Almy: How to catch pond bass on a fly rod
If you like fishing, this is your time of year. Sure it’s hot. But virtually every gamefish in fresh and saltwater is biting now. One type of fishing that you may have overlooked is fly fishing for largemouths. A lot of local anglers fly fish on the Shenandoah, but there’s plenty of good long-rodding available for bigmouths, too. Lake Anna and the game department managed lakes nearby are good bets. But my first choice for catching largemouths on flies would be a farm pond of one-half acre or larger.
The reason ponds are so appealing is that much of the water is shallow to medium in depth — perfect for the long rod. And on top of that, the fish are confined in a fairly small area, so you pretty much know you’re putting your offering in front of the quarry with a solid half-day’s effort.
A rod of eight-to-nine feet for a six-to-nine weight line is perfect. Make sure it has a bit of backbone, though. You don’t want a soft action for this fishing. Put a simple single action reel on it and buy an extra spool for it. Use a floating bass bug or weight forward taper fly line on the first one, a sinking tip or hi-density sinking tip line or the other. Backing isn’t necessary, but you can add it if you like or if you plan to use the reel for other fish like bluefish or bonefish in saltwater.
Add a tapered leader to the end. I like knotless ones, so weeds don’t catch on the leader. Six-to-10 feet is a good length, and the tippet should test six-to-12 pounds, depending on the size of bass present and the amount of cover you have to wrestle them out of.
I approach farm ponds with a fly rod the same way I do with spinning or baitcasting tackle. I divide the pond into three depth zones — shallow, medium and deep. During spring through fall I fish the shallow end early in the morning, the mid-depths from around 8 or 9 a.m. untill noon, the deep water from then until early afternoon. Then I reverse the process towards dark.
In winter take the reverse approach. The shallows can be productive during midday when the sun warms them, while the medium and deep levels are better early and late.
For shallow water fishing, nothing can compare with the thrill of watching a bass bust a popper or deer hair bug twitching on the surface. Size 6-2/0 bugs are useful, but the specific pattern or color of the bass bug isn’t usually too important. What is important is to have extra-sharp hooks and deliver the fly smoothly and quietly, so the line doesn’t splash loudly on the water and spook the fish.
Work poppers and deer hair bugs with soft twitches and long pauses in between at first. If this doesn’t produce, switch to a faster, louder presentation.
For the middle levels of a pond, stick with the floating line and probe any cover with your poppers and deer hair bugs. If no strikes come, it’s time to try streamers. Good choices include the Zonker, Sculpin, Muddler Minnow, Marabou Muddler, Flashabou Muddler, Clouser Minnow and Whistler. Leech and nymph patterns can also be deadly when probing this middle zone. Work the streamers with a quick spurting retrieve, the nymphs and leeches with a slower hand-twist retrieve.
When action slows in the shallows and transition zone of the pond, switch to your sinking or hi-density sinking line, shorten the leader and use the same nymphs and streamers employed in the middle level of the pond. Be sure to allow your flies to sink close to the bottom before beginning your retrieve in these deepest waters. You just may wind up hooking the biggest bass of the day in these dark, shadowy waters near the dam.
Finally, if the bass aren’t cooperating, be sure you have a few smaller bluegill bugs in your fly box. Small poppers will work, but sponge rubber spiders are best. Cast these on a four-to-six-pound tippet towards the shoreline or brush and weeds. Give them a gentle twitch and a chunky bluegill will likely be your reward. If you want to keep a few fish for dinner, consider keeping the panfish instead of the bass. They will rapidly overpopulate ponds in many cases and need to be harvested, while taking too many adult bass can damage the predator-prey balance of a pond.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.