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Dave Whitlock’s “Fishing Bass Flies”


UPPER LEFT: Whitlock’s Snakey Streamer. LOWER LEFT: Whitlock’s Close to ‘Nuff Frog. RIGHT: Creator wages a closeup battle with a largemouth. He’s enjoying the fish off the reel, and by conserving fixed stress he doesn’t give the bass an opportunity to relaxation. (Dave Whitlock images)


Editor’s word: Flyfisherman.com will periodically be posting articles written and revealed earlier than the Web, from the Fly Fisherman journal print archives. The wit and knowledge from legendary fly-fishing writers like Dave Whitlock, Ernest Schwiebert, Gary LaFontaine, Lefty Kreh, John Voelker, Al Caucci & Bob Nastasi, Vince Marinaro, Doug Swisher & Carl Richards, Nick Lyons, and plenty of extra deserve a second life. These articles are reprinted right here precisely as revealed of their day and will include data, philosophies, or language that reveals a special time and age. This ought to be used for historic functions solely.

This text initially appeared within the September 1988 difficulty of Fly Fisherman journal. Click here for a PDF of the print version of “Fishing Bass Flies.”


Profitable fly fishing for bass and related species requires particular methods and strategies. The Whitlock Straight-line System is the results of years of discipline analysis and bass fishing. It’s the best means I’ve discovered to fish for bass. Mainly, a fly fisher should current, management, animate, and retrieve the fly with a good line, then strike, hook, and management the bass with aggressive authority. These steps taken collectively make up a exact system that you should perceive, follow, and habitually use to most successfully fly fish for bass.

Presentation and Management

My system begins with a direct-­to-the-water presentation. The ahead and down a part of the solid should be in a casting airplane that causes the fly to hit the goal instantly after the chief turns over. This provides you the perfect alternative to hit the goal completely. Examine the illustration to get a robust psychological image. An overhead or sidearm straight-­to-the-water solid accomplishes this greatest, relying on obstructions, wind, and the route from which you should solid.

By the point the fly strikes the goal you must have the rod tip on the right angle and your two-point management system began. Set up two-point fly­line management by greedy the road in your line hand and pinching it between your rod-hand index finger and the rod grip. Do that because the fly begins to drop to the water however earlier than it really hits the water. You could set up management so rapidly as a result of bass usually strike the fly because it falls or instantly because it hits the water. You should be prepared for a strike at any time.

Dave Whitlock's Fishing Bass Flies
Efficiently fly fishing for bass and related species requires particular methods and strategies. (Ray Sasser picture)

Because the fly hits the water, and earlier than all of the fly line settles on it, level the fly rod straight on the fly and drop the rod tip to the water’s floor. This eliminates fly-line slack and untimely fly motion attributable to the excessive rod-tip angle frequent to trout fly fishing. As a result of the fly line is heavy, it sags to a perpendicular angle from the fly-rod tip if the rod tip is held excessive. The sag pulls the fly line towards you. Three to 5 toes of slack line can tug a fly an equal distance away from the goal. Each outcomes are counterproductive and mistaken. So hold the tip low–proper at water stage.

When the fly, chief, and line come down on the water, normally there are some slack curves within the chief and the road. Preserving the tip low, pull on this slack together with your line hand with out shifting the fly. This makes a straight, tight line path out of your arms to the fly. Apply this supply so you possibly can constantly put the fly on the water and take away the small quantity of slack in your line with out shifting the fly. You don’t want the fly to maneuver till you provoke the retrieve.

The foregoing steps provide you with exact management of the fly, permitting you to maintain it in place, transfer it, really feel a strike, and set the hook in the best means attainable. This straight-line technique is probably the most environment friendly technique to management a bass fly on the water.

The Primary Retrieve

When the fly lands, chances are you’ll enable it to relaxation immobile, let it sink, or start to animate and retrieve it. To do the latter, keep the low rod tip and straight line you established throughout your presentation, and use your line hand to make a sequence of fly-line strips that may transfer the fly with no matter animation you need it to have. Should you hold a good fly line and low rod tip, the fly will transfer with the precise rhythm and sample you create by stripping the fly line together with your line hand.



