By King Montgomery
The No. 6 Clouser deep minnow in chartreuse and white slowly fluttered down close to the old tree stump. I let it fall but kept a tight line. Crappie, my quarry for the nonce, often hit a fly on the way down. The line twitched and tightened, and I gently lifted the rod for a 3-weight to set the hook on the paper-mouthed crappie.
The 6-pound, 10-ounce largemouth bass at the end of my line wasn’t impressed with the wimpy hookset, so I gave it a good strip strike, and settled in for a long tussle on the light rod. This fish is but one of many hooked and landed over the years -- by accident or intentionally -- on small flies. Most of the fish I catch on small flies are by design; smaller flies sometimes work when nothing else will.
BIG OR LITTLE?
There are no real rules that govern what size fly to throw to bass, pike, pickerel and other warmwater species. There are, however, a few general guidelines that when followed could increase chances of attracting a nice fish when conventional size flies don’t work.
In late spring into summer, smaller flies often take more and larger fish. This is the time when the prey species, including the young-of-the-year of gamefishes, are relatively small. Every resident warmwater gamefish I can think of is piscivorus and most are cannibalistic as well. They like to eat smaller fish including those of their own kind. During these times small streamers 1-2 inches in length can be the ticket. I’m partial to chartreuse and white, blue and white, and black, but I believe size is more important than color. Smaller poppers and sliders work too, because young frogs and other fish food also are on the water -- the frogs in the spring hatch in my region are about the size of a dime to a nickel.
One of the beauties of small flies is that large sunfish, including bluegills and crappies, can take the offering while smaller fish cannot. When fishing, I always like the option of catching and keeping enough sunnies for a dinner, and still have the potential for a lunker bass as well.
From about mid-summer into fall, larger flies seem to have the edge for tempting fish, particularly the larger ones. The adage about big baits catching big fish is not absolute, but there is real appeal about casting serious groceries to tempt a trophy fish. Large poppers, sliders and other topwater offerings work well too. Cast streamers from 2/0 to 2 after the early morning topwater bite stops, and go deeper as the day progresses. Let leadeyes or beadheads determine the depth on a floating line, and use sinking tip lines to get deeper if necessary.
So the general guideline is to use small flies in the spring, a little larger flies in the summer and larger still in late summer into fall. But don’t be afraid of reversing this pattern. Remember, there are no rules here; if one thing isn’t working, try something else -- including going deeper or shallower or retrieving faster or slower.
My all-around favorite fly for most warm water species that swim in our ponds, lakes, reservoirs, streams and rivers is the ubiquitous Clouser deep minnow in chartreuse and white in sizes 2-6. I carry a selection in the different sizes and in several leadeye weights for depth control in stillwater and in current. Other excellent streamers include Lefty’s deceivers, bendbacks (particularly good around pads and other vegetation) and woolly buggers. For poppers I prefer chartreuse, black and red/white. If you are a spin fisherman, this advice pertains to lure size, too.
Most of the above is written about the warmwater fishes that swim our lakes, streams, rivers and reservoirs, but the observations about fly or lure size also works for coldwater species such as trout and char, and most saltwater species of fish as well. Sometimes, instead of changing the color of your lure or fly, try giving the fish a different size profile.
Yes, bigger might matter in some situations, but for catching more and larger fish, sometimes small will provide a lot of pleasure too.
King Montgomery is our fishing editor, and he has written this column since we began publishing more than two years ago. He is a retired Army officer, has a degree in fisheries biology and is a former angling guide. He fishes all over the world for exotic species, but always comes home to the bass, crappie and bluegill of our local waters.
Issue 3.23: June 4, 2008