Bass? Yes bass, a great warmwater species that we are unfortunate enough not to have in the United Kingdom! Bass are quite a diverse range of fish but it is those native to North America I am particularly interested in and let me tell you why. Imagine yourself standing around the edge of a still body of water, a few lilly pads on the surface yet not much surface activity. Now imagine casting a large popping bug amongst said lillies and now imagine the water exploding from below the lillies as a bass engulfs your popper… I’m sure you’re now starting to let your imagination drift to the realms of popping excitement and starting to get a big smile on your face as Will Shaw depicts only too well here.
Let me now set the scene for my first foray into fly fishing for bass in North America (as I have previous tried for Australian Bass with no success!) I was approaching a completely new species not knowing the first thing about the fish other than they are quite aggressive and let’s face it, I only knew this from some brief foraging on the internet. Our plans involved travelling down through Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina so a tip on the Sexyloops board to call in and see bass fishing expert Mr Harry Murray at his shop in Edinburg was duly noted and promptly pursued. Murray’s fly shop is a cool little shop in a small town that has a rather impressive stocking of good quality gear and a fly selection that’ll more than cater for the local picking up odds and sods or the travelling angler like myself filling his boots! Harry was very forthcoming with lots of great information on habitats, fly choice, techniques and locations and after our conversation I left the shop with a bag-full of flies and a whole lot of confidence ready to hit the water.
Of course things never go as smoothly as this story was leading and in this case we were met by the tail end of Hurricane Isaac! Heavy downpours, galeforce winds and a power outage left me with fears of high and dirty water levels but fortunately the following morning the river was running clear and the sun was shining. We decided to take a canoe out on the Shenandoah river’s south fork in an attempt to cover lots of water and have a great family day out too. I don’t usually like naming locations but this is one river I do not mind giving a mention to as it already receives and incredible amount of river traffic. We hired canoes from the Down River Canoe Company who deposited us by bus upriver and we embarked on our 12 mile trip fully equiped with some water, some sandwiches and the all important fly rods.
Andrew was first up with yours truly offering to control the canoe whilst he fished all the structure around the banks. I’ve never seen anything like it, just about every single cast was met with a good ole smash. Too bad they weren’t bass but rather a fair old selection of sunfish. Lord knows which exact species they all were but we caught a few! Excitement was now high as these little guys were nailing the poppers left, right and centre but the bass hadn’t yet put in an appearance. I had in the back of my mind that Harry had said that our chances would improve as the afternoon wore on.
It was Andrew that finally found the first smallmouth bass of the day, witnessing a large gulp at his popper, striking at the speed of light and missing the fish, haha! Easily done for your first smash by a larger fish I suppose but that’s being generous; there’s no excuse for missing a fish when fishing with someone else – they’ll never let you hear the end of it! Ask my friend Craig… Later on after paddling down the river a fair bit to catch up on our time schedule it was my turn to take to casting duties. I fared much the same as Andrew with lots of small sunfish but eventually landed a smallmouth – what a moment. I don’t mean to sound too over the top but getting out on a new water for the first time, chasing a new species for the first time and succeeding fish time out is a great feeling, it’s a journey and a fun one at that.
Oh yeah, we saw a wild black bear too! Apologies for the out of focus shot, it was in poor light and I was caught off-guard.
Next stop was atop the Great Smoky Mountains National Park overlooking their amazing blue hue and ‘smoke effect’ of the mist in the distance.
The park is absolutely gorgeous and is stowed out with wildlife from small song birds, to bear, elk and fish. There’s rock bass, smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout… ok you get the idea. Once again it was the bass that were the focus of our efforts and this time it was simply stunning fishing. We happened upon a gorgeous little stream, as they all are in the park, that had clear running water and healthy population of bass. For me it was like being back in NZ stalking each and every fish, for Andrew it was an exciting introduction to the world of clear water. Every take and every spook he shouted and laughed in delight at this new visual element and I even found myself letting a few shouts of laughter go.
I was having a blast with a chartreuse size 6 popper, the bass were absolutely hammering it when the fly dropped a couple feet upstream of them. It was fantastic fishing, sighting the fish in channels in the rocks and under sunken branches, casting and then watching the assault. Interestingly in my experience you don’t need to pop the popper, too much movement spooks the fish, let it dead drift and ‘bang’! They pick up on the plop of it landing so extra movement is not really needed. As expected we fared much better in the faster streamier water than in the slow canal like stretches, the fish probably just had too long to examine that big green bug! I ended up with quite a few rock bass and smallmouth bass as well as some random species of sunfish. Andrew managed to get into a few bass too so it was smiles all around, definitely the most exciting fishing I’ve had this year – friggin’ great fun!
All the species of bass and particularly the smallmouth deserve some strong attention from the fly fisher. They inhabit so many waters, offer both stillwater and river fishing opportunities and are as aggressive as you like not to mention their power… It’s much like combining pike fishing with trout fishing and ending up with a golden combination – so what are you waiting for? Get out there, get some big flies and use your trout gear for a whole new challenge.
It’s good to be back on the blog and seeing as I have about 2000 photos from the new camera gear I’ll be sure to keep showcasing some over the near future. Also about to book flights out to Australia and NZ – 2013 is going to have some epic fishing!