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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April 01, 2015

You Better Learn To Look - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

Somehow I just knew that fish was going to hit.

If you read my last column you know I told about being up to my boot tops in Southwest Washington's beautiful Kalama River. I'd felt what I thought was a spring steelhead pick up my bait but it didn't stick with it.

My bait of eggs still looked all right after I'd reeled in. I had noticed what appeared to be a tiny white spot on my leader a few inches up from my hook. It didn't look like it was big enough to pose a problem. Besides, I just couldn't wait to get my bait back out there again.

I cast and my bait plopped into the river. I felt my sinker bumping and thumping its way along the river bottom. Then there it was again---that hard to define sensation that my bait had stopped but not because my sinker had hung up. I hesitated a heartbeat and then snapped back with the tip of my rod.

Fish on! If you've ever had to good fortune to tangle with one of those early spring steelhead on the Kalama you'll know I'm not exaggerating what happened next. That fish went absolutely berserk! It came bursting up through the surface and hurled and twisted itself up so it was as high as my head. I brought my rod into position to try to fight this first Kalama springer I'd ever hooked. My rod was almost pulled from my grip as the fish boiled up again and then there was that sickening slack in my line and I knew the fish was gone.


I hope someone took the time to teach this little guy just how important it is to always look at your gear between casts to be sure it's in good shape.

You better hope your line, leader and knots are in good shape when you get a good steelhead in as close as I had this one. Taking time to take a little look at your gear between casts will give you that assurance. My heart was still pounding as I reeled in. Remember that teensy white spot I'd seen on monofilament not far up from my bait just before I cast? That's where my leader had parted.

And that's why you see why the title I selected for this two part column really fits. I learned a lesson that day. It's one you'll eventually learn yourself if you do much fishing. Perhaps you already have.

Certainly it's extremely important that you make sure all your gear is in great shape before you even start fishing. You can't stress too much the importance of tying your knots properly, having sharp hooks, etc., etc.

Do you check your knots to your lures from time to time. This is so important after catching a fish or sometimes when you've had to keep yanking and stressing your knot after hanging up on a snag.

But what's often overlooked, and there are plenty of occasions when it's probably even more important, is not checking your gear repeatedly after the fishing actually starts. Actually, it was a recent suggestion from somebody who knows just how darn important what I'm writing about is that you're seeing these last two columns.

I shot the picture you see here of a youngster fishing steelhead on a Washington State River a long time ago. I hope someone took time to teach him how important it is to continually keep an eye on your tackle.

One such individual who does is my good friend Bob Schmidt, the general manager of a tackle company called Mack's Lure. Bob's the guy who calls the shots at this growing Washington State tackle company that's enjoying a steadily increasing impact of its products among anglers all over the country.

It's important, of course, to have the hooks on your lures sharp before you ever cast one out there. Be just as sure they remain in good shape by looking them over carefully once the fishing starts.

Here's that Bob had to say when he sent me a recent e-mail: "I have an idea," Bob said, "for an article you might want to do sometime. I know in the past you've done stories on getting your gear ready to go. The idea I have is different in that it would stress the importance of checking knots and leaders while you actually out there fishing."

Bob, my friend, I wish you'd of been around to share that truth with me back there when I hooked my first steelhead on the Kalama. Why? Because if I'd of simply followed your advice I'd probably have put that fish on the bank.

Schmidt, unlike certain tackle makers I've known and worked with over the years, is a fisherman himself. And he's a dang good one. I've fished with him often enough to know. I also know he'll be the first to tell you he's made mistakes of his own---but when he does he learns from them and unlike some of the rest of us he doesn't make ‘em again.

You're looking at an expert who has "learned to look" at every item of his gear each time he's on the water. Here he displays proof that his approach gets the results he's after. Bob Schmidt is the general manager of Mack's Lure, a company located in Washington State. Among other things, Bob's company has introduced those wondrous little Mack's Lure Smile Blades that have attracted the attention of anglers all over the world.

"As an angler," Bob says, "I well know the frustration of a knot failing. I have even had it happen when fishing with professional guides on knots they had tied to their swivels. Checking knots, and checking your line for nicks at the start of the day, and after a catch, and especially after temporarily having snagged up is always a good idea. A season has yet to go by where I haven't been glad I replaced a leader or retied a knot at least one time."

