Gerald Almy: Mouse flies can trigger big strike
Cats aren’t the only predators who like to prey on mice. Bass, pike and trout will also gladly attack and wolf down these furry little rodents. And even though they are terrestrial creatures by nature, mice often stumble into lakes, ponds and rivers.
Some voles, such as the red-back species, also swim across rivers, providing an easy meal for a hungry rainbows, browns, bass, pickerel and northern pike. In the Shenandoah River, a mouse won’t make it far if he happens to fall in before a belligerent bronzeback nails it, or maybe one of the elusive muskies that lurk in the river. In local farm ponds and lakes like Frederick and Anna, mice make a tasty morsel for pot-bellied largemouth bass.
The greatest thing about mice and voles from an angler’s perspective is that they float. This of course, means fishing them is a topwater game — the most exciting fishing of all. Another plus is that rodents are large food items and tend to entice strikes from big fish. We’ve written in past columns about fishing with rat lures on spin or baitcast tackle. This week let’s take a look at a whole different type of fishing — using mice imitations with a fly rod.
Patterns: Some mouse flies I’ve seen look so realistic you’d think they could easily crawl away. Such patterns will definitely catch fish, but aren’t necessary. Retailers such as Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Orvis and local fly shops offer a variety of mouse flies. Virtually all of them will work if a bass, pike or trout is in a feeding mood. Even an untrimmed Muddler Minnow or large cricket fly will work in a pinch. But a more accurate pattern is certainly preferable.
I tie most of my mouse flies by starting with a simple tail of hair, wool yarn, soft leather or rubber bands. With the tail in place, I then spin on deer hair for the body and trim it to the rodent’s natural profile — sort of an oval blob. Natural deer hair is fairly close to a mouse’s color, or you can dye it gray if you want a more realistic hue. The fish really don’t seem to care.
For most bass fishing, size 1/0, 1 or 2 hooks are best. For trout I sometimes scale down to size 4 or 6 hooks. Be sure to trim the hair back enough where the mouse’s belly is so you have good hook-setting clearance.
Mousing Tackle: These flies are cumbersome to cast and become even heavier when they soak up a bit of water. Use an 8½-9½ foot rod with a fairly stiff action taking a 6-9 weight line so you can control them effectively. A leader of 9-12 feet tapering to a 6-12 pound tippet works well. Add a shock tippet of 30-40 pound mono if you’re going after northern pike or muskies.
Fishing Mouse Flies: Several tactics can be used for fishing mouse flies. When float fishing rivers, you’ll be imitating voles and mice that sometimes swim out to cross the flowage. Cast your offering tight to blow-downs and logjams near shore where fish wait for the rodents to enter the water. Then simply work them back with a slow, v-waking retrieve. No twitches are required. Simply pull the fly out slowly like a real mouse or vole being washed downstream as it tries to swim. Wait until the fish firmly grabs the fly before setting the hook.
Sometimes this same retrieve works for pike and bass in lakes. Cast to cover, twitch the fly, and then slowly crawl it back. Other times a stop-and-go presentation works better. Try to simulate a mouse that accidentally fell into the water and is stunned and slowly realizing its dire predicament. Give a twitch, then pause, then a more violent twitch. Then work the mouse back in strips of 12-18 inches.
Keep the rod tip low to the water, and when a fish wallops the mouse imitation, pause before setting up hard. It takes a second or two for the fish to get these big morsels in their mouths.
Chances are good that anything grabbing a mouse will be a worthy adversary. Hold on tight and enjoy the fight!
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.