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Monday, July 28, 2014

Flyfishing for Smallmouth Bass, 7-27-2014

My better half told me I could go fishing...so I HAD to go.  I WANTED to go.  Unfortunately, it was REALLY WINDY.  That severely limited my choices.  I could try to flyfish some local ponds by putting the wind at my back and fishing the calmer water on the upwind side.  But, I've been flyfishing topwaters for Largemouth Bass at the local ponds quite a bit lately, and the local reservoir and river still have high waters.

My better choices were limited.  I considered a small river for Smallmouth Bass.  This river had effectively dried up each of the past two dry summers.  There were only shallow intermittent pools left, and these may have largely frozen during the winters.  This definitely hurt the entire river's ecosystem.  Water had been high in this river early this year, and I wasn't certain it would even be wadable yet.

So, those were questions that needed answers...Would the trees adequately block the wind?  Was it wadable?  Were there any decent fish worth catching?

I went.  The stream section I intended to fish was busy with people...canoers/kayers/anglers/folks walking around.  Its a small stream, a guy can pretty easily cast a fly to each bank from the middle of the river in most areas.  Anyway, I quickly checked Google Earth for alternative access locations, and picked one nearby.  I walked upstream on shore, then waded back down and flyfished a 1/2 mile stretch of river back to my car.

Mosquitos swarmed me as soon as I got out of my SUV and started gearing up.  They badgered me the entire walk up the narrow dirt path through the woods as I headed upstream.  They left me alone, thankfully, as soon as I got in the water and started wading.

Smallies often like yellow or chartreuse, so I first tied on a chartreuse mylar bugger (basically a Woolly Bugger with no hackle) with beadchain eyes.  It didn't take long...a half-dozen casts in, I watched a wake bulge its way towards the fly.  Fish on!


Decent little Smallmouth Bass of @ 11" to start the day!
I saw a sucker (the only one I saw all day, as it turned out) on the far side of a section of fast water, and made some casts that tumbled right by the fish, but the sucker was uninterested in it.

Now that I had seen the water depth/clarity, I felt reasonably confident a topwater might get some attention.  I tied one to my line.
The first strike on the topwater was a dinky, but aggressive, Smallie:

I fished an interesting short rocky rapid with an especially large submerged boulder on the downstream side that was sitting in a small calm pocket, but surrounded on 2 sides by faster water.  That looked GOOD!  I landed 3 fish from that rock, and lost one more that was probably the biggest one.



That popper continued to work well for me.  Here's 3 pics of one fish that was one of the better ones for the day (it was too tough to decide which was my favorite picture of it):



I came to a spot that looked really good, but it had just gotten worked over by a guy fishing with spinning gear.  The current was too fast and deep for the popper to be effective, so I switched to a crayfish pattern under a strike indicator, a technique that Tim Holschlag finds to be extremely successful for Smallies.
It worked, I caught one!
As I moved past that spot, I continued in the wake of the spin-fisherman.  I switched to a yellow blockhead-style popper.  This worked well too! (I think the first two are pictures of one fish):


The fish really seemed to like that popper, but it broke off on a fish and I lost it.  I saw it float away, so the fish is still OK.

I switched back to the pre-formed foam-head style popper that I was using earlier (the green one).  The final stretch of river didn't look as good as some others I had fished upstream...but there were some large scattered boulders around.  I cast near one and the popper got attacked.  I couldn't tell which side of the boulder the Smallie dove down on...my side, or the downstream side.  It was a strong fish!  My line broke again.  I didn't see the popper float back up.  I tied one another popper and made a few more casts, then called it a day.  It took me @ 4 hours to work that 1/2 mile stretch of river.

Anyway, my expectations had been low, so I was extremely satisfied with the number and size of Smallies I was able to catch in this stretch of river on this day.  :)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bottom Feeders on the Surface??

My buddy Jay and I fished a local river yesterday evening for a bit.  The section we fished is downstream of a flood-control reservoir, which is still recovering from our early-summer rains. Consequently, the river is still flowing very high and fast.  There is some foam on the water that collects along shoreline eddies.  Water clarity was decent, but there was suspended rod-shaped algae particles in the water.

We went hoping to find White Bass & Wipers, and anticipated long casts would be necessary to reach the fish.  So, I left my fly rods in the car and too my spinning rods.  Big mistake.  Again.

