fly fishing friend named Ed Engle who can help provide a little perspective when the fish of a lifetime strikes your fly, gets hooked, leaps into the air so you get a good visual image of how big the bass really was, and then gets off by throwing he hook.

 

Just How Big Is That Fly Rod Bass?

If you follow the drivel in this space, you’ll remember that a few days ago I penned something to the effect that one of the Holy Grails of warmwater fly fishing is the catching of a 10-pound bass on the fly.

That accomplishment – which so far eludes me – is definitely on my bucket list of things to accomplish with the long-rod.

Which begs the question – for me at least – of just how truly big a 10-pound largemouth bass really is on the fly?

World-class largemouth bass weighing 15-pounds or better are rarely caught on the fly. John Lindsey, Jr. got close to the coveted mark in the fall of 2000 when he caught this 14-pound, 14-ounce largemouth bass while fly fishing in Texas. (TPWD photo)

For the answer to that, let me turn to a once-upon-a-time conversation I had with a fishing friend when we tried to quantify just how big a really big largemouth bass is on the overall scale of things.

To get an idea of where a truly big bass falls on the list of outdoor accomplishments, we turned to a scale of sorts that many of us in Texas (my home state) are familiar with each fall, the pastime of deer hunting.

With big antlers as our backdrop, we tried to compare what a certain sized bass would equivocate to in the world of free-range typical whitetails roaming across North America.

I’d say that relative scale goes something like this:

* A 10-lb. bass is the equivalent of a 160-inch typical deer (meaning, it’s difficult but it can be done if you hunt/fish long enough).

* A 11/12 lb. bass equals a 170-inch whitetail (it’s very difficult and your odds of accomplishing this feat are starting to go way down).

* A 13/14 lb. bass is the equivalent of a 180-inch whitetail (only a few ever succeed at this level each year).

* A 15/16 lb. bass equals a 190-inch whitetail (only a handful succeed at this level…EVER).

* A 17/18 lb. bass is the fishing equivalent of tagging a 200-inch whitetail (this is very rare territory indeed, a place of rarefied air where only a dozen or so people ever know the feeling of securing this accomplishment…EVER).

* Anything at or above the 18/20 lb. mark or above 200-inch barrier is moving towards world record territory (getting to this level of accomplishment is all but non-existent for most and happens only once or twice in a generation).

So just how far up this relative scale can a fly fisherman climb?

I’d like to believe that in the right place and at the right time – for instance, a rainbow-trout stocked clear-water lake in California; a big bass lake filled with tilapia in Mexico; or a stateside water body brimming with gizzard and threadfin shad like Lake Falcon or Lake Fork in Texas – an angler could land a bucketmouth bass on the upper end of this scale.

But practical reality might suggest otherwise. That’s because the historical record from the International Game Fish Association (www.igfa.org ) suggests that anything at or above the 15-pound mark is dicey territory for a largemouth bass angler toting a fly rod.

In fact, I can only find one record of a 15-pound bass ever having been successfully landed by a fly angler.

And that bass was caught by Larry Kurosaki on Feb. 26, 2009 when the fly fishing guru landed an IGFA 8-pound tippet class world record fly rod largemouth bass in California. The fish tipped the scales at 16-pounds, 12-oz. and was caught as Kurosaki fished at Castaic Lagoon.

While I’ve occasionally seen a photo here or there – not to mention hearing a rumor or two – reporting the catch of a similar sized bass, that one lone IGFA mark above stands as the only documented time that a largemouth bass weighing better than 15-pounds has been successfully landed by a fly angler.

(Editor’s Note: Other IGFA fly rod tippet class world record largemouths of note include: 6-pound tippet record of 14 pounds, 2 oz. caught by John Lindsey, Jr. at Lake Meredith, Texas, on Oct. 20, 2000;  12-pound tippet record of 14 pounds, 8 oz. caught by Larry Kurosaki at Castaic Lagoon in California on Feb. 24, 2007; and the 16-pound tippet record of 12 pounds, 11 oz. caught by Dennis Ditmars at Lake Dixon, Calif. on April 30, 1998).

