So glad you are back with me once again…this is the third and final part in our series on “What Fly to Use”. In our first part we talked about finding out what kind of fly-guy you really are… Part 2 took a look at presentation, size and confidence in a fly. Today we are going to examine 5 flies which I think are my go-to flies…I like to call them my ‘fab-five-flies’; 1) black boogle-bug popper 2) bitch-creek nymph 3) baitfish pattern 4) wooly bugger 5) crayfish.
Fly # 1 – Black Boogle-Bug Popper
So, let’s just jump right into the discussion…and in no particular order; top water popper and to be exact…a black boogle bug popper. Confidence as I earlier discussed is so very important (at least it is to me) and for whatever reason I really love the boogle bug popper and black seems to be my most favorite color. I will admit that through the year I will cast orange, yellow and some other colors…but when the chips are on the deck-I quickly return to black.
Why, once again…confidence. I like size 4 and size 6 poppers for largemouth and my favorite of all species, smallmouth bass. There is just a right or correct time to fish a popper and it might be a bit hard to explain, but when the smallies are cruising…there is no better fly to use. Chuck one of these babies up under an overhanging Sycamore, let it sit, give a short ‘blurp’, a little more idle time on the water…and hold on. Visually there isn’t anything much more exciting than to see a wake moving in your direction or see the water start to bulge just below your fly!
One last tip…when you are frustrated and you have exhausted all other resources…try a popper. It doesn’t matter if it is cold, hot, sunny, etc…you might be surprised and you might just get the shock of the day when an aggressive fish explodes on your bug.
Fly # 2 – Bitch-Creek Nymph
The second of my fab-five-flies is a bitch creek nymph. Talk about an all-around great fly and one in which you can take about any fish on…the bitch creek is it. As you can see from this photo of a big wild brown taken in The Driftless region this past October…big fish will also crunch a smaller pattern. If my history is correct, the bitch creek has made its way to the rest of the world from small creeks in Montana, specifically bitch creek itself.
I find that this fly is not only productive on panfish, trout and bass at all times…but a lot of fun to tie. The combination between chenille, hackle and rubber legs makes the possibilities limitless. I usually have an entire patch of BC’s in various colors and sizes for whatever might be needed. I tie some with weight so that they can be fished below a floating line and others without weight so that I can cast and fish the fly below or under a sink-tip or weighted line.
Probably my favorite time to fish a BC is in the heat of the summer when smallies are laying low, maybe a bit lethargic. A good presentation under an overhanging limb with a complete dead drift is usually more than the fish can handle-as they will leave their hideout and quickly suck in a delicious passer-by.
If you are looking for an awesome panfish fly…then look no further. Gauge your operation down a bit and go with a size 8 or 10. Pair your offering up with a 2 or 3-weight rod…and you will have the makings of a day that you won’t soon forget. A couple years back I shoved off in my Creek Company ODC 420 float tube and fished a local pond that was full of big gils…in under an hour I landed over 30 prize specimens on a black body/white legged version of a BC.
One last tip…try high-sticking a BC in and around pocket water for semi-finicky trout. The action and real-life look of the fly usually provides for some explosive action. I love to use my 8’ 3-weight rod, a floating line and a weighted BC…short accurate casts enhanced by a lifting of the rod to keep the fly moving through the ‘death-zone’…oh, and don’t forget to stay alert during the final lifting of the rod as I get so many takes while the trout thinks its meal is escaping.
Fly # 3 – Baitfish Pattern
Fly number three on my list is a baitfish pattern. Now this fly obviously takes a broad swath and can be any of hundreds of patterns. When I use the term baitfish I am specifically speaking of small ‘meals’ that are swimming around in the waters that you fish in your home area…or patterns that will work in the waters that you will be traveling to.
Without question my number one go-to fly for smallies here in the Midwest is a baitfish pattern. While this pattern may change in color and size…almost all have similar characteristics of a slim, sleek line that contains flashy material. Here in Indiana we have creek chubs and the larger ones will actually co-habitate with smallies…the smaller versions are and do quite often become a meal.
