Friday, December 8, 2017

Flies That Worked Best for Me in 2017

Does it seem like the most productive fly patterns change each year?  For me it does.  I definitely have my favorite patterns, and I do think that over time the fish get wise to them and learn to avoid them, especially in the waters I fish most often.  So, folks that fish often like I do need to keep trying new fly patterns to keep one step ahead of the fish...or at least just to show the fish something they haven't already seen a few times.

Here are some of the fly patterns(in no particular order) for various species that worked well for me in 2017.

Largemouth Bass:
-Blockhead Poppers
These are basically identical to Tim Holschlag's blockhead poppers.  I just draw eyes on the sides (and one on the bottom) with a Sharpie marker, rather than glue eyes one.  I do like using rubber legs on these, I think they work better, and both the smallmouth and largemouth bass like them.

-Gamechanger (and variants)....This Blayne Chocklett pattern works.  And I admit I was very skeptical.  But bass jumped all over these.  I tied my own, experimenting with various materials for the bodies.  There are still other materials I want to try....some of the Feather Gamechangers look really good.  Mine are ugly.  I know it.  Fish didn't care.  I'm sure I'll get better as I tie more of these.

One thing....they take a long time to tie.  I probably spend an hour each on the 4-5 segment versions.  So, I've tied some up with as few as 1 articulation (probably not a Gamechanger at that point?), and they still have great action when retrieved with an erratic jerk-pause type retrieve, and they still caught a bunch of bass.

-FC Shiner:

-Float-n-Fly jigs:
These are baisically the same as the microjigs/Springbrook Wunders I use for panfish, and bass like the small ones too. These are slightly bigger and heavier (these are 1/32oz) with a bit larger hook.  The idea is to keep these under 3"...and in fact I tied these to be @ 2".  With them, I caught some really nice bass when the water temperature dropped.

-DDH Leeches:
This is a Stu Thompson pattern that catches a lot of fish, and many species.  I caught some nice largemouth bass on them this year, and my buddy caught a bunch of smallmouth bass, and even some carp and white bass/hybrid striped bass on them (and maybe even a trout?). You can read his article and see his tying tutorial on his website:

 I also did well with a variety of shad imitations, but apparently didn't take good pictures of those specific patterns.  It seems like ones with flash, marabou and/or craft fur probably performed the best.

Smallmouth Bass:
I successfully used several of the same flies for Smallmouth as I did for Largemouth.  I won't repost the same pictures again...but these flies caught plenty of Smallmouth Bass for me:
-Blockhead Poppers
-FC Shiner
-DDH Leech

Common Carp:
I didn't readily locate my pictures of these flies, but you can find these patterns online.
-John Montana's Hybrid Carp Fly (along with color variations) caught most of my carp this year.
-Black Ops (by Chris at

Channel Catfish:
I caught catfish on a variety of patterns this year, from bass-sized zonkers, to blockhead poppers, to microjigs, etc.  But the following patterns caught multiple fish each this year:
-John Montana's Hybrid Carp Fly
-Black Ops
-small black Woolly buggers with a glass beadhead

-Chartreuse microjigs and silver microjigs/Springbrook Wunders
-Chartreuse mylar chenille buggers....these worked well after dark when the crappies were feeding near the surface out away from shore over deeper water.

These worked in NE Iowa trout streams as well as for stocker trout in some urban lakes.
-Gold microjigs/Springbrook Wunders
-beadhead gold Woolly Buggers. 

Did you have some fly patterns that worked especially well for you this year?

Monday, December 4, 2017

Float-n-Fly for Late Season Bass

Here's something we can all use....whether you are using spinning/baitcasting gear or flyfishing gear:

The Float-n-Fly.

Historically for me, bass have stopped biting when the water gets cold, so I usually finish off my open-water flyfshing season targeting trout and crappies.  This year, bass held my attention later in the year than usual.  In September and October, I mainly went to using larger flies, some as big as 4-4.5", like Blayne Chocklett's Gamechanger, and my own variants of that pattern.   That works great for awhile.

But once the water dropped to 45 degrees F or less, the bass didn't seem to want to chase a bigger fly at all, no matter how slowly it was worked.  I switched to using 1/80th oz microjigs under a strike indicator first, and caught some good bass.  But I wanted a jig with a bit larger body, and a larger hook....because those little microjigs aren't really designed to hook and hold a fighting big bass.  They will hook and hold one, usually....but that small hook always worries me when a big fish is on.

I found some 1/32 oz South Bend jigheads that had a decent sized hook, and a head design that let a jig ride close to horizontal when suspended at rest.

I'd read an article that suggested using jigs SHORTER than 3" late in the year.  Most of the ones I tied were around 2" in length.

