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Fork's Big Bass Fly Tactics

Texas guide proving you can catch big bass on the fly

By: By Lynn Burkhead,

Contrary to what many bass anglers might believe, Lake Fork fly guide Rob Woodruff believes that he isn’t handicapped by targeting big bass on fly tackle.

In fact, every year he and his clients prove otherwise with multiple catches of big bass weighing five, six, seven, eight, nine, and occasionally 10+ pounds.

And those are the fish that they actually land on a fly rod, not the ones they hook and lose in Fork’s abundance of woody cover.

Part of the reason for such catches is due to the underwater action and movement of bass flies featuring natural materials like bucktail, deer hair, rabbit’s fur, Arctic fox fur, and of course, feathers.

Lake Fork fly guide Rob Woodruff shows off a fly rod lake record near-miss weighing more than nine-pounds. Photo by Lynn Burkhead

Woodruff believes that in addition to the natural action of such materials (some of these materials will “breathe,” or undulate, even while lying still in the water); bass flies are something that largemouths on heavily pressured impoundments rarely, if ever, see.

That means the Quitman, TX, based fly guide is fishing rarely seen baits to heavily pressured bass, virgin offerings that are so natural looking and rarely observed that they leave a big bass more apt to strike than when the fish is seeing a red Rat-L-Trap for the 999th time.

Want to target your own bucketmouth bass on the fly?

Woodruff says that the first way is to target such fish during the spring when bass are shallow and actively spawning just below the surface in a couple of feet of water.

One good way to do that is by tossing a fly offering like Woodruff’s own Patassa Fly (which mimics a stick minnow) or a Daniel Solatu’s “Wet Bandit” (an articulated fly that mimics a lizard or salamander).

Woodruff’s typical set-up for these two flies is a nine-foot Orvis Helios rod in an eight-weight or nine-weight selection. To that rod, he’ll add a Battenkill Large Arbor Reel, a floating weight-forward line, and a stout leader tapering down into the 15-pound test range.

While Lone Star State reservoirs like Falcon, O.H. Ivie, and Amistad have grabbed plenty of big bass headlines in recent years, Lake Fork remains one of Texas' best bass fishing hotspots. Photo by Lynn Burkhead

Using this set-up, Woodruff advises anglers to cast to any visible shallow cover like a lay-down log, a stick-up, a stump, a boulder, a rock pile, or something else that might hold a shallow water spawning bass.

Keep in mind that while most anglers think of bass going shallow only in the springtime, they also go shallow in the fall as they move from summertime’s deeper water haunts back into the creeks to chase shad. That’s when astute fly rod anglers have another chance to target shallow water bass in water of five feet or less.

The second method that Woodruff recommends is targeting fish that are just off the banks in deeper water of five to 15 feet. This typically happens in the pre-spawn portion of the spring when bass stage before moving up to the banks and again in the very early fall when they move towards the back of creek channels to feed.

Whatever time of year this tactic is used, it can allow anglers to target good sized fish without joining the crowds flogging the banks.

Woodruff’s fly-tackle set-up for these slightly deeper fish is a nine-foot tip flex fly rod, a Battenkill Large Arbor fly reel, an Orvis Depth Charge fly line, and a deeper running fly pattern like Woodruff’s own Sili Shad (which imitates a weightless soft plastic), an I.C. Fly (which imitates a jig/grub), or a Swamp Rabbit (which imitates a jig-and-pig).

Another prime choice for this type of fishing – one familiar to fly anglers all around the globe – is one of Bob Clouser’s magical Clouser Minnow flies.

In the springtime, try these patterns above in a shad, bluegill, or crawdad imitating color or black/blue; black/purple; pumpkinseed; red; or chartreuse/white. In the fall, anglers will need to stick with shad colors.

A third method to catch Fork’s bass on the fly rod is during the early fall schooling action that Fork is well known for.

Orvis guide Rob Woodruff has made a career of proving that fly rods and Lake Fork big bass are a surprisingly successful mix. Photo by Lynn Burkhead

That topwater action is just now starting to heat up and should continue through October as blitzes of largemouth bass put away the groceries – in this case, threadfin shad – to prepare for the upcoming winter.

To take advantage of this schooling action, a pair of binoculars is a must. Use such optics – 10X42 is what I’d recommend – to look for mid-day, afternoon, and evening blitzes of surface action and/or birds working the melee from overhead.

Once you find schooling bass, quickly move to just above the upwind side of the schooling action, cutting the motor so that you can drift into the outer edges. Be sure to shut the engine down before you get to the school or you might send it sounding. And be sure to use good angler ethics and etiquette when targeting schooling bass.

Once you are in position, a nine-foot eight-weight rod, a floating weight-forward line, and a stout leader tapering down into the 15-pound test range are the ticket.

As for flies, topwater poppers in white or silver will usually work and provide explosive strikes. And just about any subsurface fly that resembles a shad will do although it is tough to beat a chartreuse and white Clouser Minnow.

One thing to keep in mind is that schooling bass are targeting schooling shad, so try to match the size of the shad with the flies that you are tossing.

If you do, you just might catch a fly rod bass that will leave you shaking a bit and with a huge Lake Fork smile creasing your face!

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