A couple of summers back I was on a small creek fishing for smallmouth…I was using a bitch creek, casting it in and under overhanging limbs; I was about halfway down the creek and had caught some decent fish of 12-13 inches when a tiny smallmouth of about 7 inches grabbed my fly. I was a bit disgusted with this tiny tot and started quickly stripping it back across the stream towards me. From somewhere deep in the hole a big smallie bashed the smaller fish. The fish was stunned and I just left it alone. The big fish then circled the smaller and engulfed it head first…it was pretty awesome to watch. As the big fish swam away I decided I would give it a go…and set the hook as hard as I could-out popped the fly and I actually hooked and landed the bigger fish which was just a tad under 20 inches. It was evident that while I was stripping and jerking the smaller fish across the stream I had set off and triggered the attack response of the larger fish.
One last tip…try casting across moving water with a baitfish pattern and simply allow the pattern to dead drift with only an occasional ‘twitch’. As your pattern passes by boulders, logs and other holding spots for predatory fish like smallies…they won’t be able to stand it and will give your fly a real jolt. I especially like to cast into deeper pools in the hot summer months when there are usually a trophy or two just lurking down deep in the cooler water.
Fly # 4 – Wooly Bugger
Number four on my list might actually be number one if I were pressed to choose just one fly-a wooly bugger. I am still not sure why…but this simple little fly has been responsible for more fish than you can shake a stick at. Personally if I could only fish one fly, for sure, it would be a black wooly.
Over the years I have had some crazy memorable days fly fishing with a fly that I can probably tie with my eyes closed in less than a minute. In fact, the variations of this fly, which are numerous, allow you to take just a few color variations and do a good job fishing about any water and any water conditions.
One of the creeks near my house here in southern Indiana is the perfect example. All too often I start with another fly and in a few minutes have once again tied on a black wooly…and off to the races I go. One of my favorite adaptations is a simple tie in which I use black rabbit strip on a weighted fly (I usually use weighted eyes). I use the bunny strip as a tail and them ‘palmer’ the rest of the strip forward and tie just behind the back of the eyes. If you use an offset 60 degree crayfish hook, you can drag this pattern through rocks and along the bottom.
On one very special trip to Taneycomo in Missouri I tied on a size 8 black wooly under a type 3 sink tip line…and started making cast across the bend about ¾ of a mile below the outflow. I did nothing at all but allow the fly to dead drift and take the current. Each time as it hit the same depth of about 2-3 feet I would get a take. In the course of two hours I must have landed forty to fifty nice rainbows…and all without moving more than a few feet. It was one of those magical days that I was thankful to be a part of.
One last tip…try casting your wooly upstream and with short, erratic strips, pull it downstream past brush, rocks, etc….ambush points where larger predatory fish can make a short, quick explosion and suck-in the fly. At times you may need to slow down the presentation to an absolute crawl and allow the current to give the fly the action…the more weight you have-the less movement needed. Remember that a wooly bugger was created to imitate the actions of a leech which are in almost all waterways.
Fly # 5 – Crayfish Pattern
OK…we have made it to the last of the ‘fab-five’…a crayfish pattern. When smallmouth are looking (which is almost always) a crayfish in a variety of colors can truly make the day special. I will throw out that my favorite crayfish patterns are tied on an upward riding hook, usually a 60 degree bend and are not complicated ties.
Keep your eyes open while walking/wading the streams in your area. Often you will see crayfish dart in and out of rocks. If this is the case then try matching the size of the bug first and the color second. Remember that the dirtier the water, the less inspection the fish will be administering to your fly.
Last year on a nearby stream, I made a cast that bounced off of a Sycamore root and landed in clear water. I allowed the fly to sit and from the depths came a big smallie. He hovered over my crayfish pattern (brown/red). I gave a short strip and the bug hopped and came to rest. Once again he was eye-oodling my offering. One more time I twitched the bug and it was more than he could take…in a split-second he opened up his gills and sucked in the fly. I made a quick strip set and a few seconds later lipped a heavy 17 inch smallie…as I was removing my fly I noticed that in his craw was a still live crayfish of four-five inches. Carefully and slowly I pulled and the live crayfish came out, still intact. This proved to me that no matter how full…there is always room for one more!
One last tip…on many occasions I have beefed up my tippet to as big as 20 pound line and tied on a large crayfish pattern. At different logs jam…where there is a mess of brush all piled together and current from the stream is passing through…I carefully climb onto these structures and vertically jig my bug up and down in small potholes. This technique has surprisingly panned out on many occasions…and what I have found is that more times than not the smallies are large and aggressive.