Dave Whitlock's Fishing Bass Flies
TOP: To make line-hand retrieves, set up two-point management together with your rod band and line band, then make line strips (RJ-R4) to retrieve the fly. Strips will be various in size and quantity to go well with circumstances. BOTTOM: 1. Make your ahead casting stroke on a downward airplane, aiming the fly on the goal. 2. Cease the stroke at a excessive rod-tip angle to permit a loop to unroll excessive and instantly towards the goal. 3. Decrease the rod tip to the water because the fly, chief, and line land. 3a. Because the fly falls to the water set up two-point management. 4. Set up a good, straight line through the use of your line band to take away slack between the fly (4a) and rod (4b). (Dave Whitlock illustrations)

Keep your second level of line management by squeezing the road towards the rod deal with with the index finger of your rod hand. Chill out your grip barely as you pull within the fly line together with your line hand. After making a strip of about 18 to 24 inches, coil the road in your palm or drop it after which grasp the fly line on the rod once more to start a brand new retrieve. Utilizing your line hand on this method is probably the most environment friendly technique to keep management of fly-line stress for retrieving and hook-setting.

Don’t use the rod tip to maneuver the fly. This causes quick slack line and lack of fly management. Don’t use the rod to drag or jerk the fly over or by land- or water-based obstacles. For greatest outcomes, proceed to make use of straight line-hand pulls.

Animation–The Key Ingredient

Animating and retrieving a bass fly present pleasure on each solid. Irrespective of how cleverly or cunningly these flies are tied, they’re solely as efficient as you make them together with your capability to put the fly the place you need and animate it on or within the water. You are the important thing to the effectiveness of the flies. The tackle-control system ought to give you the perfect technique to make these flies do precisely what the actual creatures do–entice and entice a bass to grab them.

To animate and retrieve bass flies most efficiently, observe the straight-line technique. Do not twitch your rod.

Twitching the rod causes many toes of slack line to type so you can’t really feel a strike. And when you do not really feel the take, you lose strikes, significantly from bigger fish.

Earlier than you fish any bass fly, observe its motion in or on the water: floating or sinking or sitting nonetheless and beneath numerous strikes. A well-designed bass fly seems to be good each when it’s dormant and in motion. Most bass, particularly massive ones, are environment friendly and artful; they like to ambush a helpless or careless creature reasonably than have interaction in a tiring high-speed chase of a terrified factor. Quite the opposite, most fishermen like to maneuver lures rapidly and virtually continuously, which can be extra entertaining to us than to the fish.

Virtually each large bass I’ve caught took the fly once I by chance or purposefully let it sit an extended interval (ten seconds or extra) or once I moved it little or no after it hit the water. A few of my higher catches got here once I was exactly inching the fly in, over, or round construction, as if I have been attempting to sneak the fly out of hazard. There are instances, nevertheless, when bass will chase and strike quickly shifting flies. Some bass consultants even really feel that fast-moving flies do a greater job of fooling bigger fish as a result of the fish do not get an opportunity to scrutinize the fly, or as a result of the fisherman can cowl extra water with quick retrieves. If a giant bass is in a uncommon aggressive temper, the quick retrieve works higher; but when this reckless angle was frequent amongst large bass, there can be few of them swimming round, as a result of most artificial-lure fishermen fish their lures with fast retrieves.

Nobody retrieve is at all times the perfect. Meals, temperature, water situations, and particular person fish habits range. That is why fishing flies and catching bass by no means get boring. Do not hesitate to experiment with all sorts of actions and motion speeds.

Earlier than discussing motion/retrieve routines, let me emphasize that to have true management of the fly’s motion in nonetheless, windy, or flowing water you should: use the low-rod-tip, straight-line, two-point management system; perceive the way to mend your fly line to maintain it and the fly from growing extreme drag attributable to wind or present; and fish from a steady, stationary place. Any time you solid throughout water currents or a windy floor, the water motion causes drag, which impacts your management of the fly. Examine the illustration of the way to management drag by mending the road together with your rod.