These are too heavy for my usual Fish Pimp medium-size strike indicator, so I floated one of these with a large size Fish Pimp Strike Indicator.  This rig is still somewhat heavy for a fly rod to cast....I managed it with an extra-fast 6wt Allen Azimuth fly rod overlined with an 8 wt SA Titan Taper fly line.

I was able to leave work around 2pm on Friday, December 1.  I flyfished from 2:45pm until around 5 pm....which is when it is getting dark in Central Iowa at this time of year.

Based on a very credible tip, I visited a pond I don't normally fish.  Fishing wasn't fast or particularly exciting...which is to be expected since the water temperature is so cold and....its DECEMBER in Iowa! :)
I ended up catching 5 bass and 4 crappies.  The bass were mostly pretty nice ones....with the 3 largest measuring 17.75", 18.5", and 20.5" (in that order in the picture below).

These are really nice bass for Iowa...I was THRILLED!

I may have gotten lucky(?)....I tried that pond again the following Sunday, and only managed 2 crappies an 1 bass (17").
I then went to a 2nd pond and managed to catch 4 bass there...with the biggest, again, being 17".
I went to a 3rd pond, and ended up getting skunked there.  I wasn't surprised.
This Float-n-Fly technique absolutely works on late season cold-water bass.  I'd read that folks typically fish this system in deeper 5-15' down.  I tried to fish it deeper in the deeper pats of the public ponds I was fishing....but I ended up catching all the bass closer from water @ 3' deep, with the jig set about 2' below the surface.  Experiment to see what is working for the waters you are fishing.  Give it a shot!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

2017 Iowa Fly Fishing Summary

After keeping electronic Fishing Logs for 10 consecutive years, 2017 was the 2nd consecutive year of not keeping one.  I had planned to do one, but then fell behind early in the season on logging results from outings and had to give it up.  

So...there are many 2017 metrics that I don't have solid numbers for....such as total fish caught, how many days fished, how many of each species, etc.

But there are some metrics I do have a fairly good handle on.

I caught 20 species of fish this year, 19 of which were caught on flies. (I had at least 2 fair-hooked Grass Carp on, but did not manage to land any of them).

I caught 2 species I had not caught on flies before...a Black Bullhead and a Hornyhead Chub.

I caught new or tied flyrod personal bests for 4 species.

I caught at least 10 fish of 5 different species that qualified for an Iowa Master Angler Award.

Some notable fly-rod-caught fish from the year:
-21.25" Largemouth Bass
-15" Black Bullhead
-8.25" Rock Bass
-28" Bigmouth Buffalo
-28" Channel Catfish
-28" Common Carp

I caught 14 Largemouth Bass between 18" and 21.25".

I caught at least 25 Channel Catfish on flies this year.
I caught at least 20 Common Carp on flies this year.

Overall, it seemed like a pretty good year.  I don't have the hard numbers to back it up, but I feel like I caught a LOT of Largemouth Bass on flies this year, compared to previous years....and the numbers of 15"-18" fish was excellent!  Hopefully that translates into a lot more 18"+ bass in the next several years.

I didn't feel like I caught as many bluegills and crappies as in past years.  I fished for them less, but even when I targeted them, I didn't catch as many.  Maybe the booming bass populations have something to do with that?
15" Black Bullhead
16" Smallmouth Bass

13" Crappie
28" Bigmouth Buffalo
8.25" Rock Bass

Pumpkinseed Sunfish
Pumpkinseed Sunfish

Common Carp

21.25" Largemouth Bass caught on November 15
28" Channel Catfish

Add caption

Hornyhead Chub
20" Largemouth Bass caught on February 28

Technically the fishing season...and even the OPEN WATER fishing season isn't over.  Thanksgiving is tomorrow.  I drove by a pond on the way to work this morning that was 100% ice-covered.  We are supposed to have a bit of a warm-up, so I expect the ice will melt off, and isn't likely to start forming again until @ December 5th.  We shall see if  I'm able to squeeze in some more flyfishing this year.

If not....its been a VERY good year, and I really enjoyed the fishing!  Hope you did as well.
20.5" Largemouth Bass caught on December 1!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Mid-November 2017

The weather continues to get colder and windier.  We had days that were forecast to be in the 50's, but then it never made it that warm.

For some reason, I've really struggled to catch bluegills and crappies, which are typically about the only thing reliably biting this late in the season.

As sort of a continuation to my previous post about fly size for bass, I went fishing for bluegills & crappies, and ended up only catching some decent largemouth bass.  The first two hit a microjig under an indicator, so I switched to a small shad fly and caught one more.

And by the way....on this particular day I fished 3 ponds....I got skunked at the first two.  The next time I fished the same 3 ponds, I caught fish at the first two, but got skunked at the third.  So....I guess the point might be "the fish are always biting somewhere"?

And they were hitting the larger flies again.

