Category Archives: topwater

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


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.


Shallow or Deep, Texoma Stripers Rarely Disappoint

When Steve Hollensed engages in coffee shop talk about the sheer delight in catching Lake Texoma stripers on the fly, some people look at the Tom Bean, Texas-based fly fishing guide like he’s lost his last marble.

But they should be looking at him like he’s E.F. Hutton.

Because when it comes to catching Texoma linesiders on the fly, there are few better than Hollensed.

Orvis guide Rob Woodruff shows off a Texoma striper caught on a topwater popper while fishing with guide Steve Hollensed.

I found that out when Hollensed took me on a scouting tour of Texoma a few days ago with eight-weight Orvis Helios fly rods in our hands.

We did so well that by 8 a.m. we had already lost count as to how many stripers we had caught on Hollensed’s hand tied poppers anchored atop #2 Gamakatsu stinger hooks.

And since then, the fly fishing action on the 89,000-acre reservoir has only gotten better.

Take a trip last week with a client from Houston and another from Kansas.

“It was a heck of a day,” Hollensed said. “Between the two of them, they caught five fish that weighed between nine and 11-pounds.”

Mind you, Hollensed (; (903) 546-6237) carries a Boga Grip on each trip so those weights are legit.

“These guys were saying that this was one of the best fishing days they had ever had,” he said. “The fish were slamming the flies so hard that they were almost hooking themselves and then they were quickly tearing into the backing on the fly reel.

“Then the guys would work them back up to the boat but when the fish saw it, they would sound and make some more hard runs.

“It was definitely a big striper day that they won’t soon forget.”

Ditto for the trip that Hollensed guided for two different anglers today. By the time this particular outing was over, more than two dozen quality fish had been landed including a couple weighing better than 10-pounds.

What’s really amazing about all of this is the manner in which all of these big stripers are being caught – on full sinking fly lines.

Sinking lines?


When most people think of fly fishing, they typically think of weight forward floating lines like those used to present a dry fly to trout or a deer hair popper to a bass.

But Hollensed says that the use of weighted fly lines – some which sink as fast as nine-inches per second – can actually help an angler catch fish through the entire water column to depths upwards of 50 feet.

Hollensed and his clients are landing plenty of double-digit Texoma stripers this summer on the Orvis Depth Charge sinking line.

“Fishing a sinking line improves your versatility, which also improves your chances for catching bigger fish,” said the Federation of Fly Fishers master casting instructor.

“A case in point was (that trip last week). These guys had never fished sinking lines before but before they were through they were catching big fish in 25 to 30 feet of water.”

Ditto for his trip earlier today. After a sluggish topwater bite, a short crash course with his clients on how to fish sinking lines commenced and the game was soon on.

So exactly what type of fly rod set-up does this take?

“It takes a good eight or nine-weight fly rod with a 300-grain to a 400-grain sinking line loaded up onto a lightweight large arbor fly reel,” Hollensed said. “A good example of that is the Orvis Depth Charge line loaded onto a lightweight large arbor Battenkill reel.”

To that fly line Hollensed ties a four to eight-foot long straight leader made of Berkley Trilene Big Game monofilament in green tint and 17-pound test.

As for flies, he recommends anything that mimics a threadfin or gizzard shad. Such selections include a wide assortment of Clouser Minnows, Lefty’s Deceivers, and Hollensed’s own Crystal Shad all in white, chartreuse, and pearlescent blue colors tied on #1, 1/0, and 2/0 size hooks.

If such a set-up sounds difficult to cast, Hollensed says that it isn’t. In fact, he has found that once people get used to casting a shooting head sinking line like the Depth Charge, they oftentimes prefer casting it over a floating fly line.

But as my recent outing with the guide showed, topwater poppers are often exactly what Texoma stripers are wanting to hit on that particular summer day.

Be forewarned however.

“When a big 10-pound striper slams a popper, you just better hope that your heart is in good condition,” Hollensed laughed.

For a topwater set-up Hollensed recommends a six, seven, or eight-weight fly rod; a lightweight large arbor reel; and a line like the Orvis Freshwater Bass line which is a floating line with an aggressive front taper that turns over big poppers with relative ease.

To that fly line he will then tie a 7 ½ or 9-foot Orvis Super Strong abrasion resistant leader (in a bass/pike taper) in either 16 or 20-pound test.

Hollensed says that at the end of the day he never feels that he or his clients have less of a chance at catching numbers of stripers or quality stripers from Lake Texoma’s sparkling water.

But that really isn’t the reason that he made the switch from being a conventional tackle guide and tournament fisherman more than a decade ago to being a full-time fly angler.

“In my case, it has put so much more fun back into fishing,” Hollensed said. “Because in my mind it really isn’t about how big the fish was that you caught or how many that you caught.

“It is more about how you caught them in the first place. And when that’s with a fly rod, well, I think it’s about as fun as fishing can be.”

Hollensed should know.

He’s got the pictures – and plenty of happy clients in recent weeks – to prove it.


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.