Jay caught a small Smallmouth Bass on a Pop-R.  I saw signs of fish feeding in and under the foam along a shoreline eddy.  I foul-hooked a couple Smallmouth Buffalo.  I knew I could get these fish to hit a fly, so I dug in my sling pack and found a likely-looking fly (I had just taken my usual fly boxes out of my sling pack before I left the car, but still had some flies on the foam fly-patch inside the sling pack), and grabbed a larger strike indicator that would be visible even in the foam.  I set the indicator about 7" above the fly (the fly was a glass beadhead woolly bugger in kind of a natural mottled brownish color).  The fish were right under the areas with the thickest foam.  I don't think it would have been possible to get a floating fly to the bottom of the foam for the fish to actually find and eat.  But many of the fish had their mouths right up into the foam...a very unusual position for this species.

It took awhile, and I may have had several light strikes that I didn't bother trying to hook, but then I finally got a serious fish to hit it.    24" Smallmouth Buffalo, a new personal best on the fly rod for me.

Despite the low-slung mouth of a dedicated bottom-feeder, they are actually rather pretty fish.  They are blue-colored on their lower flanks.  This one had so much foam on him because of where I landed it, so I only took a picture of his pouty mug.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Blockhead Popper Conclusion

Nope...its definitely NOT the last time I will be using these.  They are fun to make and they CATCH FISH.  I just don't know how much more I can really say about them after this post.  So...the "Conclusion" part of the title just means I won't belabor the issue further.  Do expect future mentions of them and picture of them in fish's mouths, though.

I tied up some more blockhead poppers.  I tied 2 larger ones on Umpqua/Tiemco 8089 #6 hooks...those bass-style ones that are ginormous for their stated size.  I also tied up a couple more on the #10 size hooks of the same style.

Last night I visited 3 new-to-me ponds in my town.  Yes, and there really are even MORE that I still haven't visited in the past 13 years of living in this town!  :)  Can you believe it??  Life is good.

I fished all night with the larger size blockhead popper.  Since I recently broke my favorite 6wt rod, I was using a fast-action 7 wt rod to cast/fish these.

The first pond had a VERY WIDE and solid ring of floating algae around the edge of the pond.  I probably made 5 casts total, caught a bluegill on that larger popper.

Next pond, resulted in one 11" bass caught, and I missed a pair of great strikes from something I feel was larger.  Disappointing result from that pond.

The third pond gave up at least 5 nice bass in the 14"-16" range (guesstimate...I didn't really measure any of them).  They hit very aggressively, and fought well.  That was FUN!




A couple of the bass even struck, got off without being hooked, and then struck another time or two on follow-up casts back to the same spots before getting caught!  You can't always count on the fish being THAT aggressive!

Those #6 poppers were noticeable more difficult to cast than the #10's.  I think I will go back to using the #10's for the immediate future, but I will keep some of the bigger ones with me at all times, in case they want the bigger mouthful.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blockhead Popper Field Test #2

Quick field test during lunch today.  Algae mat conditions had not improved on the pond I selected.  I fished it anyway.
I caught an 18.25" Largemouth Bass (which may be the largest I have landed there), a 10" Crappie, and a decent Bluegill on the blockhead popper.



Dale S. let me use the following images of the jig he built for cutting the foam:



Blockhead Popper Field Test, 7-17-2014

In my previous post, I showed the first blockhead-style flyrod popper I tied.

I went flyfishing after dinner last night for a couple hours.  When I arrived at one of the local ponds, I made my first cast with the other foam-head style popper that I've been having good success with this year.
I cast to an area where I've lost a really nice bass on 2 previous trips to this pond this year.  The first one broke the line, the second one threw the popper.  Well, last night the fish broke my line again.  10 lb test tippet!!!  The fish probably is 5lbs or less, so I'm not sure why it keeps breaking my line.  Maybe it has genetically mutated giant sharp fangs.  HA!  Unfortunately, I'm not sure how many more times I can trick it into hitting a topwater!  Its gonna get wise.

The good news is, my popper floated to the surface maybe 10 seconds later.  The bad news is the wind blew it farther from shore, and I was unable to retrieve it.  Maybe I'll find it later this year.

Anyway, so then I tied on the blockhead-style popper.  I like it.  Casts better than I expected given its shape, and that square flat face gives a better pop than the other style.  I can't argue with all the bass I've caught on that other style, though.

The first fish to take the blockhead popper was a bluegill.  What was she thinking??

The next fish was a truly giant Sunfish.  I suspect it is a Hybrid Sunfish, but it really has strong Green Sunfish features.  It measured 9.5":

Then I caught 3 bass on it:

The third one was the biggest one (picture above), an while trying to drag it to shore through the algae mats, my TFO BVK 6 wt. rod broke in 2 places!  I'm BUMMED!  Fortunately, TFO has a Lifetime "No-Fault" Warranty.  So, I'll need to ship the pieces back along with $25 to get replacement sections or a new rod.