Dave Whitlock's Fishing Bass Flies
Drag is triggered (1) by the present or wind pulling on the fly line. Use the rod to carry the dragging line off the water, then with out pause, place the road straight throughout the present (2), and decrease the rod tip to regain straight-line management (3). Mending could should be repeated in case your retrieve is sluggish or lengthy.(Dave Whitlock illustration)

Primary Fly Actions

Various fundamental fly actions work nicely for bass flies. The next listing covers a number of the extra necessary actions:

No retrieve. The fly is solid to a precise spot that you simply really feel has fish close by. Set up straight-line management, let the fly float or sink, and stay there whereas. This can be a significantly efficient technique the place the water is evident or the place the fish are pressured or selective.

Use this technique once you suspect a bass is beneath a construction. Put the fly as near the log, stump, or boulder as you possibly can, and hold it there. This technique can be supreme if there’s only a small open area of water in lily pads, milfoil, or cypress stumps. In these areas the bass is not going to or can not transfer far for prey, and it’ll normally reply nicely to the sitting fly.

With this technique, normally the longer you retain the fly sitting, the larger the bass you possibly can count on to catch.

Twitch and pause. Solid the fly to a spot that you simply really feel has a bass close by. Let the fly sit in place about three to 5 seconds, then twitch it an inch or so. Pause and repeat the twitch a number of instances, then make one other solid. You need the motion of a more-or-less helpless creature or one which’s relaxed and shifting barely. Should you’re utilizing a floor or diving fly, range the twitch from a silent transfer to an audible pop or bubble. Extra noise works greatest on tough surfaces, and in darkish, murky, or densely structured water. This efficient technique can be utilized together with the no­retrieve technique by twitching and pausing after you let the fly sit some time in the identical restricted construction or pocket areas. It is also wonderful for shifting the fly off of, as much as, and simply previous ambush factors, akin to brush, stumps, boat docks, log ends, or drop-offs.

When utilizing each strategies, watch the water across the fly rigorously for any telltale indicators of fish motion, akin to a small wake, bubbles, a nervous minnow or minnows, or motion in grass or lily pads. Usually in the event you fail to spot these telltale actions, the strike comes on the spot which the fly simply vacated as you carry it off the water for an additional solid. If this occurs, instantly solid again or wait 5 to 10 minutes, then solid. Usually when a bass misses its prey, it turns into nervous and hides, however ultimately the fish relaxes and returns to its unique ambush place.

Dave Whitlock's Fishing Bass Flies
A number of the creator’s favourite bass flies cowl the water from high to backside: Zonkers, Prismatic Marabou streamers, diving minnows, and pencil poppers. (Ray Sasser picture)

Strip and pause. Solid the fly nicely previous the place you watched the bass is ready. Let the fly settle a second or two or till it sinks to the extent at which you wish to fish it. Then start a sequence of fly-line strips, from an inch to a foot lengthy, pausing between them. Range the strips and pauses–that’s, one strip, pause; three strips, pause; one lengthy strip, and so forth. Retrieve the fly as much as, by, and previous the world you are feeling holds the bass. The extra irregular the stripping rhythm, the simpler this technique is. Such a way duplicates the pure actions of a handicapped creature. Use this technique to fish over and previous extra intensive buildings, akin to a sequence of logs, rocks, stream pockets, and moss beds, in addition to throughout factors and alongside creek channels.

Panic strip. Solid the fly arduous towards, previous, or over the world or construction you wish to fish. When the fly lands, start a direct sequence of fast fly-line strips from inches lengthy as much as a few toes in size. This quick retrieve normally imitates a panicky prey fish akin to a minnow. Repeating this retrieve over a selected space usually excites a single bass or teams of fish right into a frenzy. This technique is great for overlaying massive areas of open, nonetheless, and flowing water the place bass are apt to be intercepting and chasing faculties of fast-moving minnows. It is usually tactic to make use of to “pound” a spot like a reef or flooded timber space with a lot of casts to carry deep-water fish to the floor.

