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How to Catch Panfish on Fly

Is it brim? Or bream? Or both? They’re known by different names — panfish, bluegill, pumpkinseed, sunfish and shellcracker among others.

Semantics aside, theses small freshwater fish are known for their voracious appetites and fly-rod fun. Everyone who has ever held a cane pole in their youth probably caught one or two of these hand-sized creatures.

They’re everywhere in the Lower 48. You’ll find them in ponds, lakes and rivers. And there’s no better way to shake off the rust from a long-rod layoff. Panfish provide plenty of consistent action — on topwater or subsurface.

Below are a few tips for these feisty little guys.

When and Where for Panfish

Any pond or lake in the continental United States probably has panfish. Because they’re a warmwater species, they’re more prevalent in the south, southeast and mid-atlantic regions.

They’re not as sexy as trout, but they’re infinitely more accessible. Any retention pond or golf course pond likely will hold bream. With trout, you might have to travel. With brim, you might not have to leave your neighborhood.

The best time of year for panfish, in general, is in the spring, when the fish move into the shallows to spawn. The timing of this depends on geography and water temperature.  A good rule of thumb is 60, 65 degrees.

How to Fish for Panfish

Once you find a body of water, look for shade and shoreline structure — logs, patches of grass, stumps, sticks, etc. Work these areas early and late in the day. You can catch panfish all day, but it’s tougher as the sun rises, particularly once summer arrives.

Once the air and water temperatures warm, the little fish will head for slightly deeper water. Look for drop-offs. You may need an intermediate line to find deeper fish, but you can keep things simple with a floating line and a longer leader.

Simply cast, count to 10, let your weighted fly sink, then slowly retrieve your offering. How long you count, of course, depends on the depth of the water and where the fish are holding. A bit of trial-and-error is usually required.

You can also use a strike indicator. The plop of the indicator often will cause curious fish to investigate and yield a strike.

Flies to Use for Panfish

Poppers, poppers and more poppers. You simply can’t have enough of these. Boogle bugs and Sneaky Petes and Bumble Bees are known for their productivity. Toss these toward cover, let the rings created by the impact of the offering hitting the water dissipate and strip. Repeat, varying the intensity of the strips and the length of the pauses. Fishing with poppers is a waiting game. Panfish like to study their prey before the strike. Wait as long as you can stand it.

For subsurface flies, you can’t go wrong with standard trout nymphs —- a hare’s ear, pheasant tail or a brassie. A hopper-dropper can be a productive tactic when crickets and beetles scurry about.

For streamers, you can’t beat a woolly bugger or a muddler minnow. Bass like both as well.

The Gear for Panfish

Some anglers prefer a 2 or 3-weight rod. Small fish, light rod. Not a bad choice. However, it’s not a bad idea to swing a 5-weight, which provides enough backbone to make those bigger poppers turn over. And if you happen to run into a bass, you will have enough stick to win that battle.

TFO’s Bug Launcher, Axiom II and NXT are good choices. You don’t need a high-end reel. The NXT LA is a great value.

As for a line and leader. Stick with a weight-forward line and a 3 or 4X, 7-to-9 foot leader. Remember, this is not technical fishing. When in doubt, simplify.

Panfish often inhale their prey, so don’t forget your hemostats. Panfish have tiny mouths. Pliers usually don’t dig deep enough.

Panfish are a blast. They’re easy to catch and almost always willing to spar. They’re great for kids to learn or for inexperienced anglers to build confidence. Even veteran long-rodders can benefit.

Questions, comments about panfish on a fly rod? Feel free to visit one of our social media pages.

Looking For More Versatility And Fish? Try Drop Shotting

Editor’s Note: This post comes from TFO Ambassador Steve Lund, who provides insight on drop shotting for bass.

Drop shotting is a technique that any serious or novice angler shouldn’t overlook. Some will say that they only catch small fish with this technique and rarely catch quality fish. In some cases this may be true; however, there are times when drop shotting seems to outperform other baits in catching not only quantity but quality bass as well. I personally would rather catch fish other ways and often will only resort to drop shotting when other techniques aren’t getting the job done, but I’ll never rule it out. In fact this is one bait that I almost always have tied on and ready to go. I used to be one of the guys that would snub his nose at the thought of drop shotting or as some refer to using the “fairy wand.”  After moving to back to Arizona, an area with many clear-water canyon lakes, I quickly learned that drop shotting can be a valuable technique in helping to not only fill out a limit, but also win tournaments. There are certain lakes that big fish just seem to eat the drop shot really well.

Drop shot is a versatile technique that can be fished in a wide range of water column depths, from right next to the bank to the deepest part of the lake. For those that are unfamiliar or new to drop shotting, there are several videos on the Internet that can help you get started with the basic setup.

