One of the greatest flyfishermen of all time shares his angling wisdom, talks about his favorite fishing spots and fish to chase on the fly, and explains his four principles of fly casting
Lefty Kreh, one of the most accomplished and beloved flyfishermen of all time, died in 2018. He was 93 years old. Kreh was a prolific author and globe-trotting angler. Among his many accolades, Kreh was the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Sportfishing Association and a member of the IGFA Hall of Fame and Flyfishing Hall of Fame. He was also a wonderful person—kind, warm, funny, and always happy to teach others. Field & Stream’s legendary fishing editor John Merwin once wrote of Kreh: “If America can claim a national flyfishing treasure, Lefty is it.”
Here, we’re reprinting an interview Kreh gave the magazine back in 2009. His stories, humor, and fishing tips are timeless—just like the man himself.
I’ve been fishing since I was old enough to walk to the Monocacy River, near Frederick, Md. My father died when I was young, during the Depression, and my mother had to raise four children. I was the oldest, at 6. We were so poor that we had to live on welfare. I’d catch catfish on bait and sell them so I could buy clothes and food to get through high school.
After World War II, I started fly casting when I got back from Europe. (Lefty fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1945). Back then, I got a job at the Biological Warfare Center, where we grew and concentrated the bacteria that the scientists worked on. I was one of three people who got anthrax—on my hand and arm. My full name is Bernard Victor Kreh, and there is now a BVK strain of anthrax. I was doing shift work, and I’d hunt or fish between shifts. I started to get a reputation as a hotshot bass fisherman.
Joe Brooks, the fishing writer, lived in the Baltimore suburbs, and he was writing a column in the county paper. He came down with a fly rod one day. This was in September 1947. A big hatch of flying ants was trying to fly across the river, and millions of them were falling into the water. I’m using a 6-pound-test braided silk line, and Joe pulls out this fly line that looked like a piece of rope and swished it back and forth. There were rings out there—he was using a Black Ghost streamer—and he dropped this damn thing in a ring, and boom, he had a fish. He caught almost as many bass as I did, and you don’t normally do that to a guy on his own river.
The next day I drove to Baltimore in my Model A Ford and met him, and we went down to Tochterman’s Sporting Goods—it’s still there, third generation—where he picked out a South Bend fiberglass rod, a Medalist reel, and a Cortland fly line. We went out in the park, and he gave me a casting lesson. Of course, he was teaching that 9 o’clock to 1 o’clock stuff, like everyone was.
My favorite fish to flyfish for are bonefish, absolutely. In freshwater, I like smallmouth bass and then peacock bass.
The longer you swim the fly, the more fish you catch. Gradually I evolved the method that I now teach, where you bring the rod back way behind you on the cast. This accelerates the line, lets you make longer casts and, in turn, puts more line on the water.
I started fishing for smallmouths on the Potomac, at Lander, which is below Harpers Ferry. The river was full of big smallmouths. It was fabulous fishing.
In the 1950s, I went down to Crisfield on the bay. They had a crab-packing plant there, and at the end of the day they shoved everything they didn’t put into cans off the dock. It was the biggest chum line you’d ever seen. My buddy Tom Cofield and I knew about it, and the bass were all over the place. We were using bucktails with chenille, and the wing kept fouling on the hook. On the way home, I said to Tom, “I’m going to develop a fly that looks like a baitfish, that doesn’t foul in flight, that flushes the water when it comes out into the air and is easy to cast.” That’s how I came up with the Deceiver.
The first magazine story I sold was to Pennsylvania Game News. I got paid $89. We thought it was a fortune! It was on hunting squirrels from a canoe.
I teach four principles rather than a rote method of fly casting. The principles are not mine; they’re based on physics, and you can adapt them to your build. They are: (1) You must get the end of the fly line moving before you can make a back or forward cast; (2) Once the line is moving, the only way to load the rod is to move the casting hand at an ever increasing speed and then bring it to a quick stop; (3) The line will go in the direction the rod tip speeds up and stops—specifically, it goes in the direction that the rod straightens when the rod hand stops; and (4) The longer the distance that the rod travels on the back and forward casting strokes, the less effort that is required to make the cast.