If you’re a student of the bass fishing game, you’ll note that all of those records above fall well short of the current shared world record mark of 22-pounds, 4-oz., a pair of behemoth largemouth bass caught more than 70 years apart.

(Editor’s Note: The first WR bass was caught by George Perry on June 2, 1932 in Georgia and the latest WR bass was caught by Manabu Kurita in Japan on July 2, 2009).

Why is landing a truly world-class largemouth bass so hard on the fly rod?

For starters, such bass are rare creatures to begin with anywhere in North America. That’s true even in places blessed with an abundance of giant bass waters like those found in California, Florida, Texas or south of the border in Mexico.

Second, the few specimens that do grow to such sizes are rarely caught by anyone including conventional anglers whizzing about the water in $60,000 bass rigs decked out with the latest 250 hp motors; high-powered trolling motors; and down-imaging, side-scanning electronic sonars.

Those same fishermen toss a variety of realistic looking and scented hard and soft-plastic lures, baits that are flung on baitcasting rod and reels filled with space-age super monofilament lines, fluorocarbon line, or 65-pound braid.

And these guys rarely catch such behemoth bigmouth bass despite probing the water column from shallow to deep and everywhere in between during the annual 24/7/365 cycle.

Third, giant largemouth bass are rarely found in shallow water. And when they are, it’s at best for a few days each spring during the yearly spawn.

Quite frankly, that fact puts such gargantuan bass almost out of reach for fly anglers unless they are adept at probing deeper waters with full sinking lines or sink tips and large-sized flies.

Fourth, merely hooking such a giant bass on fly tackle is one thing. Successfully landing it on fly tackle is quite another.

From line-nicking timber to heavy submerged vegetation to rough-edged rocks to the pure brute strength of a world-class bass hooked by an angler, many things conspire to work against a fly angler being able to successfully land a real mossback bass on the fly.

Take my friend Rob Woodruff for instance, the Orvis endorsed Lake Fork fly fishing guide (www.flyfishingfork.com ; (903) 967-2665) who annually puts clients on dozens and dozens of fish in the five to eight-pound range.

Each year, RW has a small handful of clients that successfully hook and land bass from Lake Fork that approach the 10-pound mark on a Boga Grip scale. For a little perspective, Lake Fork’s overall lake record is 18.18-pounds (a fish that is the current Texas state record largemouth bass) while it’s fly fishing record sits at 9.52-pounds.

And each year Woodruff has an even bigger number of anglers who hook such bass but for a variety of reasons like those noted above eventually fail to land those fish.

With his own personal best bass on the fly at Fork being 11.75-pounds and his clients’ best fish weighing in at 11.25 pounds,  few guides are better qualified than Woodruff to discuss the art of landing big bass on the fly.

Woodruff wryly notes that he’s all but certain that he has had even bigger fish on himself and with clients. Perhaps even at or above the coveted Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s 13-pound ShareLunker mark.

But again, landing such a bass in a timber infested lake like Fork is a chore that is rarely accomplished.

Even by the best in fly fishing.

“I heard someone say once that fly fishing for big fish requires grace and that grace is earned,” notes the Texas A&M grad. “It doesn’t come easily in fly fishing.”

But that won’t keep Woodruff from trying again.

Me either.

After all, somewhere and someday, an angler will probably eventually land a bass in the 20-pound range while toting a fly rod.

And that might as well be me.

Or you.

 

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Warmwater Fly Fishing’s Holy Grail: Hooking and Landing a 10-Pound Bass

Call it one of the Holy Grail’s of bass fishing, the task of successfully landing a double-digit largemouth while fishing with a fly rod.

Many aspire for that rarely visited angling territory, few ever obtain it.

Including yours truly.