These are 4 fundamental strategies. Clearly, they’re solely pointers to animating bass flies, however in the event you follow them and incorporate your information of what the pure meals does, the place the fish are, and the way situations have an effect on the fish’s conduct, you may have good outcomes. Make certain that you simply cowl every space accurately and completely. Do not hesitate to vary flies or motion if you already know fish are there. Bass will be psyched into putting in case you are intelligent about retrieving. They usually reply to repeated casts to the identical areas.

Fly fishing uniquely permits the bass fisherman to fish the fly simply within the water space the place he thinks the bass are holding, losing no time reeling in over unproductive water. In different phrases, you possibly can fish your fly over productive spots two or thrice for each one solid and presentation made by a lure fisherman.

Some days bass will hit any fly retrieved any means; different days they will be terribly selective. You could by no means turn out to be inflexible in your serious about which flies to fish and the way to fish them. All the time search for a sample of conduct on a selected day.

Hints on Fishing Bass Flies

In all probability the best drawback confronted by bass fishermen is getting the fly continuously snagged or hooked on bushes, logs, lily pads, cattails, moss, stumps, and rocks. The monofilament snag-guard is a should for bass flies, nevertheless it is not efficient in the event you retrieve your fly improperly in shut cowl. Jerking or pulling rapidly on the road can compress or deflect the hook guard, exposing the purpose of the hook to the snag. All the time pull the fly over, round, and thru these obstructions slowly. Pulled slowly, a fly escapes the snag as a result of the fly can keep away from or crawl over the thing with out its snag-guard bending down.

A fly snags as a result of the top, not the hook, engages the impediment first, stopping the fly. Then in the event you pull arduous, the top comes free, however the snag-guard deflects or compresses and the hook slams into the thing. Should you jerk or transfer the fly rapidly together with your fly rod, the fly snags within the obstruction.

Should you do get snagged, don’t pull arduous on the fly; that merely snags it extra. Both wiggle the rod and fly line to shake the hook unfastened or make a roll solid so the fly-line loop rolls behind the snagged fly (away from you), then pull sharply on the road. That ought to pull it freed from the snag.

If that does not work and you can’t attain the fly by foot or boat, level the fly rod on the snagged fly, tighten the road, then rapidly launch it. This generally causes a reverse spring motion that frees the fly. If that fails, once more pull the fly line taut with the rod pointed straight on the snagged fly and proceed to extend stress till the fly tears out or the chief breaks. Many fly fishers use their fly rods as a derrick. and yank the fly, hoping it can come free. Violent jerking is seldom profitable and will harm your rod or line. If yanking on the fly makes it come free, the recoil could ship the fly rocketing at you or a companion.

Strike Detection

In case your fly stays seen as you retrieve it, you may see the bass strike it. But when the fly is out of sight–beneath water or at night time–you should sense or really feel the strike. Normally bass strike arduous sufficient so that you can really feel the take in case your fly line is slack-free and your consideration is riveted on it. It’s also possible to watch your seen fly line, particularly on the level the place it’s closest to the fly; the road normally makes some motion aside from what you’re imparting when the fish grabs the fly. This uncommon motion can point out a strike. The fly line could get tight, really feel heavy, twitch ahead, turn out to be slack, or could immediately or slowly transfer to 1 aspect or the opposite. When fishing subsurface flies, develop the behavior of watching the water for any irregular motion or faint flash. Typically you will notice the water bulge in a swirling eddy close to your fly’s place. This means that the bass has rushed the fly, although you don’t really really feel a take.

Dave Whitlock's Fishing Bass Flies
Huge bass will ambush all kinds of meals objects in any type of water. (Ed Mendus picture)

You could react rapidly if you wish to hook most bass that take your fly. Keep in mind, your fly could look, act, really feel, sound, and odor actual, however most bass rapidly turn out to be suspicious as soon as they take the fly into their mouths. They normally maintain the fly for less than a second earlier than they spit it out. Set the hook as quickly as you watched a strike. Until you develop this reflex response to any uncommon line motion or really feel, you’ll lose many fish.