My most memorable flyfishing experience was in New Guinea. There’s a fish there called a New Guinea bass—they spell it N-I-U-G-I-N-I. They are the strongest fish I’ve ever seen in my life.
My three favorite flyfishing spots in the world are Maine for smallmouths, Los Roques off Venezuela for bonefish, and Louisiana for redfish. The marsh near New Orleans is over 20 miles wide and 80 miles long. There’s very light fishing pressure, and it’s absolutely the best redfishing anywhere.
The three most important fly casts are the basic cast —you have to learn to use a full stroke; a roll cast, because you use it for all kinds of things; and the double haul. You need to learn how to double haul.
Up until seven, eight years ago, you couldn’t get into flyfishing if you didn’t have a lot of money. Now we have fabulous rods. If you buy any rod today that costs more than $100, it will probably cast better than the person who buys it.
Written by Jay Cassell for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When someone says “flyfishing,” what pops into your head? If the answer is the delicate sip of a rising trout, the perfect drift over a soft seam, or total relaxation, I’d call you normal. Then there’s me. Most of the time, I measure a good day of flyfishing by the soreness of my shoulder. That’s because the kind I’ve become obsessed with involves trying to get meaty bugs in front of the biggest fish I possibly can. Throwing flies that can turn the heads of true tanks is a big part of this addiction, but for a full dose of my choice drug, I must have sinking fly lines.
Some may argue that sinking line and flyfishing don’t belong in the same sentence, but not me. When a sinking line yanks taut, it’s pure electricity, and more satisfying to me than a dry-fly take. You can call me crazy, or you can take the lessons I’ve learned catching some of my most memorable “dredge” fish and use them to put more hawgs, toads, and donkeys on the fly than you ever could with traditional fly tactics.
Brown Trout: Gain Weight
I had been using short sink tips to throw trout streamers for years, but when I fished with guide and noted streamer tier Brian Wise in Missouri, I learned that my usual 3- to 5-foot tips just wouldn’t cut it.
Wise prefers a long, fast sink tip regardless of water conditions for two reasons. One is that 99 percent of the time, he’s throwing unweighted streamers because he wants the fly to dart side to side and hang during the retrieve, not jig up and down and sink quickly when paused. More important, he wants to keep it fishing all the way back to the rod tip. A streamer hit on most rivers is going to come in the first few strips off the bank, but browns in the Ozarks’ Norfork River are just as apt to hold on midriver ledges and pockets. Without a long sink tip, the fly would pass far above the heads of these fish; with one, the fly hugs the sloping bottom all the way back to the drift boat.
All day we had worn our shoulders out with only one half-decent brown in the net. It was just about dark on the last leg of our float when out of nowhere—and with only a few strips left before a recast—the black-and-purple Double Deceiver I’d been pulling for hours got viciously plowed by one of the heaviest and prettiest wild browns I’ve ever caught. Since then, you won’t find me ripping streamers for browns without a 15-foot sink tip. And the number of fish I’ve caught well away from the bank by doing so has positively skyrocketed.
Striped Bass: Blown Away
The wind on New Jersey’s Raritan Bay was cranking that April afternoon and the surface chop was building. We were drifting so fast in my friend Eric Kerber’s skiff that I doubt I could have held bottom with 6 ounces of lead. Yet somehow, Kerber was managing to keep a weighted rubber shad in the zone long enough to occasionally smack one of the stripers we were marking 15 feet down. All I wanted to do was get a fly in front of one.
Heavy sink tips generally stink to cast, but in a stiff wind they do have an advantage because they have some punch power. My only hope was to use the wind to my benefit.
Instead of casting behind the boat into the wind, I wound up and laid as much line as I could straight toward the bow with the wind. By the time my hands were in stripping position, the line was sweeping past the boat. I let it straighten behind the boat for just a moment before I began stripping. I don’t think I moved the fly 10 feet before a fish big enough to put me in the backing took a shot. The 22-pounder that delivered the blow remains one of my top three heaviest fly stripers.