But I keep trying every year. And I keep having my spirits buoyed by rare tales of those who have successfully accomplished the fete.

Like Christian Robertson of Savannah, Georgia, who just a few days ago flirted with the 10-pound mark while fishing on Lake Fork with Orvis endorsed fly fishing guide Rob Woodruff (www.flyfishingfork.com; (903) 967-2665).

Christian Robertson shows off a Lake Fork hawg from earlier this spring that went nearly 10-pounds.

The bass that Robertson landed after a tense skirmish finally tipped the Boga Grip scale at 9.80-pounds.

That’s pretty tall cotton for a fly-caught bass, especially since the current Lake Fork fly-rod lake record is a 9.52-pound fish caught by Johnny Walker on March 27, 2004.

All of that led to a conversation with Woodruff about the fish and how it was landed.

“It was a tough fight,” said Woodruff, who noted that Robertson and his father landed 14 additional bass on the day while missing several others.

“I actually thought it would go 10-pounds when I first saw it,” he continued. “She actually wrapped Christian’s line around a stick and came back toward the boat.

“If he hadn’t been an experienced fly fisher with a tarpon or two under his belt, he probably wouldn’t have gotten a good enough hook-set so that we could get the fish unwrapped and eventually get her to the boat.”

Which caused me to ask Woodruff a key question: just how do you get a double-digit sized fish into the boat?

To start with, you need the right equipment set-up. Woodruff typically fishes with a a nine-foot Orvis Helios rod  in either eight-weight or nine-weight. To that rod, he’ll add a Battenkill  Large Arbor fly reel, a floating weight-forward line, and a stout leader tapering  down into the 15-pound test range.

Then an angler must use a good big fish fly, one aimed at coaxing bites from the biggest females that swim. Most days, that will be a 4-6″ sub-surface fly at the end of Woodruff’s line, either a Daniel Solatu “Wet Bandit” or a Woodruff tied pattern known as “Rob’s Patassa.”

After that, it boils down to properly completing several key chores in the blink of an eye.

“The first key is a solid hook-set with a proper strip-set motion,” said Woodruff, whose best Fork bass on a fly is 11.75-pounds. “A few days ago, my client had a fish probably over eight-pounds eat the fly but he only got a tip set. In other words, he just lifted the rod like you would on a trout and that big bass didn’t get stung good enough. She eventually just opened her mouth and spit the fly out.”

Woodruff said that’s an understandable reaction since most fly fishers have trout fishing somewhere in their background.

What is a strip-set motion on the initial hook-set?

“If you were trying to elbow someone who had walked up behind you hard into their sternum, that’s the motion of a strip-set,” said Woodruff. “It’s a hard, driving, straight-back motion with your line hand, all as you hold the line and pull it hard and backwards.

“As for your rod, you’re keeping it down until your off-side elbow is all the way back, then you are lifting up and out with your rod hand so that you use the butt of the fly-rod to drive the hook-point even deeper into the fish’s jaw.”

One key principle that Woodruff heartily recommends – in addition to constantly monitoring your leader for nicks – is to make sure that the hooks on your flies are razor sharp and that the barb is mashed down.

“When you’re tossing flies tied with big 2/0, 3/0, and 4/0 hooks, it’s too big of an impediment to effectively drive the hook and the barb all the way home and through the jaw,” said Woodruff. “Often the barb won’t get all the way through the jaw and the fish will eventually come off.”

By the way, Woodruff notes from personal experience that it also helps out if big flies have barbless hooks just in case an errant cast is made and hooks up with human hide.

OK, so what do you do once you actually hook-up with a giant bass on the fly rod?

“The main thing to remember as you’re fighting the fish is that you’ve got to do so with upward pressure,” said Woodruff. “If you try and fight the fish with side pressure like you would on salt water, they’ll go down, wrap you up, and break you off.”

In other words, fighting a huge bass on the fly in a timber-choked lake like Fork is a short, brutal fight that is won or lost in just a few seconds.

