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

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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.