Let's face it, that's just about as solid advice as you can come by. I didn't have any trouble at all coming up with how I managed to lose the first spring steelhead I hooked. And as much as I hate to admit it, I don't have the slightest difficulty remembering other occasions where if I'd simply followed the advice Bob has shared it would have also meant more fish in the boat.

What hurts even more is that the type of common mistake he details often involve some of the biggest fish you'll ever get a hook into. It has happened to me twice on Mexico's Lake El Salto and when it did both times I felt like kicking my butt all the way back to the bank!

Don't wait until you've been around as long as I have to build checking your gear often and repeatedly each time you're out there on a lake or stream. Learn to look---and don't wait until you have a stringer empty of fish but full of regrets for not having done so.

January 31, 2014

Practice Makes Perfect - It Also Puts More Fish In The Boat

by Stan Fagerstrom

Practice casting is certain to put more fun into your fishing. It's also going to make it a whole lot more pleasant for your fishing companion.

When I wrote my previous column about the importance of practice, I immediately thought of what a friend told me about a couple of friends he had taken along on fishing adventures, each at a different time.
"I asked both of these guys a few questions well ahead of the time we were to leave," he says. "I was to provide the equipment and I needed to know what kind of gear they could handle.


See the edge of the lily pad field in the background of this picture? I had to get my lure into those pads just right to get results. Here's proof that the practice I'd done prior to getting out there with my bait casting outfit enabled me to get the job done.

"The first of the two I took assured me he was familiar with both level wind reels as well as open faced spinning reels. As a result I put together four bait casting rigs and a couple of spinning outfits. I asked him if he'd like to do a little practice casting before we left. He assured me that wasn't necessary.

"How wrong that turned out to be! I doubt he had ever attempted to cast with a level wind reel. He never even picked up one of the outfits I'd brought along for him. His experience with a spinning reel had evidently been limited to trolling. He's a heck of a good guy and I value his friendship, but if anybody could have used a little practice before getting on the water, it was him.

"I well remember the reaction of the other friend who I invited to accompany me on the same kind of trip. I was again to provide all of the equipment we'd use once we got there. "Jack," this friend said, "any chance I could come down and spend a day or two with you before we go? I've not used a level wind reel much and I'd like to practice with it a bit if that works out for you."


I should never taught this attractive gal to handle a spinning outfit properly. Why? Because now she often catches more fish than I do!

My friend went on to tell me how the second of his two friends did come to stay with him a day before their departure for the trip. He set up a couple of targets out in his yard and gave this guy, his name was Bob, a couple of the same reels he'd be using when they got to where they were going.

You'd like Bob. I'd heard that he was competitive in anything he tackled. He sure as heck was. In no time at all he was handling my level wind reels like he'd been using them for years.

So what was the result of my friend's experience? If you're an experienced angler yourself, you could undoubtedly guess. The first guy, the one who didn't see the need for practice, had an awful time. When he wasn't hung up in the trees, he was picking at tangles. As a result he didn't catch as many fish as he should have.

"That wasn't how it went with Bob," my friend told me. "He was a pleasure to have in the boat. He was able to put his lure on target darn near all the time. As it turned out, he caught more fish than I did and I think he went home happy about the entire experience."

I expect I've done about as much preaching about the importance of casting practice as anybody in the country. As I mentioned in my previous column, I've been at it since I gave my first casting exhibition more than half a century ago.


You can bet that little gal waiting her turn for some hands on instruction is going to hear about the importance of casting practice. So are those other kids waiting their turn. Years later I sometimes hear from one or another of those I've helped at outdoor shows somewhere around the country. They invariably tell me how important their practice casting was to them in learning how to catch fish.

There's no question about it, casting practice is essential if you hope to ever catch your share of fish. The sooner you accept that, and do something about it, the sooner you'll join that 10 per cent of anglers who catch about 90 per cent of the fish.

There are certain steps to take that can be of great help if you do decide to practice your casting. I'll detail what some of the important basics are in my next column. It starts March 1.

-To Be Continued-

September 05, 2012

Ever Go Buggy For Bass?

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 1

Mention fishing with a fly rod and the thought most fishermen immediately have is that you're talking about trout.

Every now and then I hear from fly rod enthusiasts who maintain there just aren't that many opportunities to use the long rod in the areas where they live.

That might well be true if you're thinking only of going after trout.

