Tag Archives: Lake Fishing

When the Going Gets Tough

Craig with smallmouth caught on a Big Willy fished float-and-fly style

Smallmouth caught on a Big Willy fished float-and-fly style

I sat by my computer for a good ten minutes before I came up with this title. I could have gone several directions with the information I’m about to disclose. We were fishing for smallmouth bass in Door County, Wisconsin right after opening day of the season. The bass were in all stages of the spawn…pre, spawn and some post-spawn. The weather had been yo-yoing up and down twenty-five degrees. The wind couldn’t make up its mind on which direction to blow from but it had decided to blow hard from whichever was the direction of the moment. The warm tannic waters of the Mink River would be blown out of the river mouth and onto the rocky flat at its mouth only to be blown back up river several hours later. Plus, the word was out that the bass were in and there was a parade of boats of all sizes going up, down, in and out of the river. The conditions weren’t good and were constantly changing, rarely for the better.

There was a crowd at the lake looking for smallmouth

The word was out that the bass were in

How to deal with any of these situations individually is a story of its own. But the one thing they all have in common is the fact that they make the angling tough. Tough is tough and I’ve got a one size fits all solution to them. Just how good is this? In less than favorable conditions I managed one hundred smallmouth in three days with most bass over three pounds, a third over four and half a dozen at the magic five-pound mark. Got your attention now?

The greatest part of what I was doing was its simplicity. I guess that saying of keep it simple is true. All I was doing was an extension of my favorite way to fish, with a float and fly system. If you follow my website you already know of the Wee Willy Wiggler. Well, welcome his cousin, Big Willy and his brother Double-Wide. Before you go thinking I’ve been out in the sun too long, these are the names of two of my latest fly patterns.

Wee Willy is a size #8 jig type fly with a one-inch long rubber tail made from a child’s toy, a Googly Ball to be exact. A Big Willy is the same pattern tied on a #4 hook and made with a two-inch rubber tail from a jumbo Puffer Ball. While a Double-Wide is a #2 jig hook with twin three- inch rubber tails, yes from a child’s toy with a silly name. Despite the goofy names of the toys and the odd names of the fly patterns, these are the single most effective fly patterns that you could fish under tough conditions. This isn’t bragging, exaggerating or alternative facts but the cold hard truth. No fly pattern that I have ever fished has worked so well and consistently under tough conditions. It’s no slouch under favorable conditions either.

Original Wee Willy Wigglers (bottom right), Big Willys (left) and Double-Wides (top right)

Original Wee Willy Wigglers (bottom right), Big Willys (left) and Double-Wides (top right)

Googly Ball and Jumbo Eyeball Creature toys

Where the Wee Willy Wigglers, Big Willys and Double-Wides come from

Now that you know the what, here’s the how. As I stated, float and fly. The Willy’s are all tied on ninety-degree jig hooks and weighted to rest in a horizontal position when strung under an indicator. A half inch round indicator will support a Wee Willy and either a three-quarter inch round or a two-inch crappie float will hold the two larger versions suspended. A six to seven weight fly outfit will cast the larger fly and float easily. My personal choice is a Sage II 290 gr smallmouth bass rod. This outfit (comes with a specially weighted line) will readily cast your fly effortlessly even into a stiff wind. Plus, I feel that the 7’11” rod length is less fatiguing to cast all day.

As tied all three versions are weighted enough to get themselves down most of the time. If I’m fishing deeper than five feet or if there is a fair amount of water or wind current I will add a small clam shot six inches above the fly. Getting the fly to get to and remain at the correct depth is crucial. Most of the time the smallmouth bass are hugging the bottom. Under unfavorable weather, water conditions or extreme fishing pressure they become reluctant to leave it.

Craig with one of many smallmouth averaging 4 lbs

The closer you can suspend the fly to the bottom without dragging on it the better this will work. Being no more than a foot off the bottom is key when it’s rough going. You can suspend the fly at mid depth when conditions are good because in clear water the bass are always looking up. Knowing the depth of the water around you is critical. A depth finder is a great help but just sticking your rod tip underwater to find bottom is by far the most accurate way to know where to set your indicator in water depths less than the length of your rod. At times I alligator clip a weight to my fly to find the depth but I’m constantly checking to be sure I’m still fishing the zone.