Unpredictable fishing seems to be the name of the game this month.  A couple weeks ago I caugth bunch of decent crappies from one pond.  So, one day I took the afternoon off work to flyfish for them again since the wind was strong from the same direction.  I hoped the crappies would be along that same windblown shoreline where they have been before.
Caught one.
But it was the only one.  I missed a few good strikes, and only managed to land one more fish....a bass.
So I headed to another pond to try and target bluegills.  I caught some:

As I was fighting one of the bigger bluegills, a BIG bass took a swipe at it right in front of me.  That was exciting!  I switched flies twice before I felt like I was using something that big bass might strike.  A couple casts later.... BAM!  That was pretty cool, and even better that I was able to fight and land it.
21.25"....the biggest bass I've caught all year!
I didn't weigh it, but some bass weight/length tables I found suggested a weight of 5.7 pounds....this is a very good bass for Iowa!  As far as I can recall, this bass probably ranks as the 5th largest bass I've caught in Iowa.

Just when I assumed I'd probably caught nearly every bass in this particular pond....This one shows up!  I was stunned by the unexpected.  After releasing the fish, the adrenaline gave me jelly legs for about 20 minutes....and I kept making these weird involuntary sounds of disbelief and even talked to myself a couple times.  This fish turned me into a crazy person!  Pretty fun!

I feel the open-water season drawing to a close.  The ponds WILL freeze over for the winter, as they typically do here in Iowa.  I'll fish the open water as long as I can and as the weather allows.  Whatever happens...this has been a pretty darn good year for flyfishing...and this bass was an exclamation point on the season!

Enjoy your Thanksgiving, everyone.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Small Flies vs Large Flies for Largemouth Bass

I've wondered about "big fly vs small fly" success rates for large bass.  There are some folks that are adamant that small flies not only catch more bass, they often catch bigger bass.  On the other side are those that believe "big fly= big bass".

My experiences don't necessarily show any clear-cut correlation between fly size and bass size.

When I first started flyfishing, I was primarily targeting bluegills and crappies in the local public ponds.  Everything else, including bass, was welcome "by-catch".

I would catch decent numbers of bass while fishing for bluegills and crappies.  I wouldn't catch many "big ones".

I arbitrarily selected 18" as my personal definition of "big bass"...but even the 15"-18" range bass are good solid fish in central Iowa.  In my own opinion, bass in the 13"-15" range are when they transition to having a big enough mouth and body to effectively eat large prey items (like 6"+ bluegills) on a regular basis.

Several years ago, I started actually flyfishing for bass using poppers that were too large for bluegills to eat.  My catch rate on larger bass went up by a very noticeable margin.

After a couple years, I stepped up to an even larger blockhead popper design.  The bigger bass LOVED that, and still do (although the local bass seem to be getting wise since I use it so much).  My catch rates of the 18"+ bass climbed higher.  It has held pretty steady over the last 3 years.

I've also started using larger subsurface flies for bass....shad imitations, bluegill imitations, attractors.... flies that I often tie in the 3"-4" length range.  Bass have been liking these as well.
Bass on a 4" Gamechanger.  It could have easily eaten a much bigger fly!
One thing I find interesting....I consider some of these flies to be "big flies".  And then when I see them completely inhaled in a bass's mouth, they look pretty small, and I wonder if I should be using an even BIGGER fly.  I admit my confidence level in larger flies has grown as I've used progressively bigger patterns.
Bass on a Blockhead Popper.  Looks pretty small compared to the fish!
So....part of me agrees that bigger flies = bigger bass.

But during this same time, I've had times when I couldn't catch bass on the bigger flies, switched to smaller flies to target bluegills and crappies...and THEN started catching nice bass on these much smaller flies.  Also, one day I was casting shad imitations because the bass were chasing shad.  I caught plenty of 14"-16" bass.  I switched to a smaller dark fly, and started catching 17" bass in the same areas I'd been fishing previously.
Bass on a #6 DDH Leech

Bass on a #8 beadhead bugger.

Or how about the multiple times I've caught 20"+ bass on tiny microjigs while flyfishing for bluegills/crappies?
Bass on a 1/80th oz microjig.
2 or 3 years ago, I kept track of how many of the 18"+ bass were caught on tiny flies vs big flies.  It was very close to 50% on each fly size category.

What is the verdict?
Regarding small flies:
I think some people catch big bass on small flies simply because that is what they are using.  Or maybe they are fishing water that gets high pressure from bass anglers using the typical larger lures spinning and baitcaster anglers cast for bass...and the bass have learned to not strike those larger items in the water?

Or maybe there is a hatch going on, and/or the bass are focused on a certain type of easy meal at the moment....such as dragonfly/mayfly nymphs, leeches, or tiny minnows.