The Right Setup

My main drop shot setup that I use 90 percent of the time is a Temple Fork Outfitters Gary’s Tactical Series 6’9″ ML Spinning Rod (GTS DSS693-1), paired with a Shimano Stradic Ci4+ 2500 Spinning Reel, spooled with 10-pound P-LineTCB8 Braid with 8-pound P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon 10-foot leader. I will use this set up when I’m fishing anywhere from about 1-30 feet, as I am usually throwing a 3/16 or 1/4-ounce weight.  When I fish deeper than 30 feet, I will use heavier weights —- 3/8 or 1/2 ounce —- and also upsize my rod to the Temple Fork Outfitters Gary’s Tactical Series 7’3″ M Spinning Rod (GTS – S734-1). Increasing the rod power is necessary when fishing deeper so the rod sensitivity doesn’t feel as sluggish and provides more backbone for setting the hook with the heavier weights and more line out. I will fish the same line set up 10-pound braid to 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.  On rare instances I may drop to a 6-pound fluorocarbon leader when the bite is finicky in super clear water.

For hooks, I vary the type of hook I use depending on the lake I’m fishing. If I’m fishing a lake with brush trees or other snags, I will use a Gamakatsu Rebarb hook that I can rig a bait texposed, where if I’m fishing relatively open water I will use an Aaron Martens TGW Drop Shot hook and nose hook or wacky hook the worm. Most of the time I will fish with around a 12″ length line from bait to weight. Sometimes it may be necessary to adjust to a shorter length when the fish are lethargic and sitting on the bottom or a longer length to ensure your bait is above vegetation or when targeting suspended fish that are off the bottom.

What to Fish and How to Fish It

Try different types and sizes of baits; sometimes switching it up can make a big difference. I will usually start with a standard straight tail finesse worm in 4.5 – 6″ which works for most conditions. I have had success with curly tail worms also and sometimes prefer to throw curly tail worms when there is more wind or when the fish are more aggressive, the curly tail worm slows down the fall and provides action on the fall attracting active fish that will travel greater distances to your bait. I also like to try bigger baits like a 6-7″ fat worm or baby brush hog that provides a little more visibility in stained, deep water, or fishing at night.

For action I let the fish tell me how they want it. I vary between twitching, dragging, shaking, or even dead sticking until I can determine what seems to be working best. Dead sticking is so hard for me to do, but sometimes the fish just want it that way.

When it comes to colors, there are so many choices and I like to try all kinds of new colors and different color combinations, but some of my favorite colors that always seem to work are Morning Dawn, Aarons Magic, Oxblood/Red Flake, and Margarita Mutilator.

The main thing I would say to keep in mind is change things up and try different things until you figure out the best drop-shot combination for the conditions. Drop shot is not always the best technique, but there are times when it can be, and it is one of many highly effective tools to keep in your box.

Suggestions, comments about drop shotting for bass? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.

Big Flies Weigh You Down? Try the Clouser Rod

Ever had trouble casting those big saltwater flies? I have. A Clouser Minnow with big dumbbell eyes is my kryptonite. Serviceable loops elude me.

It might be my casting. Might be my rod. The former is more likely; the latter is an easier fix. TFO’s Clouser rod might help me sling the heavy metal.

One Clouser meets another. And what better person to discuss the issue than the man who invented the Clouser Minnow and designed the Clouser Rod.

“It’s made to cast weighted flies,” TFO Advisor Bob Clouser said during an interview from his Pennsylvania home last week. “It’s not super fast; it’s not super slow. It’s in between. It has a moderately fast action. It also has built-in action that most people don’t notice or talk about. It’s called progressive (action). That aids in casting. The more line weight the rod picks up, the farther down the blank it bends. The farther down the blank it bends, it’s stronger than the next piece up. It’s going to bring the rod tip pretty much even. You can have 20 feet, 30 feet, 40 feet of line. It’s going to set it off as the same speed as the 20-foot of line. It’s all matched with weight moving weight.

“If you’re a really fast caster, you probably won’t like the rod. If you want the rod to work itself, you’ll love it.”

The idea for the Clouser rod was hatched from an obvious trend —- a fly rod market that caters to the angler who wants tight loops and long distance.

“Everything was too fast,” Clouser said. “You don’t have to work this thing hard. It will pick up all lengths of fly line because of its progressive speed.”

TFO’s Clouser is Clouser’s second crack at a rod designed to throw big flies. His first, which measured 8 feet, 9 inches, was with a TFO competitor.

“We built that same action into a 9-foot rod (with TFO),” Clouser said. “What we had to do was speed it up because of that 3 inches of rod tip. So it’s hair quicker than the 8-foot, 9-inch was. It’s not that noticeable, but we had to beef it up a little bit.”

The Clouser is suited for a variety of fish, in freshwater and saltwater.

“I use an 8-weight for just about everything,” Clouser said. “I fish a lot of saltwater. I fish a lot of jacks. A lot of redfish. Even albacore. Even with the albacore, I would recommend a 9 for them. But that 8-weight, if you fight them off the reel, that rod will handle any fish.”

And let’s not forget the smallmouth, one of Clouser’s favorite species.

“Oh my god yes,” he said. “The reason: The smallmouth will hit flies from 2 inches long to 6, 8 inches long. Of course the bigger the fly, heavier (the rod) is. The 8-weight will handle that casting.”

As for a complementary reel, there’s no better option than the TFO Power. You can’t beat it for durability.