“That’s right,” agreed Woodruff. “You surrender line only if absolutely necessary. You never try and get a big bass on the reel, you just hang on tight and only let line be pulled from your fingers.”

Woodruff – who has lost several fish over the years that he estimates in the “ShareLunker range” – says that his clients probably hook a half-dozen double-digit sized fish per year.

But they typically only land two or three of them.

Why?

“Because a lot of anglers panic when they hook a bass like that,” said Woodruff. “They just freeze up. It comes boiling up out of that water and they go crazy and either clamp down so tightly that they pull the hook out or they just let the fish free-spool them, wrap them up, and break them off.”

How do you avoid that panic?

“It comes with time on the water,” said Woodruff. “You’ll finally do it enough times that you will eventually get one in and that takes the pressure off of you.

“I heard someone say once that fly fishing for big fish requires grace and that grace is earned. It doesn’t come easily in fly fishing.”

Which is all part of the allure of trying to do it in the first place.

 

Big Flies, Bass, and Smiles at Lake Fork

 
 In the waning sunlight of an early spring afternoon, the kind where the light is warm and golden, where the wind dies to a steady breeze, and where sound carries a heck of a lot farther than most would believe, the inevitable finally occurred.
 
The inevitable, that is, at Lake Fork where the big bass spawn is on. 

Orvis fly fishing guide Rob Woodruff is no stranger to big bass. Here, he shows off a springtime 9.0-lb. largemouth from Texas' Lake Fork.

 
Hey look, those two guys are fly fishing.” 
 
I shot a quick glance at Rob Woodruff, my longtime pal and Orvis endorsed fly fishing guide (http://flyfishingfork.com; (903) 967-2665) and smirked. 
 
He smiled knowingly.
 
Because we both knew what those two guys behind us really meant.
 
Hey, look at those two idiots who are fly fishing on Lake Fork! Geesh! Why fish for the little guys with those buggy-whip sissy rods when you can fish for the real giants like the ones we’re after.”
 
The truth was little did they know.
 
Because little was hardly the word to describe the kind of day that we were having.
 
To start with, little is a word rarely applied to any of the bass fishing still found at Fork.
 
By now, you probably know that Barry St. Clair’s Texas state record largemouth, an 18.18-pound behemoth, hails from Lake Fork.
 
Ditto for the previous record, a 17.67-pound lunker caught by Mark Stevenson, and some 30 other members of the state’s “Top 50” largemouth bass list.
 
You probably also know that out of the 522 ShareLunkers caught to date, a full 247 of them have hailed from Fork.
 
But what you may not know is that amid whispers – and even columns by well-respected Texas outdoor writers – that the reservoir’s best days are behind her is that Fork is still going strong.
 
Case in point: since 2003, more than 11,368 trophy largemouths weighing seven-pounds or better have been caught and documented at Lake Fork.
 
And those are just the ones that have been entered into the voluntary reporting program that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department operates in cooperation with several Lake Fork area marinas.
 
Many more fish weighing seven-pounds or more – thousands more, perhaps – are caught, released, and never reported every year.
 
Put simply, while Falcon, Amistad, and O.H. Ivie anglers will undoubtedly howl at this claim, Lake Fork is still the best overall big bass lake in the Lone Star state.
 
If that was the first truth apparent to me a few days ago, the second was that my pal Woodruff knows the 27,264-acre Fork extremely well, having fished and guided on his home water for the last two decades.
 
The accumulation of knowledge and experience that thousands of days on the waters of Fork brings is quickly noticeable when I spend a day there with Woodruff.
 
He points things out that I am apt to miss like a submerged roadbed, the stumps of an old fence row I’ve never noticed, and even an old water gap and how they all factor into the travels that bass will make from deep winter haunts to shallow springtime spawning flats.
 
Like a sponge trying to absorb every last drop, I always come home after such a trip and drag out my Fork maps, having learned specifics about the lake itself and more about bass fishing in general.
 
