Stan Fagerstrom

Stan Fagerstrom is a member of both the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as well as the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. Stan is also known internationally for his casting skills. Stan welcomes your e-mail comments at stanfagerstrom@hotmail.com.

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October 01, 2012

Ever Go Buggy For Bass?

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 2

If you're one of the not uncommon anglers who think trout are the only fish certain to give you your fishing kicks with the long rod---guess again. For that matter, good trout water may evenbe impossible to find in some parts of the country.

If you read my last column you know how I feel about using the fly rod for bass. It can be a real kick in the butt and that goes for both largemouth and smallmouth.

In my previous column I talked about the importance of having the right kind of equipment to go after bass with a fly rod. Let's assume you've got the right gear. Now how and where should you go about using it.

Almost all of my bass bugging has been done in the Pacific Northwest, an area not widely known for its bass fishing. You're usually going to hear a lot more about salmon or steelhead out there in tall tree country. And that in itself is nonsense. There's some darn good action for bass in both Oregon and Washington.

Right now the big Columbia River is kicking out some excellent smallmouth bass fishing. I've fished both Oregon's John Day and Umpqua Rivers numerous times. I'd rate both rivers right up there with other noted smallmouth rivers wherever you find them.

The weeks of spring and early summer offer some of the most interesting time for anglers going after bass with a fly rod in the Pacific Northwest. Largemouth spend lots of time in the shallows from April on through July in that part of the country. And it's in the shallows where bass bugging is at its best.


You'll likely average catching smaller bass if you stick with topwater bugs but even the smaller bass will usually be larger than the planted trout you'll so often find in lakes around the country.

As I've advised, always look for bass around cover. You're usually wasting time fishing open water. Cover can be darn near anything from a single piling to bridge abutments to
lily pads.

Forget about attempting to throw your bass bug 60 feet. It isn't necessary. Accuracy is 10 times more important than distance for fly rod bass fishing. If you can cast your bug 20 to 30 feet, you can catch bass with a fly rod. You can't, of course, go crashing around like a wounded water buffalo when you're that close to where the fish are holding.

All right, let's assume you've got the proper outfit and you've learned how to use it. As you'll soon discover, it's what you do with your bugs once you get them out where they need to be that really counts. It's what makes the difference between catching fish and going home skunked.

Keep one thing uppermost in your mind whenever you're fishing a bug. It's this: A largemouth bass doesn't "always" do anything. Just about the time you think you've finally got the buggers figured, they'll do something to knock all your neat theories into the middle of next week.


Bass sometimes show a color preference. It's wise to carry a selection of shades and change if what you're using isn't getting hits.

On most days, again not always, it's best to make your cast, then let the commotion the bug made when it landed disappear before you even start thinking about moving it. When you do move it, try to make it look the way some big insect would if it had been temporarily stunned by smacking into the water.


You'll find smaller bugs a whole lot easier to handle on the cast than the large, bulky patterns.

Once you've made your bug shudder enough to send out tiny ripples, let it rest again. Don't be in a hurry. Let long seconds go by. Now move it again. Keep up this twitch and pause routine for five or six feet before casting again.

Watch the cover behind and to either side of your bug. If you see any kind of movement, stop whatever you're doing and wait. Now twitch your bug again. Hang onto your rod when you do.

Having said all that let me add this: Don't assume the pause and twitch retrieve will always get results. As I said before, "always" doesn't apply when you're dealing with bass.

I've seen times when those fickle sapsuckers wouldn't look at a bug unless I ripped it along the top in a series of surface disturbing slurps that you'd think would scare hell out of a starving barracuda.

But while the stop and go procedure won't always work, it is always worth a try. Whenever you use it, try to get your bug as close to the cover you're fishing as you can.

One final thought with regard to fishing the shallows. As I've mentioned, bass usually are in, around, under or next to cover. That means working your bug through and across things like logs, lily pads, reeds, grass and brush.

You can make a bug weedless by tying in a strand of monofilament to serve as a weedguard. This works, but even more important is how you make your retrieve.

Let's say you've dropped your bug into a little pocket in a lily pad field. As soon as the bug splats down, drop your rod tip so it points along the line and out to the bug. Now don't raise the rod even if a fish hits.

Manipulate the bug by twitching the line in your left hand. You can make the bug do everything it needs to do by those little line tugs. You can also set the hook by jerking the line with your left hand.

As long as you use the line as I've detailed, the pull on the bug comes directly from in front of its nose. A bug so fished tends to somersault forward when it comes to an obstruction. The hook point comes up. Try to do it by raising your rod tip and the hook point will dip down. It's much more likely to hang up.

I've barely scratched the surface in these last two columns on fly rod bugging for bass. I hope it has been enough to get you interested in giving it a try.

Chances are good many of the bass you catch will average around a pound but they may go a whole lot larger. When was the last time you consistently tangled with trout that size on your fly rod?


You'll have your hands plumb full when you nail a beauty like this with your fly rod.

Handle a bass carefully when you catch it with a fly rod and you won't damage anything except the dignity of these wonderful scrappers. It doesn't hurt to invite one home to dinner now and then but always remember you are protecting your future fishing by practicing catch and release.

As I said in the beginning, the fly rod fisherman who doesn't give bugging a try is missing a super opportunity for some great sport. I've never known an angler who didn't love it. Provided, that is, they stuck with it long enough to really learn something about it.

So will you.
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