A visit to a local box store the other night found me turning down the fingernail polish aisle instead of continuing on towards my usual stop in the fishing department.
But there was a method to my madness, the memory of one of last spring’s most memorable bass on an eight-weight fly rod.
In general, I try not to target bass on the bed more than a few times each spring on my home water, and then, only when the situation is right. But I still enjoy the process of finding and fooling such skinny water fish, especially when one is a genuine lunker finning in a foot or two of H2O and there isn’t another angler in sight.
Why the fingernail polish, including bottles of hot pink and light violet hues? Because of a big bass I landed last year, one that ignored each fly I threw at her on a warm spring day in Texas.
Until I went through my fly boxes one final time and had a “What’s this?” moment as I spied a gaudy looking fly I had absentmindedly purchased from some fly shop a few months earlier.
With a purple rabbit strip body and tail, along with some hot pink and bright white rubber leg appendages, and a pair of dumbbell eyes painted up with violet and hot pink colors, this unnamed pattern sort of resembles a salamander.
Knowing that bass hate lizards and salamanders — and will readily attack a look alike in the spring — I figured this previously unused fly was worth one final shot in my attempt to catch this big bass.
A false cast or two later, I laid the fly into the water just beyond the bed, carefully moved it along the bottom, and let it come to a complete stop a foot or two away from the sizable bass I was hoping to catch.
As soon as the fish spied the gaudy fly, she turned aggressively, nosed down on it and swiftly took it. A strip-set later and I was tight to this bass and the fight was on.
After I landed her, there was a quick visit to the scale and a CPR (Catch-Photo-Release) moment. A few seconds later, the big bass was back in the water, returning to the exact spot I had just caught her from.
And that is why, sitting just to my left as I write this, there are a couple of bottles of fingernail polish awaiting an evening session at the fly tying vise.
In the bass fishing world — including both conventional tackle and fly fishing — the topic of fishing for bedded bass during the springtime spawn is certain to draw some strong opinions during an early morning visit to a dockside coffee shop. Many anglers are for the practice, others are clearly not.
On many of the waters where I’ve spent my lifetime fishing, the practice is widely accepted as anglers try and catch a bucketmouth bass when they are laden with eggs, weigh the most that they will all year long and are accessible for a few weeks each spring in shallow water.
That includes Lake Fork, a heavily pressured East Texas fishery that has produced the last two Texas state record largemouth bass (weighing 18.18 pounds and 17.67 pounds respectively) along with 261 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department ShareLunkers (https://tpwd.texas.gov/spdest/visitorcenters/tffc/sharelunker ), bass that weigh 13 pounds or better.
Even though the Lone Star State has 68 other water bodies that have given up ShareLunkers — some 580 bass and counting as this is written — that’s a staggering number for any single lake to produce. With many Fork anglers sight fishing during the spring, it’s obvious that at least in the Pineywoods of East Texas, the practice isn’t apparently hurting much of anything.
Should a fly fisherman try and catch a big bass on a bed during the spawn? For the answer to that, I turned to Rob Woodruff, a former full-time Orvis endorsed fly guide on Fork who now serves as the general manager — along with his wife Jenny — of the El Pescador saltwater fly fishing lodge in Belize.
“I think it’s situational,” said Woodruff, who fly fished for big bass on Fork for more than 25-years. “If you do it — and land it quickly and don’t touch it with dry hands — if you do that, (then) you probably haven’t hurt anything.”
As a general rule, Woodruff targeted pre-spawn and post-spawn fish sitting just off the bank, guiding clients to several double-digit fish along with his own landing of seven double-digit bass weighing up to 11.75 pounds. While he didn’t typically target bedded bass, on a few occasions over the years, he made an exception as long as he was the only angler in sight.
“An East Texas lake like Fork is quite crowded in the spring,” he said. “Fishing for a bedded fish might bring other anglers over who are also going to try to catch that fish. It may not be us in my boat that causes the problem, but the 12 other anglers that we are going to show that fish to. So, I try not to hit a bedded fish when it’s crowded or there’s a tournament going on.”
Since fly fishermen often take very good care of fish — including not flipping them into the boat or letting them flop around on a bass rig’s carpet — Woodruff understands that the occasional practice of tossing a fly towards a bedded bass is hard to resist when water temperatures are climbing, trees are budding, and a double-digit challenger is finning in mere inches of water.
If you are going to fish for such bass with a fly rod, here are some important things to keep in mind according to Woodruff:
1. He says first of all to use a sharp, barbless hook. In his opinion, flies tied Clouser style are less likely to kill a fish by gill hooking them.
2. Next, he says to use at least an 8-weight fly rod with heavy tippet so that you can play the fish as quickly as possible. “Yes, you can land big fish on a 6-weight, but the additional fatigue and lactic acid build up the fish experiences (during the long fight) will probably kill it within a few days,” he notes.
3. Once you have the fish beside the boat, Woodruff says that the best tactic is to unhook it without removing it from the water. “If you want to take a photo, hold the fish in the water until the camera is ready, take the photo and return the fish to the water,” he said. “Never touch the fish with dry hands or lay it on boat carpet.”
4. Don’t use a landing net unless you must. Woodruff says that if you must, be sure to dunk the net into the water before netting the fish. I’d add that you want it to be a soft rubber landing net — like the Nomad series from Fishpond — which is much less likely to remove scales or any of the protective slime layer on a bass.
5. Be selective- Woodruff says don’t fish for bedded bass in heavily fished areas and avoid fish that are on exposed beds. He says that such fish can be caught more than once on a springtime day, which increases their risk of lethal injury and/or exhaustion.
6. Woodruff urges anglers to never fish for a single male bass that is holding tight to one spot on a bed. “This indicates that he is guarding eggs that have been laid and fertilized,” he said. “Always look closely for a cloud of small fry around the head of the bass that you see moving about in shallow water. In both cases, the fish will be easy to catch, but the bluegills, crawfish, etc. will have a feast while you are having fun catching the fish.”
7. Finally, Woodruff says not to spend the whole day fishing for bedded fish. “There are plenty of pre-spawn and post spawn fish that are feeding and will readily take your fly.”
The bottom line for a Texas fly angler is that fishing for bedded bass on occasion each spring isn’t likely to cause any harm, depending on the situation of course.
But be careful — catching a big fish in skinny water and getting a quick photo can produce a powerful adrenaline rush.
Especially when you find a purple and hot pink salamander fly tucked away in the corner of your fly box.