I promised everyone I’d write a Fly Fishing Bass Ponds 102, if people showed enough interest from my 101 post. I was blown away from the emails and comments that flooded in, after the first post went live. I covered quite a few topics in the first post but here’s a few more tidbits of information for all you warm-water fly fishing junkies out there.
Understanding Different Types of Structure and How to Fish Them
As a little kid, I was a bass fishing maniac. A good friend of my Father’s fished a lot of tournaments for fun and he took it upon himself to take me under his wing, and teach me the skills I’d needed to become a proficient bass fisherman. One of the greatest things he did during his mentorship was take me to several professional bass fishing seminars. On several different occasions, I had a front row seat to listen to Hall of Fame bass fishing legends like Bill Dance, Denny Brauer, Rick Clunn, and Larry Nixon. Notepad and pen in hand, I wrote as fast as I my fingers would move as the pros talked about how they consistently caught bass. It was at these seminars that I learned the behavior of bass and how to catch them. If you want to improve your warm-water fishing, I highly recommend attending a seminar in your area. Most are reasonably inexpensive, and If you don’t walk away with more knowledge afterwards, you either have an ego that needs to be checked, or you weren’t listening. Most of what you’ll find the professionals talking about is catered towards fishing large lakes, but almost all of the information can be converted and used for fishing on bass ponds.
One recurring theme I noticed is that everyone of those bass fishing legends talked in great detail about how important it was to understand and locate structure. Talking about bass structure is no different than me talking to my clients about reading trout water. Both are critical for anglers, because it allows them to quickly locate hotspots, but more importantly, it allows anglers to distinguish productive water from unproductive water. Structure is anything in the water that fish are drawn to that allows them to live comfortably and feeding efficiently. Structure serves two purposes for bass. One, it provides habitat that becomes a magnet for their forage food, and bass always live close to their food sources. Two, it provides highly efficient ambush points for bass to camouflage themselves so they can feed easily. Structure can be above the surface, on the surface or below the surface. Just remember that there’s two main types of structure. The first is cover, such as lily pads, weed beds (ex. hydrilla or millfoi), overhanging foilage along the banks, docks or floating or submerged wood cover. The second form of structure is irregularities of the bottom and composition of the water you’re fishing. Examples of this would be creek channels, flats adjacent to deep water, edges (sand or mud bottom substrate changing to rock or deep weed beds meeting open water). If you’re lucky enough to ever find both types of structure together you’ve hit the jackpot. It should be loaded with a high concentration of bass, and should also hold fish pretty much year round. Search out, locate and spend your time focusing on fishing these two types of structures, and you’ll eventually find success. Again, this concept is just like trout fishing, where I instruct my clients to pass over empty or dead water and search out prime habitat that provides trout what they need to survive. The only time structure can be thrown out the window is when bass are chasing baitfish out in open water. It’s not really a problem in bass ponds though, because there’s usually not enough water available, but keep it in mind, if you’re fishing larger water in a boat, and you see bait fish activity on the surface and sporadic topwater bites, it should be a clue that bass are chasing baitfish. However, even in this scenario, there’s a good chance structure will be located near by because bass use it to corral and concentrate the schools of baitfish to feed on them more efficiently. In ponds bass usually corral forage food to structure or to the banks.
Generally, there’s two kinds of aquatic vegetation you should locate and fish. The first type are weed beds that root from the bottom and grow to the surface, forming mats. Examples of this kind of aquatic vegetation would be lily pads, hydrilla or milfoil. You’ll want to be fishing fly patterns here that have good weed guards so you can retrieve your fly without snagging or picking up vegetation every cast. I focus first on presenting my fly to the edges of the surface vegetation, where the weeds stop and the open water begins. After I do that, I’ll then cover the vegetation with follow up presentations inwards. Working my way farther and farther into the vegetation, with each consecutive cast. Don’t make the mistake of thinking, that just because the weeds are thick that the bass can’t see your fly well enough to eat it. I’ve caught some of my largest bass on ponds in places like this. I’ll never forget a nine pound bass I landed, that busted through a solid foot of hydrilla to eat my fly. There’s no way it could have seen my fly, but it utilized its inner ear and lateral line together and that allowed it to pickup enough subtle high and low frequency vibrations to track my fly in the water, just like state of the art radar or sonar equipment. Lastly, look for openings or pot holes in surface vegetation mats. Work your fly over the mat and when you get to the open spot, let it rest or sink into the hole. Bass often will hold close to the locations, but it’s also one of the few spots you can present your fly below the vegetation in these areas, and that will allow you to get your fly closer to the bass and increase your chances of hooking up. My two favorite flies for fishing surface vegetation are weedless frog patterns and long weedless worm style flies (long zonker or palmered chenille flies). One main tying material I use for these worm patterns are wide shoe lace strings that you can purchase at your local sporting goods or foot locker store. They usually have them available in most colors, even fluorescent and chartreuse. One day I’ll showcase the fly pattern on the blog. For now, hopefully it will spark enough interest for you to experiment tying a similar version yourself.
The second form of aquatic vegetation you’ll run into is deep water weeds. You won’t be able to see it but you’ll notice tidbits of it fouled on your fly after retrieves. They usually are found in five to ten feet of water. Sometimes more or less depending on how clear or muddy the water is. Theres always a little space between the weeds and the bottom, and that’s where the bass like to hold. A tungsten cone head long worm style fly does a great job of working through the grass without picking it all up. It’s tedious fishing, but there are times when the bass will be concentrated in this deep water vegetation on ponds and you’ll find great success if you work it over thoroughly slowing dragging coned head worm pattern through it. Make a long cast, count your fly down and make long steady strips with a few second pauses in between, during your retrieve. Sometimes the weed patches will be a narrow strip only a few feet wide. Your goal is to keep your fly in this strip of weeds as long as possible. It’s usually best to make parallel presentations from the bank to find the sweet spot, rather than casting perpendicular to the bank out into deep water. Every day is different though, and it’s your job to experiment to figure out the your best approach.
