Text and photos by Leonard Flemming
I grew up fishing municipal ponds and dams in residential areas. The water in these dams was mostly a hazy brown, like that of your mother’s favourite vegetable soup. Murky water slowed down my learning curve of where to find fishes in these dams. More than 90% of my findings were based on where I caught fish (as in which areas and around which structure types) and not necessarily where I could see them and how they responded to my lures and flies.
My situation was complicated more by fish (mostly a combination of bass, bluegill, carp, catfish and tilapia) that had been exposed to many a “superior lure” advertised on TV infomercials. The school kids that chucked these lures also kicked up a fish-frightening racket, which forced me to search for fishing waters outside of suburbia. I discovered farm ponds beyond the outskirts of the city with my fishing rods taped to my mountain bike.
These clear water bodies were less frequently visited by humans and their beauty was an extra bonus. They were decorated with lotus lilies and bulrushes and were mostly full of plump largemouth bass that one could spot from casting distance. Within a year after I found the first farm pond that was a honey hole, I had a stash of secret spots which provided for the perfect escape from school duties, like math homework, in the weekday afternoons.
Besides the soothing noises of tractors and cattle in the distance, farm dam fish were much easier to catch. They were not scared of humans and I could also often see them before they knew about me. All these factors allowed me to catch more and bigger fish, which sped up my learning curve.
One thing I noticed in particular was that largemouth bass did not show much interest in big and bulky flies. In fact, the bigger, more hairy and heavier the flies were, the less they fussed about it (sometimes it even scared them off). However, it happened on numerous occasions when I fished a smallish nymph to tilapia that a big bass would rush from cover, chase the shoaling tilapia away and eat the fly.
After experiencing this rather ironic phenomenon, I started fishing trout flies to bucket-mouths and with jaw-gaping success. I found that bass, especially those lazy ‘lunkers’, could not resist a tiny, weightless damsel or dragon nymph fished slowly along the edge of aquatic vegetation. The takes from some fish were surprisingly aggressive and the small hooks (#6 to #12) would sit firmly imbedded in the back of the throat.
Nowadays, I don’t waste much time on massive deer hair flies tied on ‘stinger’ hooks. Don’t get me wrong, deer hair poppers and bass bugs are fun to tie and can be deadly on a summer’s evening, but instead, I enjoy sight fishing to large bass with drab coloured and naturally presented nymphs. This technique works year round (even in mid-winter) and I have yet to come across a bass that refuses to eat a well-presented nymph.
Three flies have proven to be very reliable in almost any bass-fishing situation; this includes a small, olive damsel nymph showed to me by Philip Meyer (#10 – 12), the Papa Roach as tied by Herman Botes (a range of olives and browns in #6 – 8), and a chocolate brown, rabbit fur zonker with a chartreuse marabou hotspot in the tail (#6 – 8 long-shank). The most important tip when tying these flies is not to add additional weight, as in beads or lead wire, to them. The flies work best if they are almost neutrally buoyant.
Big fish hit them hard on the pause between slow strips. No extra weight will allow the fly to stop in mid-water and stay in the strike zone when a bass approaches it. The expanding rabbit fur will create enough movement for the bass to commit and eat the fly.