Bass: Outfishing the Rubber-Worm Crowd

Bass: Outfishing the Rubber-Worm Crowd

... and the truth about chemically sharpened hooks

  • By: Paul Guernsey
  • and Buzz Bryson
I have been joining several college friends for an annual fishing trip to a beautiful, clear lake in central Florida. Every year I bring my fly rod--and I invariably end up enduring the digs and chortles of my bait-fishing friends as I unsuccessfully try to catch Florida largemouths. Can you offer me any advice about flies and strategies so I can finally make believers out of my guffawing buddies? The lake is very clear, with a sandy bottom. We fish in March, and most of the hookups occur below 10 feet. I believe the bass are nest-building at this time and getting ready to spawn. I have tried surface stuff: poppers, Dahlberg Divers and deerhair frogs, but my buddies continue to outfish me. Any suggestions?

First off, get used to the fact that you'll probably never match your friends who use conventional gear for bass. You'll not be able to cover the water as quickly or as effectively. Of course, there are some situations where fly tackle is better, but almost all of those opportunities occur when bass are in the shallows and hungry.

For the setting and conditions you describe, I'd use techniques and flies similar to those of your spin-fishing friends. For instance, if they're fishing down 10 feet or more, you'll have to get a sinking line. I'd suggest one of the integrated-head lines with a sinking head of around 30 feet

(commonly, these lines have heads from 24-32 feet in length, and any of those will work fine), with a floating or intermediate running line. Don't bother with shorter heads; lines with a sinking tip of only 10-12 feet just won't get down as deep as you need. Sinking lines come in various

densities (sink rates). Pick one that will sink to the desired depth relatively quickly, without dropping like a rock.

My "worm fly" is simple, and works pretty well. It's nothing more than a strip of rabbit hide tied in at the bend of the hook, with some sparkle chenille wrapped on the shank and topped off with bead-chain or lead-dumbbell eyes. With big-enough eyes and a fast-sinking head, these things will sink pretty far and pretty fast, so don't overdo the combo. Just as with plastic worms, you'll want a variety of colors, and you might as well tie up some with

various weights of eyes. In fact, tie some with no eyes, using just the weight of the line to carry the fly down.

Mimic your friends' retrieve as well. Normally, worms are fished slowly, relying on a lot of subtle action. Once a rabbit strip is soaked, it almost comes alive in the water, requiring the angler to impart very little movement.

By the way, if you find the rabbit strip tangling around the hook bend, you can fix this in a couple of ways. First, put some head cement on the first inch or half-inch of the skin side of the strip, right behind the hook. That'll add stiffness there, without impeding action in the tail. Second, tie a loop of stiff monofilament in place before adding the rabbit to the hook. You want the loop to stick out beyond the hook shank, just a half inch or so, to support the rabbit strip above the bend. Third, tie on a mono weed guard; it works to keep the rabbit from fouling just like it does for weeds.

I've found these flies work really well when largemouth are taking plastic worms. Give them a try.

Now, if your friends are using deep-diving crankbaits, those are tough to replicate with a fly. I'd go to streamers, again with the

sinking-head line and weight added to the fly as needed. Mimic those crankbaits as best you can. If the ones they're using successfully are drab, use plain-looking flies. If they are using flashy plugs, come prepared with streamers loaded with flash. And if they are ripping the lures through the water, make long casts, let the fly sink, tuck that rod under your arm and use a two-handed retrieve.

When you start catching bass this way your friends will be amazed, even if you're not hooking quite as many as they are. They'll be absolutely astonished and envious at your success in using such sophisticated and mysterious fishing gear. You'll be the hero, the maverick, the guy who does things his way; the guy in the beer commercial who gets all the girls.

On the other hand, if all else fails, I'd suggest grabbing one of their rods and sharing in the fun. In the end, if everyone is catching fish on conventional tackle and I'm not, I learned long ago it's much, much more fun to catch fish than it is to be a purist. --B.B.

What are chemically sharpened hooks, and are they really any better than any other kind of hook?

First, "regular" hooks are rough-shaped, tempered and mechanically sharpened, using various types of abrasive stones or files. The process is analogous to making and sharpening a knife.

Chemically sharpened hooks start out the same way. The difference is that the last little bit of sharpening is done by an acid dip, a process that doesn't remove a lot of metal. The hook still starts with mechanical sharpening, but that final chemical treatment results in a hook point that is straight and needle sharp.

Are they better? They're certainly good. But if designed wrong, or poorly tempered, they're not much better. And if the point is needle sharp, but too long and thin, it can "roll" (bend) on a bony mouth or rock. Poorly tempered, it will be too soft and bend, or too brittle and break. All things being equal however, a top-quality, chemically sharpened hook is tough to beat. --B.B.

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