Depending on where you live, you’ll either have access to fishing shallow ponds with lots of vegetation or deep ponds with little vegetation and rock substrate. Climate, elevation and time of year also has a lot to do with it. Too cold, and vegetation won’t grow well, too deep of water and there’s not enough sunlight to penetrate to the bottom to encourage weed growth. On high elevation ponds there’s usually a higher chance of rocky geology, and in turn, these ponds will have more rocky shores and boulders. I alway equate rock with crayfish. You’ll find other forage food around rock as well, but I’ve found that crayfish are highly prized by bass, and they often even prefer them over baitfish because they’re much easier to forage on. So break out your weighted crayfish patterns and when you encounter rock, keep them bumping and swimming along the bottom. I often use a heavy weighted crayfish pattern with lots of rubber legs on the front (similar looking to standard bass jig), and I’ll tie it with a double, stiff mono weed card to keep me from getting snagged. The key to getting bites is working your crayfish pattern slow enough to keep it in contact with the rocks on the bottom but keeping it moving enough to not get snagged between rocks. Try really short strips with half second pauses in between. While you’re doing this you’ll want to be minimizing your slack so you can feel the bites. The bites are often subtle and hard to feel. Set the hook if you come tight, feel a tap-tap (similar to hitting rocks with your fly) or feel sponginess during the retrieve. Most anglers that don’t have success with crayfish patterns is because they’re retrieving them too fast, and not keeping their pattern down in the strike zone.
Remember, that rock is good, but a pond that has rock every where is going to require you to locate structure below the surface to find the hotspots. Try to locate and target depth transitions, isolated boulders and rocky points. These areas will provide much better habitat and ambush points for the bass to feed over level rocky stretches of water. Intermediate fly lines with a count down retrieve will work for the most water. For those rare deep water ponds, you may have to go with a full-sinking or sink-tip fly line to keep your fly deep enough throughout your retrieve. Airflo poly sinking leaders are great to have on hand for the deep water locations. You can attach it to the end of your intermediate fly line quickly when you need it for deep water, and then take it off after you move on to shallower water.
Wood – Brush piles, Fall Downs, Logs and Stumps
All forms of wood are bass attractors. Algae and plankton eventually cover the wood and that brings in the small baitfish that feed on it. Once the small baitfish have taken up residence, the bass will set up shop quickly. Anytime you find wood on a pond, you should work it over thoroughly with your flies, even if its a single isolated piece. Ask any hardcore bass fisherman about fishing brushpiles, and they’ll tell you the key to catching fish on them, is bumping and smacking their lures through the wood cover during their retrieve. Doing so, will often create reaction strikes from bass. It won’t be as easy to accomplish with a fly rod, but with accurate casts and a quality weed guard, a fly fisherman can do a pretty good job of effectively fishing a brush pile. Carry lots of flies, because you will lose flies fishing brush piles. When I’m fishing brush piles I like to fish subsurface with baitfish patterns first, because that’s what hangs around brush piles for the most part, but worm style flies will work as well, particularly on brush piles in deeper water. Topwater is a great tactic to use for coaxing bass out of the wood cover as well. Particularly during the late spring, early summer and early fall. You can never go wrong with a white Dahlberg diver. You can pop it and wake it on and below the surface to attract aggressive eats by bass.
Laydowns (trees fallen in from the bank) are gems when you can find them. They usually provide wood cover and structure at multiple depths. This is great for the bass which can move along the laydown deeper or shallower in search of comfortable water temperature and oxygen zones. Generally the end of a laydown is the big fish holding spot, particularly if the water is down and most of the tree is out of the water. But keep an eye out for junction spots, where a large branch forms a 90 or 45 degree angle from the truck. Bass love to hang out in these junction areas as well. Older laydowns increase fishing access to the fly fisherman, because usually many of the branches have broken off or rotted away. Fishing a laydown from the shore or from a boat, try to cast parallel with the tree so you can work your fly along the entire length. Instead of having three or four productive strips casting at the tree from an angle, which will have your fly exiting the strike zone quickly, you’ll keep your fly close to the laydown throughout retrieve and you’ll get more bites.
Submerged logs and stumps are like mini shelters for bass, just like the doghouse you bought for your dog. If you can find them, they’ll hold bass year round. Problem is, they aren’t that common in ponds, since most of the time, the trees have long been harvested before the pond was even dug. That being said, I’ve had the pleasure of fishing quite a few newly constructed ponds in wooded areas that had quite a bit of stumps and logs in the pond, and they were loaded with bass. Same routine as fishing rock structure, you want to keep your flies down deep and close to the wood throughout the retrieve. Count your fly down, keep your rod tip on the water, and make short quick trips with 2-3 second pauses while taking in your slack. If the wood is shallow enough you can work topwater poppers over them or sinking baitfish or bream patterns over the top of the logs and stumps.
There you go, that’s my break down of how to locate and fly fish structure for bass. Focus on targeting these kinds of structure from a john boat, drift boat or from shore on your local bass ponds. Match fly line type to the primary depth of water you’ll be fishing and the same goes for fly pattern choice. I’ve decided I will do a part three, showcasing some of my favorite warm-water fly patterns for bass. After that’s complete, you guys should be well versed on fly fishing bass ponds.
Fly Fishing Bass Ponds 101
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