For the rest of the tide, every time we marked fish, I either connected or got bumped. Kerber would only hit with his shad every couple of drifts. My takeaway: It’s always worth trying the fly even in terrible conditions, because every once in a while, there will be something about the presentation that turns the fish on more than anything else.
Jack Crevalle: Reel Power
Jack crevalle don’t get as much respect as they should. They are one of the hardest fighters in the ocean—and the closest you can get to a giant trevally without a ridiculously long flight. For anglers looking to put meat in the box, they don’t hold much appeal; for a flyfisherman wanting to see lots and lots of backing, they’re a dream.
On a trip to Mississippi, guide Sonny Schindler and I had chased wolf packs of jacks busting mullet around Cat Island all afternoon, but every time we got in range, the fish would vamoose. At last, we managed to creep up on a school that had pinned bait against a grass bank. My Deceiver sunk just out of sight, I stripped twice, and I was into my backing before I could even say, “I’m on.” That’s when I realized I’d made a very stupid mistake.
Although I had brought a large-diameter reel, it didn’t have a large arbor. A sink tip of any weight always increases slack in your line, as it creates a belly. That means you have to work a little harder to keep a tight line when fighting a fish. When the powerful jack turned and came at me, that standard-arbor reel couldn’t pick up line fast enough for me to stay tight. I don’t think I’ve ever reeled so frantically in my life. Luckily, I had stuck the fish pretty well, and despite a few seconds of completely limp line during the battle, the monster jack made it to the boat 30 minutes later. Had I been using a large arbor, I probably would have cut that fight time in half.
Lake Trout: Peel It Out
If you can hack it, one of the best shots at a laker on the fly is in the dead of winter when the fish are feeding close to shore. Even then, the depths are not ideal, but they’re manageable with the right line. That line, of course, would be a heavy-grain (300 to 400) full sink or long sink tip. This is the route I took to secure my first whip-stick laker.
Drifting with guide Frank Campbell over the Niagara Bar on Lake Ontario, I could see the fish holding around humps on the sonar. Every time we dropped off the back of this one 25-foot rise, Campbell came tight on a white swimbait. I, on the other hand, was stripping with numb fingertips, puzzled as to why I couldn’t connect. After five passes down the money lane without a touch, I changed up the presentation. I made a long cast, then just started peeling out line as we drifted. I waited long enough to actually feel my fly momentarily hang on the bottom. Then I buried the rod tip in the water and started making slower strips. I only made about five before my first laker nearly took the rod out of my hand.
Even though my fly was probably getting to depth before I altered my approach, my faster strips plus the drifting boat meant that it likely wasn’t staying there long enough. Although feeding line isn’t as sexy as casting it, if you’re going to make the effort to target a deep fish, sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to be sure your fly is staying in its face.
Northern Pike: Drop In (Slightly)
My heaviest pike ever on the fly weighed just north of 15 pounds and came from the Cree River in Saskatchewan. I’ll never forget that charge and take.
On our first day, our guide motored us into a small cove with an island. He told me to cast between the island and a patch of flooded grass about 20 feet away. The water was only 3 feet deep, and after the fly splatted down, I gave my line a few seconds to sink. After a couple strips, a wake of submarine proportions came pushing toward my streamer. I let the bug pause, and then gave it one hard tug. That was the trigger that turned the pike from a submarine to a missile locked on target. I could have surfed the wave it threw when it hit.
You might think that in water so shallow there was no need for a sinking line. To this day, however, I rarely pike fish without one unless I’m committed to using poppers. Letting a slow-sinking intermediate tip fall for just a few seconds creates a slight belly in the line. On the first strip, bulkier flies will dive, following the arc of that belly. I’ve come to believe that when you’re casting to a small zone, getting a larger fly to the fish’s eye level as fast as possible equals more strikes.
Largemouth Bass: Muskie Meal Plan
For someone so obsessed with chucking monster streamers, you’d think I’d have several muskies under my belt. I have zero, but that’s certainly not for a lack of trying. Ironically, the most notable catch I’ve ever had while targeting muskies was a largemouth bass.