In other words...put a small fly in front of enough big bass, and eventually one will probably hit it.  Its very likely you will catch many smaller fish in between the bigger fish.

Regarding large flies:
And fly anglers tossing huge flies for pike and muskies will often catch large bass on those giant flies.  Big bass will definitley hit big flies.  Maybe not all the time.  And a bigger fly might keep smaller fish off your line long enough for a big bass to eat it.

In other words, if you are after big bass, toss big flies.  Eventually you'll catch big bass if they are present.  Don't expect to catch many smaller fish in between the bigger fish.

Final answer:  There is no right answer.  Fish whatever fly sizes make you happy, and that you have the most confidence in.  If they are present in the water you are fishing, eventually you'll catch a big bass. 😎

Using smaller flies probably requires more skill in hooking/fighting/landing fish because of the smaller hook.  In my experience, a bass will shake a larger hook less frequently than a bigger hook, but neither has a 100% success rate.

Your best bet?  Have some big flies and small flies with you....let the bass tell you what they want.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Early November 2017

The air temperature dropped quite a bit.  Highs have been in the low 40's, lows have been in the mid 20's.  The ponds are cooling off significantly, and will likely be freezing over before the end of the month.

I got out on fishing on Saturday, November 4th.  With the cool-down, I wasn't expecting much. I waited for the air temp to get above 40, and headed out the door for some local public ponds around 11am.

At Pond #1, I used a 4" Gamechanger fly for bass.
Clearly my tying skills could use some help.... :)
I had fished this pond with the same fly a week previously and had done well.  This time, the bass seemed to remember the fly.  I caught 3 decent bass, but missed a number of other strikes that just looked like the bass were charging the fly or swiping at it, but not eating it.  At least one of those actually DID eat it, and I still somehow missed it on the hookset.

At Pond #2, I put on a shorter version of the same fly.  Tied with the same materials, but total length of about 3.25", and with only ONE joint.  For comparison, the typical Gamechanger often has 4-5 articulated sections/joints.  This shorter version retained good action, while being much quicker/easier to tie, and lighter/easier to cast.

The bass loved it.  I caught 8 bass in this pond.  I saw one HUGE bass, but it didn't seem interested in eating at the moment.

At Pond #3, bass could often be seen chasing shad at the surface.  I mainly stuck with the same fly, although I eventually lost the fly to a fish and had to try some other patterns.  I caught 5-6 bass at this pond.  2 guys with baitcaster rods/reels and bass lures came down and fished for about an hour.  They left without catching anything.

At Pond #4, I tried for crappies.  One part of the pond can be really good for crappies when the wind is blowing into it.  But today the wind was calm, so I wasn't expecting much.  I ended up catching a bass, 2 bluegills, missed a fish that might have been a crappie, and then finally landed just one crappie.  It measured 12.25".
I covered some water after that, but did not manage to catch any more fish.  I quit around 6:30pm.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Late October 2017

Weather started to cool, then got nice, then windy.  For a week or two, fishing was slower than it seemed like it should be.  And not that the fish weren't feeding....bass could be seen busting shad on the surface in a couple public ponds I fish.  They were moving so the time I could cast to where they hit the surface, the bass were already long gone.  I did manage to get a few.
Some on a shad fly:

This one on topwater:
I did catch a few Hybrid Sunfish:

The wind finally died down on Wednesday and the temperature was a reasonably low 60's.  It was the nicest day in the 10-day forecast.  I took the afternoon off from work and went fishing.
So glad I did!  It didn't start off very well, but turned into one of the best days of fishing I've had in awhile.

Pond #1:
Started at the upwind end of the pond and worked my way along the north shoreline.  My buddy Jay joined me, and he worked the south shoreline.  By the time we reached the opposite end of the pond, I'd caught maybe 4 bluegills and a tiny bass.  Not good.  Jay had to leave, but I stopped and flyfished a windblown shoreline on my way back to the car.  I stayed in that area for several more hours!  I started catching crappies and more bluegills.  Crappies ranged from 9"-12.5", with most being @ 11".  All were caught on a silver Springbrook Wunder microjig set about 18" under an indicator.  One of the best crappie days I've had in a LONG time.  When the wind died, the crappie action slowed as well.

Pond #2:
There was about 90 minutes of daylight left.  I had tied some new fly patterns I wanted to test out in the water.  The first one worked ok, but not quite what I had in it will need some tweaking.  The second one was a Gamechanger I tied....its about 3.5" long.  Articulated (jointed).  I fished it in 2' long "strip-pause.......strip-pause.....".  The one I used is the one in the bottom of this picture:

I'm ecstatic!   The bass loved it!  At one point, I caught 5 bass on 6 casts!  I don't know if it was the fly or the location, but it sure was fun!  I worked my way around the pond and caught 2 more as it got dark.