On this particular March morning, Rob points out that so early in the spawning game, the cloud cover and cool temps will likely lead to slow fishing. 
 
But then he adds that when the sun pokes out for good in the early afternoon, the fishing should improve as we throw big flies looking for big fish.
 
True to form, the morning was slow. But after enjoying a hot lunch at a nearby marina, we hit a secondary creek for the first time that day as the sun finally arrived in full force.
 
A half-hour later, as Woodruff worked a fire-tiger hued Patassa fly (his own hand-tied rabbit-strip/deer hair sub-surface fly that mimics the action of a jerk-bait) along the deep end of a lay down, there was a sudden tell-tale flash underwater.
 
Which was quickly followed by a grunt at the front of the boat as Woodruff strip-set the hook and said “There she is!” 
 
One splashy thrash later and we both knew that this is the kind of bass people come to Lake Fork to catch.
 
After a minute or two, Woodruff finally won the battle with his Orvis Helios eight-weight and 15-pound test leader as the big fish protested her way into the net.
 
A second later, Woodruff’s Boga Grip told the numerical tale of this hefty bucketmouth bass: a big female tipping the scales at just a hair over seven pounds. 
 
After a few pictures, the CPR (catch, photo, and release) process was completed and the big girl slid away.
 
We both smiled as she swam into the depths to sulk for a few moments before heading back towards her pre-spawn staging spot just off the bank.
 
But that fish hardly marked the end of our day. Instead, it really marked the beginning.
 
An hour or so later, it was my turn.
 
One minute my bluegill colored Patassa fly is being stripped through the water, the next a lightning bolt is at the end of my rod as I strip-set the hook.
 
This fish, one that later weighed four and a half pounds on the Boga, wasn’t eager to come to the boat, splashing its protest a couple of times, diving under the rig, and then heading for the motor’s prop to saw the leader in half.
 
Fortunately I kept the bass from getting there, all of the knots held true, and the fish was finally scooped up to be admired.
 
But even then, our day was not done.
 
Because an hour later, in another of Woodruff’s favored early season spots, he suddenly exclaimed “There she is!” and reared back on the hook-set.
 
One splash later and I was the one exclaiming “That’s a huge fish!”
 
This fish used brute strength to head for the bottom, then for deeper water, then for timber that would fray the line.
 
But Woodruff calmly played the battle out on his fly rod, kept the fish from line breaking cover, and I was finally able to scoop the net under the big girl and bring her into the boat.
 
Where we admired an epic fish, a giant female that would go just past the nine-pound mark on the Boga Grip.
 
(Editor’s Note: FYI, that’s just a few ounces below the current Lake Fork fly rod record largemouth bass mark of 9.52-pounds. That’s a mark that Woodruff and his clients have broken several times over the last few years. Despite that fact, Woodruff nor his clients have yet elected to pursue such a record.)
 
After a few high-fives and pictures, Woodruff slid the big gal back into the water. With a tail-slap splash, she slid away into the depths.
 
That’s where the late afternoon sun revealed a truth that the two snickering anglers mentioned earlier couldn’t understand.
 
But it was a truth that seemed readily apparent to both Woodruff and I after having landed three big fly rod bass in an afternoon of fishing, bass that tipped the scales at more than 20 and a half pounds.
 
And that truth is this: big flies, big bass, and the legendary Lake Fork still add up to extremely big smiles.
 
Texas sized big smiles, that is.
 

Monday Movie: Alpine Bass

It’s Monday…again.

Rise and shine, right? Yeah right. Personally, I’d rather be out fly fishing somewhere.

Since I can’t (and I’m guessing since you’re reading this you can’t be out there either) how about a new feature for these monotonous Monday’s?

Monday at the Movies, Fly Fishing 365 style.

First up, fly fishing photog Brian O’Keefe and his topwater duels with some high country largemouth bass who just can’t resist a Rainy’s Rattlin’ Frog.

Enjoy!