By the fourth day of a muskie quest in the St. Paul suburbs last October with my friend Robert Hawkins, my arms were like Jell‑O. All we had to show for the effort were a few pike. Then, as my giant fly sank along a lily-pad edge, I made one strip and saw it disappear. The hit was so violent we were sure I’d finally tied into a muskie. When the fish surfaced I couldn’t believe it—there was a solid 7-pound largemouth with the 12-inch streamer in its jaw.
After the laughter subsided, I realized what I’d done was no different than what trophy bass hunters throwing big trout-imitating swimbaits have been doing for decades. While hair bugs, bunny leeches, and sliders are the patterns most anglers associate with largemouth bass fishing, you might consider taking a big piece of muskie meat to the bass pond. You’re probably not going to get a lot of bites, but they will likely be the right bites when you get them.
Written by Joe Cermele for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
Grind and cook your catch with a side of creamy grits and roasted tomatoes
Chef Robert Phalen, at Atlanta’s acclaimed One Eared Stag restaurant, makes this citrusy, herbal, head-turning “sausage” with catfish, but it’s a fresh and terrific vehicle for other freshwater gamefish like bass or walleye. Don’t let the sausage-making component scare you off; after a simple pass through the grinder, this dish couldn’t be easier.
2 lb. catfish, bass, or walleye fillets, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
2 cups grits (not instant)
1⁄3 cup white wine
11⁄2 cups parsley, roughly chopped
Zest of 3 lemons
Zest of 1 lime
11⁄2 Tbsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. whole coriander seeds
11⁄2 tsp. onion powder
11⁄2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
10 oz. cherry tomatoes
About 1⁄2 cup olive oil, divided
4 Tbsp. butter
4 scallions, chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Place the components for your meat grinder in the freezer to chill.
Make the grits: Bring 8 cups of salted water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the bay leaves, then slowly whisk in the grits. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer very gently for 30 minutes to an hour, until the grits are very tender.
Meanwhile, add the wine, parsley, lemon and lime zest, fennel and coriander seeds, onion and garlic powder, and red pepper flakes to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Combine this purée with the fish fillets, and salt and pepper generously.
Using the coarse setting on your grinder, grind the fish mixture into a clean, cold bowl. Keep refrigerated until ready to cook.
As the grits are cooking, place the tomatoes on a sheet pan and drizzle with about 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place under a broiler for about 8 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft and blackened in spots. Keep warm.
In a nonstick sauté pan, heat about 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Make patties with the sausage (or sauté loosely, as you would ground beef) and cook, flipping once, for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until cooked through.
Add the butter to the grits and stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle the grits into shallow bowls and top with the sausage and blistered tomatoes. Garnish with the chopped scallions and serve.
Written by Jonathan Miles for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether in fresh or saltwater, rare are the days when artificial lures will take more or bigger fish than live bait. For many, however, the big issue with live bait is cost and the ability to keep it alive from the point of purchase to the location of use. There’s nothing worse than spending your hard-earned cash on a dozen shiners, for example, only to have them go belly-up before you ever put them on a hook. There is another simpler option, and that is to catch your own.
Quality live baits can be caught almost everywhere. Moreover, with just a little effort, baits can be kept fresh and alive throughout a day of fishing and beyond, which is sure to increase your success over the long haul.
Here are some choice natural baits for freshwater fishing, with tips on how to catch them and keep them lively until it’s time to use them.
Let’s start with the basics. Worms are, without a doubt, the most-used bait, and for good reason. They will help you catch everything from sunfish to catfish.
Earthworm varieties range widely from finger-thick Canadian crawlers used for walleyes and bass; to tiny red wigglers perfectly suited for panfish; to neon-green, glow-in-the-dark worms that can work on basically everything.
There are numerous ways to catch worms, including fiddling for them by rubbing an axe blade across a buried stake, electro-shocking likely soil areas, and even baiting the ground with uncooked pork (this also attracts ants and other crawly critters like cockroaches). All of these tactics work, but there are even simpler methods as well.