Here’s a tip about bass fishing and wind. Bass of all species love to be by or in weeds when they are available EXCEPT when the wind is blowing hard. This tidbit is worth the price of admission alone! Besides all the sediment and debris being tumbled about, the weeds themselves become the equivalent to sitting next to curtains by an open window on a windy day…annoying. The bass relate to hard structure in high winds. They relate to things like piers, seawalls, blow downs, fish cribs and oh, ROCKS!

The wind was blowing hard in Door County, WI

The wind was blowing hard in Door County, WI

All of Rowley’s Bay and the mouth of the Mink River is nothing but rock. The river itself has some rock but mostly sand and clay with substantial weed growth along the drop offs. There’s more places to hide and be secure along the weeds but only when it is relatively calmer. When the wind wants to gale, the many of the bass move out into the river delta or surrounding flats (which depending on water color and temperature). Smallmouth love current, so the wave action that is tossing your boat around and making anchoring difficult is heaven to them. This is also where you want to fish.

Picture of Craig with smallmouth caught on a Big Willy fished float-and-fly style

This was just a small one

There are always some scattered fish along the flats searching for their next meal but the concentrations of bass are along the edges of the drops along the river delta. Fish these areas just as if they were on your favorite stream. Suspend the fly to work the depth needed, be aware of which way the current is going. There is a strange seiche type current at this river mouth that changes speed and direction with no rhyme or reason. Then cast your rig so that you achieve a downstream dead drift. If the current is slack or slow, give your indicator a foot-long strip periodically. I guess I could add to set the hook if the indictor stops or goes under but that’s about it.

Told you, simple. Put a relatively small bait in their face and keep it there for the longest amount of time possible without gluing it to the bottom. I believe that the vertical presentation keeps the fly line and most of the leader out of the fish’s view in clear water. This cannot hurt your cause. That’s how you catch fickle fish. Plus, it’s addicting to anticipate the indicator sliding under water when a fish takes it. It brings you back to being a kid watching a bobber over a cricket while fishing for bream… except these are five-pound bass.

Craig with one of many smallmouth averaging 4 lbs

It’s never really tough when you catch over 30 fish a day averaging 4 lbs.

Float and Fly for Lethargic Fish

If there is one fly fishing technique that I love to fish most that would be float and fly fishing. This is simple 101 fishing. Basically, it’s suspending a fly (usually a tied on a jig hook) underneath an indicator and fished like live bait. Any time of year this method catches fish like crazy but in cool or cold water it really shines.

In the colder water periods of the year the fish get really lethargic and do not move far or quickly to a bait. It’s like they have to think about it for a while if they really want to move any distance to eat something. So, the closer you can get and can keep your fly to their face, the better chance you stand of her taking it.

Craig_bass_3-1-17_1And oh, I am usually trying to catch “her”, the females tend to be bigger in the first place. Winter into early spring and the pre-spawn period of time is when the females are not only full of eggs but are fattening up in preparation of the spawn. This IS big fish time.

No other technique can put a fly in the fish’s faces and keep it there better than float and fly. Not only that but it also will detect the most subtle of strikes. Let me explain. Fishing with any other method, be it with a floating or a sinking line you develop an arch or bow in your line. You make a cast and the fly sinks to the bottom pulling the leader or sinking line with it. The slower you fish or especially if you come to a complete stop this bow is exaggerated as the leader or the fly line itself continues to sink. From your fly to your rod tip you end up with a half a bell curve or a full “L” in your line. This will negate any sense of feel from a strike and if the wind is blowing, good luck seeing a twitch in your line.

Not only that but if you continue stripping the fly to keep contact with it, you are moving it away from that lethargic fish. If you stop stripping, the fly will sink to the bottom and possible get hung up or disappear from view in any weeds that may be growing there.

But with a float and fly rig your fly is always at a straight-line connection from the fly to the indicator. If a fish as much as breathes on your fly the indicator will move. Plus, if you weight the rig properly that there is enough weight in the fly itself or with added split shots, the indicator will stand erect when the fly reaches its maximum set depth. Set this way even if a fish lightly picks up the fly and rises in the water column rather than turning or going down, the resistance removed from the indicator will cause it to fall over on its side. Any change in attitude to the indicator that you do not directly cause is most likely a strike…and hooksets are free.