Placing and Hooking

If you see, sense, or really feel the take, react rapidly with a line-hand pull, together with your rod tip nonetheless low and pointing on the fly. This tightens the fly line and chief towards the hook and fish. The moment you are feeling the fly’s resistance, improve the line-hand pull energy and start to strike together with your rod hand by pulling again and lifting with the butt part of the rod.

Dave Whitlock's Fishing Bass Flies
Start putting by tightening the road with a hand pull (S1). As you are feeling resistance, improve line-hand stress, make a second stroke, and carry the rod butt again and up with con­ siderable drive (S2). Be aware the rod angle in S2. Do not make a high-rod trout strike (S3), it is ineffective on bass. (Dave Whitlock illustration)

Examine the illustration rigorously. Don’t increase or rotate the rod tip as you do when putting a trout. The fly-rod tip is an environment friendly shock absorber, so it’s not hook-setter. The butt is the shock transmitter and hook-setter that may drive the hook deep into the jaw tissue of a bass. Do not cease with only one hook-setting mixture. Proceed a sequence of brief pulling jabs together with your line hand on the road and the rod’s butt part. Why? As a result of bass and different massive predator fish use their jaws, tooth, and tongue to carry, chew, and crush any lively and sizable meals merchandise so it can not escape.

Bass, pike, stripers, and snook, even massive trout, have tough-skinned, bony mouths. For a hook to penetrate these powerful mouths you should use a pointy hook with a small barb or, ideally, one with no barb. Bigger bass-fly hooks in sizes 6 to five/0 with excessive barbs do not penetrate a bass’s mouth deep sufficient or quick sufficient, as a result of the excessive barb really obstructs full penetration. Earlier than I noticed this drawback and found an answer, I misplaced a lot of the large bass I hooked earlier than or throughout their first leap. They have been by no means actually hooked. When utilizing sharp, barbless hooks I do not lose a tenth of these large fish now.

There’s one other drawback. Massive bass clamp down so tightly on what they imagine to be a crayfish, minnow, frog, or snake that it’s troublesome with a fly rod to beat that chew grip sufficient to maneuver the fly of their mouth and hook them.

I’ve at all times suspected from observing bass strike flies, then seeing the hooking strike, that precise hooking doesn’t start till the bass feels the preliminary strike and decides to spit out the faux. Then, because the fish relaxes its jaw grip, the fly is pulled with the road and rod to hook the fish. With this in thoughts, you must line­hand pull and rod strike over a interval of a number of seconds or longer.

Some fish, particularly actually large ones which have grabbed a big, cumbersome bass fly, should not simply intimidated and proceed to chew and maintain the fly for a minute or two earlier than opening up and spitting out the fly–by no means being hooked. I’ve usually seen this occur with massive bass, pike, muskies, pickerel, brown trout, and snook. In case your rod tip is just not low and if slack line exists, you may discover it troublesome to hook any of those bigger fish.

To check this technique, stick the hook of your bass fly right into a four- or five-pound object-a cardboard field with sand in it’s a good prop. Place it on a flooring, sidewalk, or different clean floor. Put 30 to 40 toes of fly line and chief between the fly rod and the hooked field or object. Tighten the fly line and attempt to pull and transfer the thing towards you with the low rod tip, butt, and line-pull strike described above; it can transfer. Now attempt to transfer it with the normal high-rod trout-fly strike. It will likely be almost unimaginable to maneuver the field; the rod and fly line take up a lot of the strike power.

Preventing the Fish

As soon as the bass is hooked, you should exert sufficient rod and line stress to achieve the preliminary higher hand. Drive the fish to come back towards you with fly-line pulls and your fly rod’s leverage. If you’re certain you could have the fish hooked and beneath management, start together with your line hand to take up any slack fly line between your rod finger’s grip and the fly reel by reeling extra slack onto the spool. You probably have a number of yards of slack, it should be placed on the reel evenly, with sufficient stress to keep away from tangling issues. Utilizing your line hand, rapidly place the fly line beneath your rod hand’s little finger and use that finger to maintain the fly line beneath management and beneath stress as you reel up the slack. You probably have a multiplier fly reel, this may be completed two or thrice sooner.