For example, oversized nightcrawlers can be snatched up at night by simply spraying the backyard lawn with water just before dark and stalking the blades of grass while wearing a red-tinted headlamp. Overturning the rich dirt in leafy flower beds with a rake or shovel, or flipping stones along a streamside will also work, often resulting in enough worms for a morning’s worth of family fishing.
Need more volume? Soak the soil with plain dish soap and water. If that doesn’t work, add a half-cup of bleach to a bucket of water, set your garden hose on trickle, and put it in the bucket. Then place the bucket on your lawn as it overflows. Within minutes, worms will wriggle to the surface. Grab them, rinse them off, and toss them into a container.
Soak as many areas as necessary, but know that both soap and bleach will eventually kill the worms, so it’s best to only grab enough for one day’s use. Briefly storing them in a container filled with rich soil or worm bedding will keep them wriggling for several hours.
A hot worm-hunting location that you might not have thought of is your local parking lot. Check the pavement after a warm spring or summer rain, and you’ll collect enough worms for a week’s worth of fishing.
Out of all the kinds of live bait, Worms are probably the easiest to store. The old go-to metal coffee can works as well today as it did for your grandfather. To access the worms quickly, flip the can and grab the worms that have gravitated toward the bottom. You can store them overnight or longer in the refrigerator, but tell the family first.
There is really no need to feed the wrigglers unless you don’t plan on fishing for a month.
Big fish eat small fish, and there is likely no more effective bait than a small baitfish on a hook.
Generally, baitfish selection should vary according to what species you’re using them for. However, the hardiest baitfish are most desirable. Madtoms, suckers, and mud minnows, for example, are so resilient that they almost defy death both while on the hook or in a livewell.
Other baitfish, such as shad and shiners, might need greater care (like extremely clean and well-aerated water) to ensure their survival while being transported, as well as on the boat during a day of fishing.
There are many ways to catch baitfish. Small cylindrical mesh traps baited with bread, cat food, or oatmeal then placed in rivers, creeks, lakes, or ponds, are extremely effective at collecting an assortment of live baitfish like madtoms, dace, shiners, and small sunfish. Using a commercially-available mesh seine is also a good and quick way to catch baitfish from shallow lakes, rivers, and streams. Two people can often seine enough baitfish in a very short time for a full day of fishing.
Umbrella lift-style nets work well on a variety of baitfish, too. Use lift-nets at night around bridge and dock lights, or near submerged lights used specifically for attracting fish. You can also bait tiny hooks (size 10 or 12) with bread and fish for small sunfish and wild shiners in shallow water. This might take a bit longer than other methods, but it is a proven tactic. A cast-net is another efficient tool to catch a lot of baitfish (especially shad and shiners) in short order, but it takes a bit of practice.
Regardless of the method, it is critical to check your location’s fishing regulations concerning baitfish collection and use. In some places, introducing a non-native species of baitfish into a particular body of water might be considered illegal. In others, there might be limits to the number of live baits you are permitted to keep.
While baitfish can be caught almost anywhere, it’s best to target places where they are most likely to concentrate, particularly in spots where waterways are constricted or blocked. In streams, pools, and run-outs just below shallow stretches can be prime places for baitfish to stack. Likewise, below dams (even small ones) and downstream of culverts are also baitfish hangouts.
Crawfish are abundant in most bodies of freshwater throughout America, and except in winter, they are easy to locate, catch, and keep alive for a wide variety of fishing. They are great baits for black bass (all species), as well as catfish. Small crawfish baits sometimes tempt walleyes, sauger, pike, and even trout—though the softshell variety is usually preferred by these species.
Crawfish can be caught several ways, with commercially-made wire mesh traps being perhaps the best and most effective method. Bait traps with meat such as chicken necks, wings, or liver, and place them in lakes, ponds, creeks, rivers, ditches, and backwater bayous. Simply tying a hunk of bait to a line will also draw crawfish. They will typically hang onto the bait long enough for you to net them.
If you prefer some hand-to-claw combat, simply wade a rocky-bottomed lake or stream and begin flipping over stones. Allow a moment for the mud cloud to dissipate and look for the brownish craws beneath. It’s best to approach a crawfish slowly from the rear or else you’ll risk having it dart off, tail-first, never to be seen again. It’s a challenging sport if using only your hands, which is why most bait-gatherers prefer small dip nets.
