With largemouth bass feeding on terrestrials in the heat of summer, an opportunity presents itself to target feisty bass on the fly rod.
When you love something, you want to do it as much as possible. I love fishing with a fly rod from shore in ponds and lakes, and I am always looking for new ways to enjoy the simplicity and challenge of this very basic of angling pursuits. It doesn’t require much travel or tons of gear, and therefore (as I often state) it is very accessible. Sure, it’s not stripers, tarpon, or giant brown trout. However, fishing from the banks of a lake or pond can be rewarding, challenging, and allow you to spend more time on the water when you only have 30 minutes of free time before the kids have be picked up from soccer practice.
One of my new favorite local bank-based fisheries in the summer months is hopper fishing for bass. I started fishing for bass with hoppers seven or eight years ago essentially out of boredom. I was spending some time on a lake in Maine with my parents in July, and the fishing had been terrible. It was hot, and there wasn’t much to do but sit around and talk, eat, and sweat. This made me antsy, and I had to get a line in the water. There is a beach within walking distance from my parents’ cabin, so I decided to head down, wade around in the water, and make some casts to the plethora of sun fish that are always there. It took exactly one cast to start hooking up with feisty pan fish on a hopper fly; however, after 10 fish in 12 casts I was ready to try something a bit more rewarding.
There is a big patch of lilies down the shore a little further, and I decided to wade through the muck at the edge of the beach until I was close enough to reach it with my diminutive two-weight. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, but it certainly wasn’t what happened next. I launched the hopper at the pads—as much as you can launch a fly with a two-weight—and it splatted down with no subtlety whatsoever. Letting it sit until the water rings dissipated, I then gave it a twitch, and it just disappeared into a hole in the water: a bucket mouth! There was no need to set the hook, so I lifted the rod and the fish immediately started taking line, pulling me into my backing quickly. On my 2-weight, I only have about 30 yards of backing (I never expected to need it) so this got very exciting, very quickly. I’m not sure how long it took me to land the 3-pound bass, but if it was less than five minutes, I would be shocked; and it jumped three or four times just for good measure.
Since that day, I’ve caught numerous bass on hopper and crickets, and it’s a very fun way to engage in fly fishing when temperatures get high. First, unlike trout, I’m not worried about hurting bass when I’m fishing in July or August; they’re just so much more tolerant. Second, when the water does get warm, bass can get pretty fussy and unwilling to eat larger meals or chase noisy, obtrusive lures. At this time grasshoppers and crickets bankside of most every waterbody, and they offer an alluring, easy-to-eat bit of nutrition for bass. Third, it’s fun to wet wade in the water and cool yourself off during the dog-days, while also engaging in rewarding angling experience. You can definitely sight fish for both bass and sunnies using this method, but I usually just blind cast at weedy structure and near docks.
Personally, I like using really light gear. These aren’t the most challenging fish to catch, so I want to “up the ante” so to speak. Therefore, I often use little more than a 2-weight or 4-weight. These are both capable of tossing a size 6-to-10 hoppers far enough for me to catch fish, though admittedly the 4-weight does a much better job. I don’t waste expensive trout leaders, and instead I just make a custom leader that is 50% 8-, 30% 6-, and 20% 4-pound monofilament (it doesn’t have to be exact). This works remarkably well, and you don’t have to go very long with it either- 6- to 7-feet is plenty. My favorite pattern is probably Dave’s Hopper, but something with a foam body will last longer (though often harder to cast). Sling it in tight to weedy and woody structure, just like you might a popper, and don’t worry about working it aggressively. Instead, let it sit for long periods interspersed with twitches. Be patient, and let the pattern fool the fish, not your stripping.