“It’s very good if you’re going to do saltwater,” Clouser said. “It’s very good if you’re going to do heavy-duty fishing.  If you’re just going to do freshwater fishing, the BVK will handle that.”

If you need security against that fish of a lifetime, the Power is the way to go.

“Super strong drag system,” Clouser said. “Just a super good reel.”

Comments on the Clouser rod or Power reel? Feel free to weigh in on one of our social media pages.

Time to Simplify with Tenkara

I have a problem. I have a to-do list and it’s not getting any shorter. At the top of my personal inventory.

Organize Fly-Fishing Stuff

When I started in fly fishing some 30 years ago, I had a box of gear. Now I have an entire room of angling accessories. Rods, reels, waders, boots and fly boxes have created a mountain of clutter. Do I really need all it? No. Does it make me feel better that I have it? Perhaps.

Fly fishing has a lot of cool stuff. And it’s fun to dabble with a different rod every now and then. But, there’s no doubt that I need to simplify.

The essence of Tenkara illustrates this point perfectly. I look like a pack mule when I go fishing. Centuries ago, the Japanese, the inventors of Tenkara, probably used a simple satchel. They caught fish with the essentials.

There’s something to be said for that elegant simplicity. Less is more when it comes to Tenkara. Below are a few reasons why.

Portability

With a traditional fly-fishing setup, you have a rod and a reel, fly line, backing and a leader.

With Tenkara, there’s your rod and, essentially, your leader. And each setup, because of the telescopic aspect of the rod, can be stored in a small sling-pack, backpack, or vest.

If you fish on small streams or have to hike very far, Tenkara can’t be beat for portability. You can set up — and break down — streamside.

You’ll Fish More

Ever dread having to put together your rod when you’re eager to fish after a long week at work? I have.

To me there’s nothing more frustrating than having to assemble a four-piece rod and rig everything before you make the first cast. And if you’re in a hurry, inevitably you will miss threading a guide, which means you will have to re-rig.

With Tenkara, you can set up in a minute, 90 seconds tops. Fewer moving parts means less can go wrong. I like that.

The Drift

Fly-fishing success largely hinges on a line control. Because Tenkara rods extend to 11, 12, 13 feet, it’s ideal for maintaining long, drag-free floats not easily attainable with traditional 9-foot fly rods. Like high-stick nymphing? Tenkara may be the perfect fit for you.

Affordability

Prices vary in the fly-fishing market, but, in general it’s difficult to find a high-quality freshwater setup — rod, reel and fly line — for less than $300, $400. Since you’re not paying for a reel, you can get started in Tenkara for less, in the neighborhood of $200, $250. The TFO Soft Hackle Cutthroat is great for small streams. It breaks down to 20 inches and extends to 8 feet, 6 inches.

You’ll Catch More Fish

Tenkara will improve your overall fishing ability. With traditional fly-fishing, we all crave tighter loops and more distance. Hence, many of us try to reach that streamside brown with a sizzling double haul of a cast. With Tenkara, you quickly learn to art of short casts and stealth. You can catch that same fish, but with different skills.

Any suggestions, comments about Tenkara, feel free to comment on one of our social media pages. Tight lines.

The Mayfly Project: Fostering Hope for Kids Who Need It

The next time you fish, take a look around, in the parking lot or on the water. You’ll no doubt see a few men and maybe a woman or two. But rarely will you see a youngster.

Fly fishing, without a doubt, is getting gray behind the ears, which begs the question: When this generation passes, who will replace them?

Many non-profits protect the water and resources, but will there be anyone to enjoy what’s left? Thanks to The Mayfly Project another generation will be ready to enjoy their time on the water. They just don’t take kids fishing. They take kids who need to fish. Kids who need direction and stability.

Foster kids.

TFO blog editor Mike Hodge reached out to Mayfly founder Jess Westbrook and co-founder Kaitlin Barnhart to chat about The Mayfly Project. Both are passionate about their mission. Below are excerpts of last week’s phone interview.

TFO: Obvious question: When did The Mayfly Project start?

KB: “2015, in Arkansas. That’s when Jess started The Mayfly Project. I joined forces with Jess in 2016, when we decided to create a national program together. When we met, I think we talked for about for two hours, what our ideas were, what we were both doing. We had a lot of conversations since I’m in Idaho and he’s in Arkansas.”

TFO: What was the general catalyst for the idea and the mission?

KB: “For me, it was mental health for kids. I have a background in mental health working with foster kids. I used fly fishing to help them cope. I knew it would help with their mental health.”

JW: “The idea for me came from having a lot of anxiety. I had fly fished all of my life. It wasn’t until I used fly fishing to help with my anxiety when one day at church we had someone talk about foster children. I knew I wanted to give back. Once I heard that (in church) about foster kids, I knew that’s how I wanted to give back.”

TFO: Can you elaborate on The Mayfly Project’s mission? I know you all take kids fishing. But I know it’s obviously more than that.

KB: “Our goals are to take the kids fly fishing and to give them a break from a stressful life, to teach them the coping skills that come with fly fishing, to teach them about conservation and how to take care of the rivers. Those are our main goals with the kids. We have a conservation initiative where the kids earn buttons as they go through the programs. Then there’s a mental health part it where we help our mentees build self-confidence through fly-fishing success.