Another beauty of this system is it takes nothing fancy or expensive to do it. In fact, the flies used for this are so easy to tie that you don’t mind putting them in harm’s way (close to cover) in order to catch more fish. All the patterns that I use are tied on ninety-degree jig hooks to help them hang perfectly horizontal underneath the indicator. That is very important to keep the fly looking natural like a small baitfish just suspending motionless in place. You do not want the pattern hanging either nose or tail downward.

float_n_fly_selection_3-1-17_3I have designed several flies to fish just this way. Patterns like my M & M, Wee Willy Wiggler, Big Willy, the Sonic Boom and the Magic Bullet are all designed specifically for float and fly. Not that you cannot fish them other ways but just their origins were for this method. This is finesse fishing so these flies are relatively small, one to three inches. Yet surprisingly these same small flies are responsible for some of my largest fish of all time, much less the largest of the year.

Any rod and reel will work doing this. The only thing to remember is that the deeper you want to fish, the further you have to set the indicator from the fly. Not only do you have to cast this but you must be able to reach your fish to land it when your indicator is butted up against your rod tip. This is the reason for the use of a slip indicator if you plan on fishing much below eight or ten feet. The longer the rod you use, the deeper you can fish easier. I will admit that I use a variety of rods from seven and a half feet to nine feet in length most of the time when fishing three to eight feet deep. It’s only when I want to exceed the ten-foot depth mark do I move up to a ten or eleven-foot rod. I have fished this method down to twenty feet with success. Again, being finesse fishing with hook sizes from #12 to #2 I typically fish rod weights between a 3-wt to a 7-wt. Tippet strength varies with fish size and cover. 3X or 4X are pretty standard with the little flies but I’m not afraid to jump up to 0X if I’m casting at bass.

Craig_crappie_3-1-17_4The fishing technique itself is simple. First determine how deep the fish are or the cover is that you wish to fish over. Then adjust your indicator (or as I prefer to say for this very reason, depth regulator) to the depth you wish the fly to suspend at. This should be slightly above the cover or fish as most species tend to feed up. At its deepest the fly should hover just off the bottom like some small creature swimming along and not dragging on the bottom. Yes, as in everything thing in life there is an exception to this rule but it applies most of the time. Then simply cast the rig towards the likely area and wait. I’m a fairly impatient person so I usually let it sit in place for about ten seconds without a strike before stripping it six to twelve inches and waiting again. I continue this for as long as I feel that I am still fishing inside the strike zone before picking it up and casting at another target. Sometimes when it’s really cold or a cold front has just pushed through, it pays off to let the fly remain motionless for up to a minute before moving it at all. You have to experiment with the timing and let the fish tell you what is right.

Well there you have it in a nutshell, the basics of float and fly fishing. Nothing can be simpler or more effective most of the time. The big bonus is that you’re never quite sure of what you might get hooked into on the next cast. Even with the smallest of flies you could catch a three-inch bream on one cast and the trophy of your life on the next. This season so far alone these flies have accounted for an eleven pound plus largemouth bass, a three-pound crappie and a fifteen-pound catfish. So just remember to keep a good grip on your fly rod every time your indicator dips under because you never know what might be on the other end of your line!Adrian_catfish_3-1-17_2

Carter’s Lake – Hot Spot for Cold Weather Fishing

Craig and bass from Carters Lake

As our fall season progresses deeper into cool or even down right cold weather, many of us hang up our warm water gear until the warmth of spring (or shear boredom) ignites our interests to head out onto the waters again. Well I have news for ya’ll, the warm water season never ends, at least south of the Mason – Dixon. If there’s no ice on the lake, there are still fish to be caught without drilling a hole. Making a hole in the ice big enough to fly cast in is just a pain.

Wooded Point at Carters Lake

Certain species and bodies of water just lend themselves to better action at this time of year. One of my favorite cold weather, warm water species is the spotted bass. Here in north Georgia the spots just seem to continue to feed heavily all fall and winter just gorging on shad and turning into footballs. Though many of the fish will be hanging off deep points and timber, thirty to forty feet down, which is still do-able, there are times and places that bring the bait and bass anywhere from twenty feet deep all the way to the surface to feed. One of my favorite lakes for this is Carter’s Lake near Ellijay Georgia.