Crawfish can easily be kept lively for many days in a small styrofoam storage container. Be certain to place it in a cool, dry area out of the sun. Use only enough water in the container to half-cover crawfish, and add a few large stones for them to hide under. Change the water periodically and immediately remove any crawfish that die.
For a day of fishing, a small bucket with a bit of water is all crawfish need to survive. They can also be kept in a clean, aerated boat livewell.
Few live baits are more effective in freshwater than leeches. All black bass devour them, and they are especially deadly on smallmouths and walleyes. Sauger, trout, sunfish, and catfish all go wild for leeches, too.
Different species of leeches can be found in almost all freshwaters, from clear western trout streams to swampy dark bass bayous in the deep South.
The time-tested way to catch them is with a small metal container like a soup or coffee can. Bait the inside of the can with chicken gizzards, a fish head, or fish viscera, then squeeze the open end of the tin can nearly closed so that larger fish don’t eat the bait before leeches locate it. Secure the can to a bush, dock, or a rock, and check it in a day or two to collect leeches.
Keeping leeches lively is easy. These baits can survive well in a bucket or small foam container with adequate clean water. Non-chlorinated tap water should be used so that the leeches don’t die. Change the water every day. They store well when refrigerated.
Use a container of water, livewell, or bait bucket to keep leeches lively while fishing. Bait containers should be small so the leeches are easier to grab.
Not all states allow the use of live frogs as bait, so check your local regulations. But live frogs are deadly for bass, pike, pickerel, walleyes, muskies, catfish, and even large trout.
Catching frogs can be a messy business. Many people wade in shallow water or muddy vegetation and simply catch them by hand or with a fine mesh net.
One of the most effective ways to catch live frogs is with a fishing rod. Tie a small size 8 or 10 brightly-colored fly or tiny bream popper to a length of 15-pound-test monofilament. Frogs are voracious predators, and almost every one of them will leap quickly to gulp a bright fly or popper. This is an effective way to catch frogs day or night, and it’s fun to do, too.
Keeping frogs lively for fishing isn’t difficult. Use a standard minnow-style bait container to hold them. Just be sure to keep the bucket out of direct sunlight for long periods of time.
If stowing frogs for several days, use a very clean bucket with holes or a laundry basket. Anchor the container with rocks in the shallows of a small stream or pond, so just a few inches of water is inside. Use some sticks and weeds for cover inside the container and a lid of some type to keep raccoons and other predators out of the container.
6. Crickets & Grasshoppers
Crickets and grasshoppers are superb panfish and trout baits, and they're easy to catch and keep for fishing.
Homemade cricket traps made from plastic water or soda bottles work well. Cut off the top quarter of the bottle and invert it into the bottom. This forms a funnel trap for crickets to enter. Once inside, they cannot escape. Bait the trap with small pieces of over-ripe fruit like peaches, pears, or strawberries, and place alongside barn floors (inside or outside), in garages, or near light sources at night. You’ll usually catch crickets in short order.
If you’re more into hunting them down, grab a small tight-mesh net on a long handle (like a butterfly net) and catch crickets and grasshoppers in farm fields and buildings.
A large blanket made of wool or any fuzzy material is also helpful when catching crickets and hoppers. Simply lay it on the ground in a field on a sunny summer’s day and walk around it to drive the insects onto the blanket. The bugs get their legs caught in the blanket long enough to be captured easily.
If that doesn’t work, a small battery-operated vacuum will also do the trick. Fields, garages, old buildings, and farm structures are usually loaded with crickets, grasshoppers, and other insects. A few swipes with the vacuum will usually catch all the live bugs required for a day of trout or panfishing.
Keep crickets and grasshoppers in a small coffee can with holes punched in the lid for airflow. Place grass, cardboard pieces, a few sticks, and some fruit in the container and your baits will be happy for a long time if they’re kept in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.