TFO: Where do the kids come from? How do you find them? How does all that work?

KB: “It takes work to find the kids because every state is different. (Foster kids) are a heavily protected population. We usually try to work with group homes. That way we can work with the staff there. Otherwise, we work with individual foster families with support from the Department of Health and Welfare.”

TFO: So, just foster kids. Not other kids?

KB: “Just foster kids. They don’t get out very often. It’s a population that usually doesn’t get these types of experiences. That’s the main reason.  And it’s a group that has had to deal with mental illness. Fly fishing has proven to help with that.”

TFO: If you read on the internet and in magazines, there’s a movement afoot to get women involved in fly fishing. Kids just don’t get the publicity in that regard. Given that, how important is it to get kids involved, not just foster kids, but kids in general?

JW: “We have a motto: Our kids need rivers. Our rivers need kids. So the kids are definitely future stewards of our land. So getting them involved and having then get bit by the bug that we’re all bit by is important, so that they’ll continue to preserve our land. They’re the future. If they love it, they’ll take care of it.”

KB: “For them to connect with nature is our goal. Jess and I have talked about that: The rivers have become our home. For kids we work with, and the next generation, we want the outdoors to be their home, too. Because once you identify with the outdoors as your home, it becomes a place you want to protect.”

TFO: How rewarding is it for you all when you help kids make that connection?

JW: “It’s super rewarding. We find that our kids really buy into this. We’re finding that kids are really taking to it. Fly fishing tends to have people who are very passionate. The support we’ve had from everybody and the stuff we’re been able to outfit our kids with, our kids are set up to fly fish on their own once they leave our program. We’re finding that providing them with gear and knowledge, they fall in love with it just like we do. We see these success stories almost weekly. It’s cool seeing kids actually buying into it.”

TFO: You have sponsors. TFO is one of those? How much has that helped your program?

JW: “We actually had a TFO/Mayfly Project rod that just came out. We’ve been working on that for a little while. I actually got those in hand about three weeks ago. We haven’t released them on our website. But we’re really excited about that. TFO has been great supporting us. You guys have been awesome. Our sponsors are a huge part of why this thing happened.”

Questions, comments about The Mayfly Project, feel free to reach out on one of our social media pages.

Swimbaits 101: How and Why You Should Fish Them

Editor’s Note: This submission comes from TFO amabassador Will Dykstra, who is dialed in swimbaits. Enjoy.

When it comes to targeting large predator fish, few presentations match the subtlety of swimbaits. Technology has benefited this lure category as much as any on the market today. A big reason for the effectiveness of swimbaits is the ability to not only match the forage of large predators perfectly, but to be able to present these lures in a finesse manner that coaxes fish to strike in highly pressured waters.

The Setup

In order to fish swimbaits effectively, it is imperative that you have the proper setup, or equipment. One of the biggest challenges for anglers throwing these heavy lures all day is the toll it can take on the body. For this reason, TFO offers several options that can accommodate just about any swimbait and any angler out there. The GTS Swimbait Rod, for example, is specifically designed to allow the angler to cast larger and heavier baits with ease due to the fact that the rod has a softer tip. This feature results in a better lure launch and provides a higher sensitivity that equips the angler to execute a more precise finesse approach. This means even the most subtle take from a large predator can be detected, leading to greater success. The bottom portion of the rod, however, is built with strength and power in mind. The long stout butt of the rod allows for maximum power for the cast, retrieval, and equally important, the hook-set.

Heavy braided line is essential for large predator swimbaits. In order to handle big baits and large fish, the line weight should be in the 65-80-pound range. The braided line has proven to be more effective than a copolymer in this application because it maximizes sensitivity for lure control and hook-setting power. Often times, muskies, pike, or even a big mackinaw, will bite down so hard on these large soft plastic baits that the lure won’t even move on a hook set without stout gear. This is largely due to the gauntlet of teeth in these predators’ mouths as well as the soft nature of the bait. Therefore, having very little stretch in the line is imperative.

Finally, a reel with a larger line capacity is critical to accommodate the heavier braid. Typically, this will require a 300 series or bigger. The gear ratios can range anywhere from a 5:2:1 to 6:4:1, and will be adequate in any situation for these large fish.

The Presentation

When targeting these large predators, choosing a bait that matches color and profile of the forage is key. In many western waters the trout profile and color is king, while in the midwest and farther north into Canada the forage is much more diverse, ranging from suckers, ciscoes, and walleye, to even small pike.

Typically, swimbaits have “Rate of Fall” (ROF) options that include slow, moderate, or fast-sinking. Simply put, the ROF indicates the sink rates of the lure, allowing accurate target zones for desired depths to fish. The bait packaging normally lists the feet-per-second that the baits will sink. The depth that you run a swimbait is vital to fishing success; most of these targeted predators are ambush feeders. Therefore, fishing adjacent to weed lines, or even through the weeds, is extremely effective. The same goes for other forms of cover like rock ledges and stacked timber. Getting the bait at the right depth and in the right position is absolutely critical and can mean the difference between triggering a strike and missing your target altogether.

