I absolutely loved Dave Wolak’s post on The Lateral Line the other day on the reasons why fly fishing for trout can help anglers be more effective at catching bass. Though I’m mostly considered a “fly guy,” I have covered bass fishing in the past, including the Bassmaster Classic. I’ve always been interested to note how guys like Wolak, Gary Klein, Aaron Martens, and many, many others dig fly fishing because it makes them better at what they do. I’ve written about that some but it has extra impact when a real pro like Wolak says it.
So I feel like turning the tables and say that fishing for bass with conventional gear can do wonders for your fly-fishing game as well. Truth be told, if you asked my partner at Fly Talk what the last fish he caught was — at this moment — it would be a bass. On gear. He’s a closet bass nut. So am I. And the reason is that bass angling can teach you things that you can apply to most trout scenarios.
Wolak is right when he says that trout fishing with flies is largely about understanding currents and matching the hatch. But when you think about it, in the bass world where the currents can be far more subtle and the forage fish key in on is often well-hidden below the surface. I’ve always thought that those guys were operating on a higher plane than we fly anglers are. Sometimes, our answers are obvious. Bugs hatching right in front of us, bubbles forming on seams and current breaks. Those things are clear hints as to what we should throw and where we should cast.
Where a lot of trout anglers get stumped is when they fish sub-surface with nymphs (which is what trout eat the majority of the time), and that’s as much a weight consideration as it is a pattern consideration. Hit ’em in the head, and they’ll often eat it. So I switch weight five times before I even think about switching bugs. Bass anglers have a tremendous understanding of weight, sink rates, and how that factors into presentation — way, way more evolved than anything we do with flies.
Case in point: There’s been a lot of talk recently about “Euro-style” nymphing (some of it my own) where anglers use heavily-weighted flies that create line tension, then fish by feel to detect strikes. We fly anglers have, of course, conjured up all sorts of ways to explain all of this as if it were a “revolutionary” approach, but I gotta tell you, when I first started learning all of that, the thought that wen’t through my mind was, “Oh… you mean a Carolina rig for a trout river?”
The other really important thing to remember is that, when you go looking for large trout on flies, you’re specifically targeting the fish that have transitioned from being insect sippers to being predators of other fish and sometimes rodents. A 24-inch brown will no doubt sip emergers now and then, but at that size, it can’t make a living on little bugs alone. It has to make a stronger play for protein to survive. That’s why you catch fish like that by skittering mouse flies at night, or ripping big streamers off the banks.
Largemouth bass are, pound-for-pound, among the most “predatory” fish in freshwater. Bass anglers understand how to elicit the reaction strike as well as anyone. They know how to make fish eat something for defensive, exploratory, or other reasons, and not just by spoon-feeding the fish what they want. Effective bass angling, like trout angling, is very much about understanding the balance between finesse and force. You simply cannot play the big trout game effectively if you don’t know how to force the issue sometimes, unless you are incredibly lucky and always show up at the right place at the right time when the big bugs fall out of the sky.
Lastly, stealth on flat water is far more important than it is on a moving river, in my experience. So understanding sun and shadows, and the angle of approach is very important, as is minimizing clunky casts that might otherwise be covered up by the natural roar and splashes of moving water.
The bottom line is that anyone who thinks one type of fishing is superior to another has his or her head in the sand. It’s all good. And it’s all important. Though you may have your favorite types of fishing, it’s worth investing time doing a little bit of everything to round out your game. Thanks, Dave, for your post. Back at ‘ya.