What so many, including some who should know better, often fail to realize is there are fish other than trout that respond readily to fly rod lures. And some of them present a bigger challenge and are as much or more fun to catch.

One such fish is the largemouth bass. It used to be many fly rodders turned their noses skyward at the mere suggestion largemouth might be worthy of their consideration. That attitude is changing and it's time it did.


Got him! Bugging for bass provides its share of thrills for the fly rod angler. Don't ever let anyone tell you it doesn't.

I don't know who started that old business of trout being the only fish worth pursuing with the long rod and a box full of flies. I suppose angling literature was responsible for
most of this nonsense, but it amazes me that it hung around as long as it has.

I'm not denigrating fly fishing for trout. I've had brown trout belt my dry flies on the South Island of New Zealand in a fashion that had my ticker thumping like a jackhammer.

I've had similar experiences with monster rainbow in Argentina and Alaska But if you're one of the many who assumes a snoot up posture when it comes to fly rod bass fishing, it has to be because you flat don't know anything about it.

Let's look at the equipment you'll need before talking about technique. I'm not going to get into the specifics. You can find books and videos dealing with that subject.

Do get yourself a good quality rod. Get one that's rated to handle a line designed for bass bug fishing. You'll also want a premium quality line to go with the rod.

I'm talking here about fishing topwater bugs for bass. Your line will need to float and have a bug taper. Lines so designated have an abrupt taper at the head end. That will be an asset in getting your bug to turn over on the cast and out where you want it to be.

The reel isn't of special importance for fly rod bassin'. Bass don't make long runs like some of the trout species. The fight is certain to be in close and often around heavy cover. It's no place for a lightweight rod with spider web leader.

I have a couple of old Perrine automatic fly reels that I love for fly rod bass fishing. These two ancient reels have been part of my gear for almost 50 years and I'd hate like the devil to part with either one.

It's convenient to merely depress a lever when you want to pick up the inevitable loose line while you're playing a fish. My trusty old Number 80 Perrines still enable me to do that.

Eight to 10 pound test is usually a good choice for a bass fishing leader. Seldom is it a good idea to use anything lighter. Try to find leader material that has abrasion resistance. That's what you'll need to fish the shallows for bass.

There aren't many times in bass fishing when you can use the word "always" with assurance. That's because bass rarely always do anything. The only thing truly consistent about bigmouth bass is their inconsistency. But one thing they almost always will do is hang around cover.

Don't waste time fishing for bass unless there is some kind of cover they can get under, next to, into or around. Learn to present your flies as close as you can to such cover. Don't hesitate to bump this cover on the retrieve. Try, in fact, to do exactly that.

I've fished bass with a variety of underwater patterns, but that approach has never appealed to me all that much. I'm aware it can be very effective at times. Even so, as far as I'm concerned it's fishing floating bugs on top that offers the most fun. Oftentimes in the spring they also get more than their share of hits.

What kind of bugs should you have for surface fishing? Forget about those monstrous affairs the size of a small mouse. I favor a deer hair bug. I tie it on a number four or six hook with a couple of strands of plastic for a tail. The bug is about the size of my finger in diameter.

A fly this size is relatively easy to handle. No, it doesn't cast like a number 12 Royal Coachman, but with a bug taper line and a suitable leader, you'll do just fine.


My favorite bass bugs are made from deer bucktail that I tie myself.


Note the size difference in these two bugs. Those big jobs like the one on the left are much more difficult to cast than the smaller bug on the right.

So what's a suitable leader? I've tapered my own some of the time, and they worked all right. What I didn't like about them was the knots used in the tapering process sometimes caught in stuff floating on the surface. You can get by just fine with a level leader and eliminate those extra hang ups.

Bass aren't leader shy. But as I've already mentioned, you'll need a leader that's sufficiently strong for you to have a prayer of getting a good fish out of heavy cover.


Even smaller bass like this one let you know they're around when you take them with a fly rod.

You'll be wise to do a little research and seek expert advice in putting your bugging outfit together. As I've mentioned there is a lot of material out there regarding fly rod bass fishing.. You'll be wise to make use of it.

Getting the right gear is just part of getting into fly rodding for bass. You'll also want to consider the best techniques to bamboozle those bass with your bugs. I'll get into the tactics that have worked best for me in next month's column.

-To Be Continued-
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