The finesse aspect of these swimbaits allows them to be fished extremely slow while still achieving a realistic profile and action that mimics exactly what the forage fish look like in their natural habitat. Fishing these baits slow with occasional pauses followed by very short bursts with the crank of the reel can generate some bone-jarring strikes, while the slow and steady retrieves tend to provoke a lighter, softer take.

Paying attention to the line and rod tip is crucial when it comes to this finesse approach, as often times these large fish will grab the bait and swim with it at the exact speed the bait is being retrieved. Once the take has occurred it is imperative to reel through the hook-set to maximize leverage followed with a second hook-set to drive the hooks home.

Regardless of the time of year, a swimbait can be a producer of some of the largest predators day in and day out. With the right tackle, the right presentation, and a little finesse, your chances of landing that fish of a lifetime can become a knee-knocking, arm-wrenching reality.

Women Are Fishing More Than Ever — And They’re Not Going Anywhere

Women are everywhere on the water. Fishing has long been a male-dominated pastime, but that trend has changed. Fly fishing, and fishing in general, is no longer your father’s sport. It’s your mother’s and your sister’s. It is, in essence, for everyone, male or female.

Few have really studied this phenomenon. Steve Kantner was astute enough write about it in depth with his new book, Fifty Women Who Fish. Published by Wild River Press, the book features lengthy profiles of some of the most famous women anglers, including legendary caster Joan Wulff, television host and guide April Vokey, DUN Magazine editor Jen Ripple, longtime Miami Herald outdoor writer Sue Cocking and world-record holder Meredith McCord among others.

TFO blog editor Mike Hodge reached out to Kantner at his Fort Lauderdale, Fla. home to discuss his book, which is his third. The other two are The Ultimate Guide to Fly Fishing South Florida on Foot and Backcountry Flies: Tying and Fishing Florida Patterns, from Swamp to Surf.

Fifty Women Who Fish is due to be released later this spring. You can order copies here.

Below are excerpts from the phone interview.

TFO: Here’s a simple question: How long did the book take, from start to finish?

SK: “Well, from its actual conception to its actual delivery, I started in January two years ago, and now we’re going into April, so you’d say about 28 months.”

TFO: Was this book more difficult than your first two books?

SK: “The level of depth. … You’ll see.”

TFO: The fly book is somewhat formulaic. But this is a series of in-depth profiles, right?

SK: “It’s a 200-and-something-page book. And you have to try do it right. A lot of the fly book, the problem was that I’m a lousy photographer, and I had to try to get all the photos done. … But here you’re talking about sweeping concepts and people’s lives. One girl was locked inside of her house until she was 9 years old.”

TFO: The profiles, did they take a long time to write and to do the interviewing?

SK: “The thing I worry about is sometimes you get to know these women and you’re talking to them, I wanted them to be comfortable. That’s why I let them see things as the process evolved. I didn’t want them to be afraid because this would have some longevity. It’s not like a Facebook post. No one knew them better than they did. I didn’t want the profiles to be press releases, but I wanted the women to be confident in what was presented.”

TFO: What was the most rewarding aspect of the process?

SK: “I got to know and understand women a lot better. I think the most rewarding thing is I gave these women a voice to their concerns and to their fears and to their aspirations. I tried to let them be all that they could be.”

TFO: What was it like talking to Joan Wulff?

“That was a couple times. (My publisher) Tom Pero knows her pretty well. I talked to her a bunch of times. Her stich is the First Lady of Fly Fishing. I’ve known her for years. She came pretty clean with her life. She’s a lovely lady, 92 years old. She was big not only for women’s fishing, but for everybody. She came from a large family. Her father was Jimmy Salvato. He had a sports store in a suburb of Patterson, N.J. That was back in the day when you sent your sons to college, but not your daughters. She always had a little edge about that. … From the first time she went fishing, she knew it was for her.

“I didn’t know her (late) husband Lee. But the guys that I know that knew him either liked him or they didn’t. Most of them really liked him a lot.”

TFO: Were most of the women pretty receptive to being profiled?

SK: “Yes. Once they realized I was authentic. In the beginning, imagine how it would be when someone calls you up and wants to ask you secrets? I came on slow, deliberately. You look at all the weird stuff we have in our society. I don’t know about you, but I get about 10 crank calls a day — ransom ware and locking up your computer. Imagine what it’s like getting a call where they might not know you.”

TFO: Did you have trouble coming up with 50 names to profile?

“No. The problem I really worried about was there’s one who’s particularly deserving that I would have liked to have added, but you can’t have a title like 51 Women Who Fish. I didn’t know this woman personally, but if there’s a sequel, she’s on my list.

“I’m kind of a sucker. I was sending stuff out and I really had to ride herd on it: ‘Are you interested. If you’re not, say so.’ But you know how it is, it’s not normal thinking. They don’t say, ‘No thanks. Not interested.’ What I was afraid of was getting 51 responses and I would have to tell someone no. That would be devastating. I would then defeat the purpose that I started out to do, which is to give them a fair shake. Fortunately everything fell into place.”