There were grass carp around, so I went back to my car and got my switch rod.  I put on a floating grasshopper pattern and spent the last hour trying for Grass Carp…even put some blades of grass and weed leaves on the hook, but they would look but not hit.  Actually they might have hit once or twice, but they didn’t submerge the hopper for very long, so I never set the hook.  I caught one more bass and a crappie on the hopper.

Grass Carp sometimes seem to be like Geese.  They always seem to have one “sentry” at the surface keeping watch, while the others are feeding.  There was a BIG one with his back, fin, and top of his tail out of the water, and he sat or slowly went back and forth in front of me pretty much for the entire hour I fished for them.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Flyrod Bass Poppers-2

My friend Dale S. gave me a tool/jig he built to aid in cutting foam "flip-flops" into shape for blockhead-style poppers.  He even gave me some flip-flop pieces in all the good colors!

Well, I'd been very interested to try making some of these poppers and trying them on the local fish, so I had to sit down and cut some up right away.

Wow, it worked great!  I quickly cut @ a dozen heads in just a couple minutes!  The tops and bottoms are angled....I can see I may need to also angle the sided, but there was some cool texture on one side that I kind of wanted to keep.  I can trim some more in different ways later.

Here's the first one I tied up:


I think it should work really well.  Yesterday I went fishing during lunch, and hadn't packed this new popper into my flybox/sling pack yet.  I resorted to using one of the poppers I mentioned in my previous blog entry.  Conditions were extremely tough at the public pond I fished, with a 25' wide solid band of floating algae mat on the surface around the entire pond perimeter!  I found a couple openings in it, and saw some decent bass around one of them.  First cast with the popper...I could see a bass come up to look it over...it slowly moved forward, I just let the popper sit...and the bass sucked it in, turned and dove.  Fish ON!  :)

It was a nice 17" bass!


Anyway, I hope to try the blockhead popper soon.  Another huge THANK YOU to Dale for the awesome foam cutting jig!!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fly Rod Bass Poppers

In the comments of my previous blog post, Mel from the Pond Stalker (http://pondstalker.blogspot.com/ ) blog inquired about what popper I've been using for catching bass on the fly rod from my local waters.

A couple years back, I started tying and using this style (introduced to me by James Smith from Georgia):

These have worked REALLY well for me at times, and I've caught bass up to @ 19" on them.  They have some bulk to them that pushes water, the foam sheet lips form a popping mouth, and the the marabou tail and boa yarn belly area give the impression of movement even when the popper is at rest on the surface.  They cast almost like a wet sock, however.  I do like them!

HOWEVER, this year I've been fishing with bass poppers I've tied using pre-fabbed (store bought) foam heads.  This is just one example I tied up last night, but it's pretty typical of what I've been using all season:

Just a marabou tail, the popper body, and some rubber legs is all that is needed.  Its smaller and somewhat more compact than the first popper I mentioned.  I use a Tiemco (or Umpqua) 8089 Bass Bug Hook in a size #10....although I would probably use a #8 if I could.  I think they may only make this hook in sizes #10, #6, and #2.
Don't let the hook size fool you.  That style of hook is much bigger than normal hooks.  I've read that the size #6 compares to about a 2 or 1 in other hook styles.

Anyway...I can't recall off-hand who manufactures the foam head/bodies.  I buy them at the local Sportsmans Warehouse.
I did some searching on-line, and found some similar ones:
https://store-ff6ab.mybigcommerce.com/flybass-flat-belly-poppers-12-pack-4-colors/

http://www.flybass.com/rainys-bass-pops-pre-shaped-6-pack/

One key to the design seems to be the flat belly.  It helps the popper maintain proper position in the water, and allows for reasonable hook gap to improve hooking percentage.  Bass are bass...and they will still throw this fly sometimes.  The ones I use look just like these...but this picture came from an eBay seller's page:

They are very quick & easy to tie, durable, float all day, and cast reasonably well with a 5 or 6wt fly rod.
I've caught a lot of bass on them already this season, and my biggest bass so far on one measured 20", which is a REALLY nice bass for Iowa, especially considering it came from a heavily fished public pond in town.

Although I consider it to be a "small" bass popper, its generally too big for bluegills to manage.  I still catch some on it occasionally, and last week I had an 8.5" Bluegill completely inhale it...the whole thing in its mouth, lips closed!!  That was bizarre.  I've also caught smallmouth bass, green sunfish, crappies, and even a couple of channel catfish on these poppers.  Check out my previous blog entries for pictures of these in fishes' mouths.

Good luck!  :)