Teaching an Old Bass Guide a New Trick
By Steve Chaconas
Spinning and baitcasting reels with heavy line and large hooks are my weapons of choice. I winch fish to my high performance Skeeter bass boat, powered by a 250 HP Yamaha outboard. Guiding allows me to fish with anglers of varied skill levels and backgrounds. Some anglers bring spinning reels. Some casting reels. But the dreaded appearance of a fly rod backlashes my mind.
Occasionally fly fishermen come aboard for a Potomac River bass trip. With eyebrows raised, I observe with interest as they piece together 9-foot rods, thread heavy fly line, only to tie on light leaders and very small lures. Flailing and subsequent failing begins. Casting at best about 50 feet, they can’t reach strike zones. Spinning or casting outfits can effortlessly reach 100 feet. Tiny fly lures are no match for big, bad and boisterous bass plugs designed not to imitate but instead to intimidate bass into biting. Fly rods are put aside in favor of bass tackle.
After many attempts by fly anglers to get me to cross over, I finally accepted the challenge. Meeting Orvis Master Certified Casting Instructor Dan Davala, my education began. They have a different rod for everything. Lots of lines too. Floating, sinking, different weights and tapers, main line and backing had to be mechanically spooled on the reel with a special winding machine. Tapered leaders tie to the fly line. Tippets tie to the leaders. I use GAMMA lines for bass fishing and was pleased to learn GAMMA specialized in fly lines. A call to fishing line expert Dale Black and appropriate GAMMA Frog Hair leader and tippets were on the way. In January my outfit was ready to handle smallmouth bass.
My fishing buddy, Alan Friedlander set up a September Upper James River float trip with Capt. Matt Miles. No Yamaha here. The boat bottom skidded over shallow rocks under Matt’s rowing power. A few tips from him and my casting performed well enough to put homemade Miles Slider topwaters in front of fish. Soon I had a few rises, that’s what fly anglers call bites, and finally a hit. Anticipating the hookset, I executed it to perfection and started to strip line, what fly anglers call reeling the fish in. I had my first fish on a fly, but lost him at the net. Enjoying the casting motion, which was therapeutic for my sore shoulder, I was getting more action and landed several fish, albeit quite clumsily. That would improve under Matt’s advisement. Fly angling is more grace, less brute force. The quiet drift boat allows time to stop to hear the cicadas, the flow of water over shallow rocks and the occasional bird of prey boasting a catch.
A common angle runs through fly-fishing, the geometry of my fishing triangle. The base is casting, distance and accuracy. Next is lure presentation. This was very interesting as the fish were in crystal clear water only inches deep. Well-placed casts either produced action in a few seconds or another cast was required. Conventional fishing requires aggravating them into biting. Fly-fishing requires choosing a size, color and shape to match what fish are eating. Fly rods present very small unobtrusive and lifelike natural baits, designed to fool fish.
The first day of the James River trip I gazed at my trusty spinning rod, but didn’t pick up this fishing security blanket. The second day, I never even looked at it. I executed fly casts, focusing on accuracy and then increasing distance. Hooksets, topping off my triangle, became second nature and stripping line to keep fish hooked felt natural. And then, I made a well-placed cast under a tree and against a log creating an eddy. A huge smallmouth engulfed the Miles Slider. A solid hookset, controlled stripping and experienced rod work brought a beauty to the net. The culmination of two days listening to Matt and Alan resulted in me hooking and landing a 20.5-inch citation smallmouth bass!
With tens of thousands of fish under my belt since my very first fish, something I don’t even remember, it was still very exciting to accept the challenge to try something new and different. Learning and executing to success made this experience memorable. I caught my first fish all over again, but this time, I’ll remember it.
Potomac River Bassing in OCTOBER
Grass is going…but still around. Find fish in these remnants.
Lucky Craft BDS4 crankbaits on 12 pound test GAMMA edge fluorocarbon line can be worked over grass. Catch grass, shake and snap allowing baits to float.
At lower tides, try Mann’s Baby 1-Minus on the same line. Crank and rip out of grass, pausing for bites. On cloudy days with chop, try Mann’s Classic spinnerbaits. Buzzbaits with Mann’s HardNose Reel N Shad soft plastic Swimbaits instead of skirts will also produce fall bites.
Pitch Mizmo tubes on 3/0 Mustad Tube hooks on 14-pound Edge around scattered grass or into holes at any tide. For deeper edges, try Mizmo Barb Wire shaky heads with Doodle worms. Soak in garlic Jack’s Juice Bait Spray.
Mann’s Hollow NEW Goliath frogs on 60-pound GAMMA Torque Braid are perfect over matted grass. Also try toad style soft plastics with a Mustad Ultra Point Swimbait hook. Follow-up with weightless stickworms like Mann’s 5-inch HardNose Freefall worm on 10-pound test GAMMA Edge Fluorocarbon line for missed bites! Wacky rig with 2/0 Mustad RED Octopus hooks.
Punch through thick grass mat with Round Valley ¾ to 1-ounce Tungsten weights, 60-pound Torque braid and a strong Mustad Grip Pin Flippin hook.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac bass fishing guide & contributing writer for BoatU.S. (BoatUS.com) Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.