Tips on How to Fish for Ice-Out Bass

Editor’s Note: This post comes from TFO Ambassador Burnie Haney. Enjoy.

When we talk about ice out bass fishing in the northeast, we’re talking cold water, and believe me, it’s specialty fishing. In short, you must really want to do it, or there’s no point in reading any further. Now, for those of you still with me, we’re going to review what to wear, where to find these fish and review five lures and setups that will help get you bit during this cold-water period.

Dress for the Conditions

First and foremost, remember the acronym C.O.L.D.  Wear Clean clothes, don’t Overheat, dress in Layers and try to stay Dry. Don’t forget you can always take layers off if you get too hot during the trip, but if you don’t have enough on it’s hard to stay warm. Also, nothing will end an ice-out trip faster than wet clothes or cold hands or feet. I prefer to use finger-tip wool gloves that allow me to feel my line, yet they cover 90-percent of the exposed skin, and they still provide warmth if they do get moist or wet from casting. The other required items are a quality set of waterproof boots, a cap with a bill and a nice wool cap to wear over it along to keep your head warm, along with a pair of polarized glasses.

Where to Start

I’ve had my best success starting my search in the northwest corners on most ponds, lakes or reservoirs. This area of water usually warms the fastest after the ice out, and if you can find good hard cover, it’s a big-time bonus. Oftentimes the bass will be relating to deep water structural elements (rock piles, ledges, humps or the ends of secondary points) nearest spawning flats they intend to use in the next 60-90 days. I’ve found using my side-imagining unit I can quickly identify these areas and see if any fish are present. Remember, these fish have had a lid over them for the past 4-6 months and once the water opens, they’re going to feed in anticipation of the annul spawn that’s just around the corner.

As far as the ideal depth, it’s a relative thing depending on how deep your lakes are and where you’re fishing, but I’ve found most often that starting in the 15 to 20-foot zone adjacent to spawning flats is a reliable zone. Once I identify where the fish are holding, I scout around that general area looking for the migration routes out of the deeper water onto the spawning flat. It might be a slight rock vein or old road bed, perhaps a ridge that climbs up onto the flat or maybe a ditch or cut that comes out of the deeper water up onto the flat or one of last year’s submerged weed beds.

Not to over simplify it, but I’ve always treated this cold to warm-water migration much the same as when I go anywhere; I usually have a target destination, and I arrive there by traveling known routes along the path of least resistance. Think of the points, ledges, ditches, cuts or weed beds as sidewalks, not unlike if you or I were going to a store or restaurant. We don’t park our car hop out and then wander around the parking lot; instead, don’t we usually select a route, walk straight to the building open the door and go inside? Well, it’s generally the same thing for the bass; they’re looking to feed up so rather than meander all over the water column they too will take an easily identifiable path to get to the prime areas. In this situation. it’s food and a bit warmer water.

Once you’ve located these migration routes, then it’s just a matter of monitoring them as the water continues to warm, and the fish begin to use them more and more. Once the fish get up onto the flats, horizontal baits will produce the most fish, with the quality fish usually coming on vertical baits that fall and stay right in front of fish’s face.

Five Lures to Consider

For those deep-water fish, it’s hard to beat a blade bait like a Silver Buddy or a Heddon Sonar (3/8 or ½ oz). For this presentation I like to use the TFO GTS Bass C735-1, 7’3 MH rod paired with a 6.3:1 reel spooled with 12 to 15-pound fluorocarbon. It’s a good vertical presentation that allows you to cover water quickly and generate a bite that you can duplicate in similar areas of the lake. I start the presentation with a long cast toward the fish holding area and work it back to the boat hopping it along the bottom with short 12-15-inch pops of the rod tip. On the lift, you’ll feel a violent vibration, and on the fall, just follow the lure back down with your rod tip. Usually the hits occur on the drop, so be a line watcher, but sometimes they strike just as you lift the blade up off the bottom. If that doesn’t generate a strike, then try changing the length of your hop, either go shorter or possibly a tad longer.

Another great deep-water presentation is rigging some Berkley gulp minnow on a VMC Mooneye Jig, position your boat directly over the fish and keep the bait about a foot above where you mark them on the graph. I know this sounds goofy, but don’t work the bait. Instead rely on the natural motion of the boat on the waves to give it the slightest amount of movement. Until I tried this technique, I didn’t believe it, but this do-nothing method will get you bit. For this presentation I use the TFO GTS Bass S734-1, 7’3 M rod paired with a 5.1:1 spinning reel spooled with 8-pound Cortland Master Braid and about a three-foot section of 8-pound fluorocarbon leader. And for the jig I start with a 3/8 oz. head and might drop down to ¼ oz.

