Thursday, June 22, 2023

the TUG...

 I was up at 4:30, wanting to get to the lake while it was still early and, supposedly, while the smallmouth bass would be active in the shallows. It’s generally considered early morns and evenings make for the best still-water bass fishing – a belief that holds true for pursuing any wild game. Except, that is, for flowing rivers. Whenever I get with my river running friends, we never seem to get on the river much before 10 a.m. They say the water needs to warm up for the bite to get good, and I don’t doubt it, though I’ve never been on those streams as the sun was breaking.  

This time of year, even at the 4:30 hour the eastern sky is lighting and the birds are singing. Driving past the open hay fields of my neighbors, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should’ve already been on the lake. All I had to do that morning was back my truck up to the boat and hook it up, which was accomplished while the coffee was brewing. I downed an apple and a banana for breakfast on the road, and brought an apple and some cheese and crackers for a snack in the boat. The parking lot at the boat ramp was empty when I came over the hill, and I pushed the boat into the lake before 6 a.m. I was on a mission to try some new bass poppers. 

A few years ago, my friends and I were standing around next to the drift boats discussing the days fishing when a fellow approached to have a look at the boats and announced that he worked for the Montana Fly Company. He gazed over the boats quickly but wanted us to know he was credited with developing the hot nymph at the time. I don’t recall if it was called the pink squirrel or purple haze, but it was popular on the Montana river we were floating and the local fly shops were well stocked with them. I must have bought a few, but I don’t remember them being any better than any of the other flies we were using. 

I’ve succumbed to the temptation of inventing my own flies, too. Mostly bass-bug type flies, but there are a couple trout flies that worked. A favorite dry fly is basically a cheap copy of the Adams. I’d be wrong to claim I invented it, or even developed it – I just tied it with materials I had on hand and added a touch of red to the tail on the advice of an old timer who knows every brook trout stream in the area. That bit of floss probably turns the fly into an attracter rather than a true mayfly imitation and a purist would scoff at it. Then there’s the nymph I tie entirely with the fur and hair of a pine marten I trapped, save for the gold bead and rib. It’s a generic looking thing that catches trout, like every fly does, when it works. 

It’s the bass flies where I’ve done the most damage. In a category where just about anything goes, I’ve put together some flies that were truly mistakes. They failed on the water and looks; I regret that a few others have seem them – I can still hear the laughter. I have a pile of those rejects that I keep only to one day cut apart to save the hooks.  

I love catching bass on top-water offerings and I enjoy tying and using deer-hair poppers and divers. I have some that are years old and still tight and effective while others have faded and loosened from good use. Some folks coat their deer-hair with resins that gives them an almost plastic coating, but that’s not for me. Like everyone, I modify mine with colors, spots, and stripes to suit myself, though I’ve simplified the process – it takes a long enough to build a deer hair popper without all the fancy stuff – but I certainly didn’t invent the popper or Dahlberg Diver. 

I did come up with something that works, however. I was thinking of a topwater fly that would be quick and easy to tie. You know, a “guide fly”. It only consists of a couple of materials, including a single piece of craft foam. Tied in three colors, so far, I’ve been testing them for a few days with good results. The rocky shorelines of the big lake are twenty miles from home and a favorite place of mine. After the early season rush of walleye anglers, it’s surprising how the activity slows down. There are multiple boat access ramps on the lake, and there are always some boats out there, but I fish the bays in solitude. It probably helps that I avoid it on weekends. 

 I started with the yellow and hooked a bass on the third cast. These hard fighting chunky bass actually pull the boat around! They say the tug is the drug, and had I just been fishing I would have stayed with it. But in the interest of Research & Development I switched it up for the green one. That worked, too. And I’m happy to report I caught bass on the white popper, as well. I haven’t introduced them to the world yet, meaning a few of my fishing buddies, but look forward to answering when they ask what fly are you catching all those bass on? 

Five hours of casting, catching, and maneuvering the boat, sometimes in a bothersome wind, seemed like enough. I’d be home for lunch. When I pulled the boat up the ramp there were only two other vehicles in the parking lot. Nice.