7. Hellgrammites & Nymphs
Hellgrammites and large nymphs are superb baits for smallmouth bass, walleyes, and trout. They’re most efficiently caught using seines in the shallows of rocky rivers and streams. Hold your seine downstream while another angler shuffles around rocks, logs, and other bottom debris a few feet upstream. Hellgrammites and nymphs living under the rocks and debris will dislodge and tumble with the current downstream to the seine.
The seine should be checked regularly for captured baits. Toss them into a minnow-style bait bucket or container with holes.
Baits can be kept for several days, especially hellgrammites, which are hardier than standard nymph species. Stow baits in a minnow-type bucket in flowing creek water.
Written by Bob Mcnally for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
Hook and land bronzebacks on the fly with these Wild West lessons
I live in one of the most trout-rich states. Idaho is chock-full of blue-ribbon waters, and fly anglers descend upon them every spring. I like to target trout as much as the next guy, but I can only dodge drift boats and outrun wading anglers for so long. That’s why I love smallmouths.
Because so many cold-water trout-fishing opportunities exist in the West, smallmouths are one of the most undervalued fly-rod gamefish here. This is ironic. If you look at the drainages of the largest Rocky Mountain trout rivers, the lower half is almost always prime bronzeback habitat, replete with a pebble rock and silt streambed, moderate water temperatures, and a big food supply.
For the past few years, I’ve had some of the finest smallmouth sight-fishing trips on water that’s barely 30 minutes from my front door, and I’ve learned some valuable lessons. With so many anglers tossing spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jerkbaits, and live bait, I’ve had to figure out ways to make flies stand out. To help you catch more smallies on the fly wherever you live, here are three concepts to remember.
Keep it Simple
I love fishing new flies, especially those loaded with modern materials designed to produce extremely lifelike action. I often reach for those patterns first, thinking they’ll be something the bass haven’t seen yet. Inevitably, after a hundred casts with maybe a few chases and a strike or two, I throw in the towel and reach for a Clouser Minnow.
In my experience, bass in moving water couldn’t care less about a fake minnow that moves exactly like a real minnow. Silhouette and motion trump realism and natural color patterns. That’s why a Clouser is my No. 1 fly. It’s inexpensive, simple to tie, and easy to see when sight-fishing in crystal-clear water. Want to simplify things further? Don’t get carried away with too many color combinations. Yellow over chartreuse kills it for me in a wide range of conditions.
Slow Your Roll
Many of the people I take smallmouth fishing for the first time strip flies at Daytona 500 speeds and get frustrated when a bass follows but never commits. If you think about it, bass see all sorts of fast-moving spinners and lipped crankbaits. Hard baits can appear unnatural, and fish can eventually become conditioned to refuse them. When you make a similarly speedy retrieve with a fly, expect the same reaction from the fish.
Train yourself to slow your strip speed. If it helps, use less weight on your flies to decrease the sink rate. My smallmouth buddies and I see so many fish strike on the drop that we’ve learned to occasionally stop moving the fly during a retrieve, especially if there’s a fish following close behind. Just let the fly (slowly) sink. Bass can hit before the fly meets the streambed, or when it’s motionless on the gravel for a moment or two. Make the fly behave like scared prey that knows death is imminent, and more bronzebacks will commit.
Catch the Early Bug
What many anglers don’t realize is a lot of slow, warm, shallow smallmouth rivers host the same sought-after hatches that get trout anglers jacked up in the wee hours of the morning. Even early in the season, you can encounter many of the same caddis and mayflies in the smallmouth stretches, particularly Hendricksons. As the spring sun heats the water, do yourself a favor and don’t sleep in. Grab a coffee, enjoy the fact that you’re the only trailer on the boat ramp, and spend the next few hours headhunting bass dimpling the surface. Even the slightest rings can be produced by heavy fish, and there’s no greater challenge than landing a 3- or 4-pounder on light tippet and a size 16 dry fly. I’ve caught some amazingly large bass targeting unbelievably small rise forms. If you’re not getting risers to eat, try working a small popper around the sippers, pausing often. You can also try swinging a Clouser through them.
Written by Ben Romans for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.