As the fish start moving into that 8-10-foot zone, it’s a good bet the Jerkbait will do most of the heavy lifting on any given day. Remember those weed beds we talked about earlier, this is where the suspending jerkbait rules. Baitfish are still in and around those weed beds, and the suspending jerkbait gets right in their face and just sits there daring them to bite it and most often they will. Again, we’re talking cold water, so you’ll need to keep your movements slow and subtle. I start with a long cast, give it about six or seven cranks to get the bait down, then give it a slight twitch and let it sit for an eight count. Reel up any slack line give the bait one or two light twitches and again let it set. If this doesn’t generate a strike, then I’ll increase the pause from the eight count to maybe 15. However if I find I’m generating follows but no strikes, then I usually drop down in lure size, and that seems to work. There are a ton of jerkbaits to choose from, and I happen to like Lucky Craft, so that’s what I use. However, having said that the most important thing is depth control and the lure’s ability to stay where it is in the water column once you stop the retrieve. For this presentation I use the TFO GTS Bass 695-1, 6’9” MH rod paired with a 7.3.1 reel spooled with 10-pound fluorocarbon.

As the fish start to occupy areas shallower than 6 feet, I’ve enjoyed good success with a Boot tail swimbait in the 2.8 – 3.3 sizes. There are a bunch out there to choose, but I prefer the Keitech Swing Impact or Fat Swing Impact. I’ve found keeping it simple works best for me, so I use three basic colors — Silver Flash, Blue Gill Flash and Tennessee Shad. I rig these swimbaits on 1/8 or ¼ oz jig head (size 1 hook) and fish them on a slow, steady retrieve. For this presentation I use the TFO TFG PSC 703-1, 7’ ML rod paired with a 5.1:1 spinning reel spooled with Cortland Master Braid and a 36” section of 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.

Another nice dual-purpose bait this time of year is the Swimjig. I use Strike King 3/8 oz Tour Grade in three colors, white, green pumpkin and black/blue. For the trailer I use a Zoom Twin Tail (Fat Albert) matching the jig colors. This is a great search bait for scouring the flats and if you see following fish, simply let the lure fall to the bottom, and the fish will usually nose down on it. As they go to it just give it a short twitch and they’ll hit it and if not just start a normal retrieve and they’ll usually grab it. The other nice thing about the swim jig is if you come across a weed bed you can pitch or flip it in there and work the cover the same as you would with a standard jig & pig.  For this presentation I use the TFO GTS Bass 736-1, 7’ 3” H rod paired with a 6.3:1 reel spooled with 20-pound Cortland Master Braid with a 48” section of 16-pound fluorocarbon leader.

I think if you dress accordingly and give these lures and setups a try, that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how many bites you can generate when chasing ice-out bass.

In closing, remember cold-water conditions are no joke and require a clear head. Take a cell phone with you and let someone know where you’re going and how long you’ll be out and be sure to let them know when you’re safely off the water.

 

Good luck and be sure to post those fish catches on one of our social pages. Questions, comments about ice-out bass, let us know those thoughts as well.

Fifteen Minutes with Junior Ambassador Braden Miller

TFO ambassadors and advisory staffers cover a wide spectrum. Young and old. Amateur and professional. Famous and relatively obscure. Young Braden Miller is in a class by himself. After all, how many junior-high kids represent a major fly-rod company?

Braden recently joined TFO as a junior ambassador. He’s just 13, but talks fishing like a seasoned pro. TFO blog editor Mike Hodge reached out to the young man and his mom, Casey, for a brief interview. Here’s what they had to say while taking a break from a hectic afternoon schedule at their Glen Allen, Va. home.

TFO: How did you get involved with TFO?

BM: “I’ve been going to the Virginia show for the past couple years. I was showing people my flies. I got a booth and then I got asked to tie. Collins Illich stopped by and asked if I wanted to do an interview. I did an interview with Alex. Rick Pope was there talking about BVK rods. I stopped by the Edison Show, and then Lancaster was when I was asked to join the family.”

TFO: When you go to the shows, do you do the same thing that the adult ambassadors and advisory staffers do?

BM: “I go to shows. I go to the TFO booth. I go back and tie a little bit. Then I go back to the TFO booth and promote rods and talk to people.”

TFO: Let’s talk fishing. That’s probably more interesting for you to talk about. … What’s your favorite fish to catch on fly?

BM: “My favorite fish on fly would be the musky.”

TFO: Why so?

BM: “They’re a challenge to catch and they’re super powerful. Once I’ve hooked them, I’ve not be able to move them. They’d make a run and I’d have to let them run. I’d do the same thing, try to move them and let them run, until I could get them up to the boat. It’s like dead weight.”

TFO: And your favorite place to fly fish?

BM: “So far my favorite place to fish would be Alaska. The last time I went to Alaska I wasn’t super into fly fishing. I still had my fly rod there. I was fishing for rainbow trout and dolly varden.”

TFO: Any place locally in Virginia that you’re fond of?

BM: “Probably Atlantic Beach for albacore. That’s exciting.”

TFO: A lot of kids your age might be into basketball, baseball or football. Why invest so much time into fly fishing?

BM: “Early on I had a choice of fly fishing or baseball. Recently I got in car accident and broke my elbow. My shoulder got messed up and all that. Since then, I’ve been enjoying fly fishing. I can’t make any money in baseball. I can make money in fly fishing, with casting, selling flies and all that. Fly fishing, I like it. It’s calming, relaxing. It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun.”