Carter’s is a 3220 acre Army Corp of Engineers lake on the Coosawatee River in northwest Georgia. Being a Corp lakes means that there is no development (meaning docks) along the 62 miles of shoreline. But the Corp and the state have added an abundance of submerged cover and fish cribs to enhance the fishing. Check the Georgia DNR website for a map of just where they planted all of these. The lake has largemouth, spotted, hybrid, striped and yellow bass, crappie, bluegill, walleyes and catfish in it. But it’s the spotted bass we’re concerned with now. There is one commercial marina and six Corp boat ramps on the lake. There are three campgrounds with sites from completely primitive to those with electricity, laundry and showers. Plus the marina has full housekeeping cabins for rent.

Although being a fairly large and deep body of water, Carter’s has plenty of arms and coves to escape the wind if it chances to blow or you are fishing out of a smaller boat or kayak. But it definitely is boating water with only limited shoreline opportunities.

Depth finder view

If you want to talk about off the deep edge, this is the place. Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Carter’s is about 450 feet deep. This is one of the deepest and steepest lakes in the state and what makes it great for cold weather fishing. I hear the “whats?” already. In cold weather the fish do move slower and less than in the warmer seasons. So traveling long distances from deep water to shallower water to chase bait just isn’t going to happen. The easy route is vertical. No swimming involved, just fill your air bladder and rise in the water column. That’s why steep banks or bluff walls that abound in Carter’s Lake excel in the cold waters.

The absolute best method for fishing this time of year and type of structure is something we all been doing forever, float and fly. Nothing more than an exaggerated indicator/nymph rig. A jig type fly under an indicator is deadly on fish suspended off vertical structure or bait. My favorite patterns to do this with are my M & M’s or Sonic Booms. Both are tied on a 90 degree jig hooks and are balanced to hang horizontally in the water when suspended under an indicator. The smaller size #8 may bring more strikes, often from panfish. It’s the larger #4 or #2 that get the interest of the bigger fish. These are still finesse sized baits perfect for cold water at about 2 1/2′” long each.

M&M

I typically use a fifteen foot leader doing this but lengths of twenty feet are not out of the question. A half to three quarter inch diameter indicator is used to suspend the fly. The fly itself has enough weight to get to those depths relatively quickly. A longer fly rod, say ten foot or more in the six to seven weight range will help in managing fish landings and casting with such lengthy leaders. Though I usually use a cork and tooth pick type indicator, there is a new one called the Plumbobber (www.PinsAndFins.com) that acts like a slip bobber allowing it to slide down the line when trying to land a fish. I see great promise in these when fishing deep. When fishing this technique shallower, a typical tapered leader is just fine but when going for more depth a leader of straight tippet material or one with a much finer taper would be better. Just keep a tight loop when casting or this set up will create quite a mess in a hurry. Over lining by one weight or pre-over weighted lines such as a Clouser, a Rio Grand or a Wulff Ambush line help deliver this rig with the minimum of false casts.

I fished here last week looking to see if the float and fly bite was on yet. With the first real cold front of the year having just pushed through, it did cool the waters some but not yet to the degree that the bass would be stacked on vertical structure. In fact, the spots were still hanging in the backs of creek arms chasing shad. Not a bad thing as I was still able to catch a few on top with a Flypala as they busted on bait. To play chase the bait, you have to move around a lot hoping to be wherever it is that they just happen to pop up next. As with float and fly you find several channel swings or bluff banks and rotate between them looking to catch the bass when they become active. I did manage to find schools of fish suspended twelve feet down in little pockets or “hollers” half way back the creek arms. To my surprise I found them to be channel catfish. Which readily hit flies and they bend a rod pretty well too!

Spotted bass with Flypala

There was a mid-afternoon surprise going on. Along a windswept bluff fish started to make large splashy rises right against the bank. From what I could make out, these were large panfish, bass and carp taking something right off the surface. I threw everything in my box at them without even a passing look from them at it. I figured it was small minnows or young of the year shad. Finally giving up, I moved in right on top of the action to find out what it was they were keying in on to the exclusion of everything else. With Carter’s Lake being so deep and infertile I never suspected there was a midge hatch going on. But here were these fairly large, maybe a size 16 jet black insects being blown against the bluff. Sad story is I was rigged for bear and had not a one insect type pattern on me. Lesson learned!

As the weather cools more, the float and fly fishing on Carter’s Lake should pick up for those of you who still brave the elements and get yourself out there. Use your electronic to find suspended fish and fish very slowly over them. Did I mention you might run into stripers chasing bait too? Some hot fishing in cold waters.

Flypala