With warmer days come warmer waters. And that's exactly what motivates largemouth bass to put on the feedbag. Fish are cold-blooded, so their level activity is directly related to their surrounding environment. In winter-time, bass slow down significantly, but come spring and summer, the warmer water increases their activity and need to feed.
This time of year is a great time to head out to a local lake or pond with fly rod in hand. Flies that can be used for largemouth bass include large nymphs, crayfish patterns, and big streamers. But of all flies, a popper can be as, or more effective, with two added benefits: 1) being able to see the strike, and 2) being able to fish heavy cover.
Not all poppers are the same. Poppers come in five "styles" and they all serve different purposes:
- Slider - the slider or "sneaky pete" is just that - a popper made to make very little noise and just slip across the surface. These poppers are best fished in shallow water or in areas with less cover where bass can be spooked. Bass can act like street thugs under the cover of low light or darkness, but cast a noisy popper of ver cruising bass in sunlight and you'll witness how wary they can be.
- Pencil - the pencil popper is similar to the slider. These flies have a longer almost minnow like tapered body and generally also "skate" the surface, although some can have a small cup-shaped face for a little noise. These are great for situations where fish are actively attacking a school of baitfish.
- Flat-faced - this style of popper has a slightly angled and flat face. When stripped hard they will create noise, but can also be stripped slowly to make less noise. These are best used in water that's 4 to 6 feet or so in depth.
- Chugger - the chugger is just that - a noise-making machine. They have bigger / wider bodies and are designed to "ring the dinner bell" over deep water or during low light or darkness, when bass are much more aggressive.
- Deer Hair - the deer hair is soft-bodied and light to cast. Some bass anglers claim that due to their soft body, bass are far less likely to reject the popper as a fake. Depending on how they are tied, they can be used to make some noise.
Popper fishing is simple, or is it? Fishing a popper does require technique. For one, casting, particularly in the wind, is difficult. And the weight of some poppers requires a cast with wide open loops and a very slow casting cadence. Secondly, the popper must be presented differently depending on the fishing conditions. During low light conditions, poppers can be presented with a hard noisy landing. The opposite is true during daylight in shallow water. In this case the presentation must be soft and the retrieve must be done slowly to imitate an unsuspecting frog or mouse swimming along the surface. When fishing in heavy vegetation, even during the day, a hard pop is needed to attract the bass as it has little or no visibility to the fly. And a general rule is to slow down - let all the wake rings disappear before popping the bug again.
Experimentation in retrieves is always important. Sometimes the bass want a very aggressive retrieve - other times they want it slow or at a crawl. Regardless, be alert for signs of an approaching bass. A wave or water bulge moving towards the popper is a bass coming to check it out. Other times, vegetation such as cattails will move as the bass swims out from cover.
Strikes can be explosive. And sometimes they can be just a sip. Always be ready but give the fish a chance to take the popper before lifting the rod. A slight pause is best.
Gear can be simple. Bass do not require "hoitey-toitey" tackle. A 7 to 9 foot fly rod, rated for 5 to 8 weight line and a basic fly reel is all that is necessary. Use weight forward floating line and a 5 to 7 foot leader rated at 2X to 0X. When casting in bigger water for bigger fish, move up in the scale of gear. If fishing small farm ponds, lighter gear - 5 to 6 weight - can be used. Lastly, if fishing heavy cover or vegetation, use heavier tackle. And while an improved clinch knot can be used to tie the popper to tippet, the non-slip mono loop knot is better as it allows free movement of the fly and minimizes leader twist.