TFO: I understand you got a chance to fish with TFO’s Blane Chocklett. Tell me what that was like.

BM: “That was awesome. I had never done any (musky) fishing like that. It was really cool. He knew exactly where the fish would be holding. The challenge was getting one to eat and hooking one and fighting it right up to the boat. He instructed me exactly how to cast, how to tease the fly. It was amazing.”

TFO: What did you learn from Blane? What’s one thing that you took away from fishing with him, that you maybe didn’t know before?

BM: “Casting. I learned a lot about casting. I was focusing on my casting instead of letting the fly actually go. Too many back casts, then I’d mess up my entire cast. And then letting the fly sink where it needed to be. That one was one of the main things, too.”

TFO: How much have your parents factored into your fly fishing?

BM: “They help with everything. Mom brings me. Dad looks after everyone else, who’s not coming. Sometimes they come to shows when they can. Mom drives me. She’s even willing to tie flies.”

TFO: Casey, what has Braden gotten out of fly fishing? What’s the value of it for him?

CM: “He has always been great in fishing, since he could walk. Fly fishing has been a totally different sport for him. He has learned more patience when it comes to fishing. Between tying his own flies and the fishing, he has really learned patience. Before, he would really be upset if he didn’t catch fish. Now he’s learned that it’s not about going out there and catching fish every time. It’s about being in the outdoors and enjoying himself. He’s really learned a lot from the people who have helped him out.”

TFO: Braden, last question, what is your favorite TFO rod and reel?

“I really like the Axiom II rods, and my favorite reel is the BVK in whatever range. I have I, II and the III. The III with a 7-weight would be my favorite combo. Super light weight. Casts like a dream. Large arbor reel. Picks up line super quick.”

Questions or comments about Braden? Feel free to visit one of our social media pages.

TFO’s Bob Clouser Talks Carp on Fly

I’ve never caught a bonefish. It’s on my bucket list, but the tropics may have to wait a few months. Fortunately, I’ve got a freshwater option close to home.

Carp.

They’re just as wily as a bone. And pound for pound they fight just as hard. And they’re cheaper. Many freshwater ponds, lakes and rivers in the continental U.S. have carp. There’s no need for a week-long trip to the Bahamas.

Once summer arrives and the water warms, it’s easy to take a break from trophy trout for carpin’. To develop a firm game plan, I turned to TFO advisor Bob Clouser, who touched on a few basics during a phone interview after taking a break from shoveling snow at his Pennsylvania home.

Patience

Carp are not easy to catch. They don’t always eat and when they’re willing to eat, they can be super spooky. Even if you make the right cast with the right fly, the stars have to align for an eat. And if you do hook up, landing one is not a given. Be prepared for a lot of trial and error along the way.

Required Skills

You need to make long casts. Forty feet will do. Sixty is better. However, distance is just one factor. Accuracy matters, too. Ideally, you want to put the fly in front of the fish and let your quarry find it, preferably near the bottom since carp like to forage in the muck.

“You don’t need to work the fly at all,” Clouser said. “You have to observe the carp and watch his lips. When they’re mudding, it’s hard to see their face. You can see their lips when they’re open. It has kind of a chartreuse look to it. It’s hard to see. There’s a saying, ‘When the light goes out, you set the hook.’ If you hesitate at all, he’ll spit that fly out. They don’t run off with it. It’s a different type sport to catch that fish.”

Reading the Fish

In trout fishing, you read the water. With carp, you read the fish. The beauty of carp fishing is its reliance on sight fishing. Look at the fish. Decide if it’s interested. Carp will sun. Ignore those. Carp will cruise. Ignore the speedsters. Take a shot at the slower fish. But even that’s a long shot. If you see a tailer, that’s the fish you want. Tailers are active feeders. Ever seen a tailing red? It’s a similar scenario. Once you discern the fish’s path, make your cast count, because chances are, you won’t get a second opportunity.

“’You have to watch them, observe them and see what they’re doing before you even cast,” Clouser said. “They are so spooky. A carp has two lateral lines. Most fish only have one. A carp has two, which makes them so sensitive. I have no idea how far they can see, but they can hear over 200 yards.”

The Gear

You’ll need a fairly sturdy rod — a 9-foot, 6-to-8-weight. Leaders, in general, need to be long. A 12-footer is not too short, but you can get by with a 9-footer, if you’re a good caster.

Try the TFO Power reel to handle those long runs. The TFO Clouser series in an 8-weight is a good complement.

“It’s easy to cast and soft enough for light tippets,” Clouser said. “It won’t break your 6 and 8-pound tippets. And I fish an 8-weight. An 8-weight will handle any size fly you need.”

Carp are primarily subsurface feeders. Crayfish are a big part of their diet. A brown or black woolly booger usually will get the job done.

That said, carp can feed on topwater or just under the surface. I hooked one — briefly —- on a berry fly. South Florida grass carp, I learned, feed on streamside berries from ficus trees. The moral of the story: Fish don’t follow a rule book. They feed on what’s available.

Thoughts on fly fishing for carp? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.