The earlier you reel up slack, the less issues you may have with line tangles. That is referred to as “getting the fish on the reel.” Should you solid from a float tube or boat to the shoreline, bass will usually come straight at you when hooked, looking for the protection of deeper water, and you’ll have a lot of slack to get better. I usually again kick or paddle away to help in preventing the fish. Typically, nevertheless, they run in the wrong way and pull out all of the slack line. On this case, with the slack gone, swap instantly to manage with the reel. Then combat the fish by reeling in or giving line from the reel.

Hold the fish away from the varied underwater buildings they like a lot. The power of your chief and the stiffness of your fly rod, particularly within the butt part, is necessary in dealing with this example. Hold your rod angled up no farther than 10 or 11 o’clock for greatest leverage and shock­absorbing management on the fish. Management of slack is the important thing to sustaining this optimum angle. If the rod will get to 12 or 1 o’clock or farther, you may lose leverage and line management, and normally the fish.

Touchdown the Fish

As a result of bass have massive, powerful mouths and the flies and leaders you employ are robust, you possibly can combat arduous with a fly rod. As quickly because the bass begins to floor and weaken close to you, it is in all probability able to land. Reel the fly-line-leader junction to some extent simply outdoors the tip­high information and, utilizing the rod’s leverage, slide the bass towards you.

Now you can seize the fish in a number of methods. A touchdown web is the most secure and surest in the event you use it correctly. Place it beneath the water just a few inches, pull the bass over it, then loosen the rod’s pull and the bass’s head will drop into the web; because it does so, carry the web. By no means attempt to seize or scoop up a bass, as you’ll an insect in a butterfly web, otherwise you’ll lose the fish.

It’s also possible to hand-lip the bass. Most fly fishers favor this touchdown approach. Merely grasp the bass by its decrease lip and jaw together with your line hand’s thumb and index finger and carry up on the jaw. This technique immobilizes the bass, permitting you to unhook it.

Particular Strategies

Dave Whitlock's Fishing Bass Flies
(Dave Whitlock illustrations)

The next strategies work particularly nicely for particular conditions or flies:

Floating fly line–jigging fly. To jig a fly, use a floating fly line and an eight- to ten-foot chief. Permit the jig fly to sink to the underside or as deep as you wish to fish it. Make a fly-line strip, then pause. This causes the fly to hop up and down abruptly or “jig.” Bass go loopy over a jig fly that sits on the underside for 2 or three seconds, then immediately jigs a couple of times.

Sinking-tip fly line–floating fly. To acquire a singular floating/diving/ subsurface swimming-floating retrieve, use a sinking-tip line and a six-foot chief with any floor or surface-diving fly. Solid the fly and permit the sinking-tip to sink. If you make brief strips of the road, the fly will work on the floor. An abrupt or longer pull causes it to splash or pop and dive following the sunken line tip. Hold pulling and the fly swims to the depth of the fly-line tip. Cease pulling and the fly turns head up and returns to the floor so long as the road tip doesn’t sink deeper than the size of the chief. Bass meals akin to frogs, salamanders, turtles, snakes, and minnows have this sort of surface-to-surface motion.

Full-sinking fly line–floating fly. To swim a fly deep over backside construction, use a floating fly and two to 4 toes of chief on a fast-sinking, full­ sinking fly line. The heavy fly line sinks to the underside, pulling the buoyant fly with it. However the floating fly suspends off the underside in relationship to its buoyancy and the chief’s size. Every time you pull or rapidly strip in fly line, the fly dives towards backside after which rises once you cease pulling. Should you pull the suspended fly slowly alongside, it swims with out encountering or hanging up on construction obstacles akin to moss beds, sunken logs, brush, and rocks. This lethal technique is great for fishing deep for giant bass in heavy brush or weed cowl.


Dave Whitlock, of Norfork, Ark., is well-known for his progressive bass flies and fishing methods. He teaches his bass and trout methods on the L. L. Bean Fly Fishing Faculty.

Dave Whitlock's Fishing Bass Flies


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