Unicoi Outfitters is north Georgia's premier guide service and fly fishing outfitter, located on the Chattahoochee River near alpine Helen. Look for fishing reports, gear and book reviews, and general musings here from our staff and guides.

Monday, August 3, 2020

The River Bass Box

The River Bass Box
By Jeff Durniak

The dog days of summer are here.  That means the lengthy rains of spring are long-gone and we simply have to deal with occasional, pop-up thunderstorms.  While those brief storms might muddy-up flowing waters, they usually clear quickly.  That’s great news for our best bet during the dog days: river bassin’!   While a lot of anglers complicate things, river bassin’, at its roots, is really simple and easy.   For new fly fishers, you can enjoy your own Huck Finn days with any old 5,6, or 7-weight fly rod, wading shoes or a canoe/kayak, and a basic bass box.   I’ll tell you the goodies I carry in my box.

That basic box is a simple 3 X 2 concept of water layers and fly patterns.  I’ve got three layers of water to cover (top, middle, and bottom) and two flies per layer, my go-to pattern, and a backup bug.  Only two, you say?  Yep, for a starter box.  Pick the bug size to match your local quarry.  If you need a size to start, buy or tie these on size 4 hooks.  Of course, we can add more bugs and make that box bigger.  That’s what fly fishing is all about, lotsa cool trinkets, right?  But for new fly-flingers, a ton of trinkets isn’t necessary.  Sometimes it’s counterproductive, as noobs spend more time changing flies than casting their first pick into a good spot and working it seductively.  Remember this: Technique trumps Pattern!

Now let’s get to the gotta-have patterns. First, for the surface, I like a white Kent’s Stealth Bomber and a white popper.  They both must have lots of long rubber legs!  Toss the Stealth Bomber into low, clear water along shady banks, and don’t move it. Just let it drift along.  Every now and then, give it a slight twitch to wiggle the legs, then let it drift again for 5-10 feet.  River bass and bream are spooky in summer’s low, clear water, but they’re very hungry and love to hang out under tree limbs, waiting for terrestrial bugs to lose their footing. Fish with patience and you’ll be rewarded.  The backup surface bug is the trusty white popper. Use it to call fish up from deep, fast, or slightly discolored water.  Don’t pop it as much as you did in the spring when the water was cooler.  Pop and drift, then repeat. Use these two surface bugs in the shade and shadows of dawn, dusk, and shaded banks, where your quarry feels safe enough to “look up” for supper and not be a meal for a heron.

When they’re not looking up, go down for the fish.  You can start at mid-column with either the Clouser minnow or the greatest fly of all time, the black woolly bugger.  Fish the Clouser like a nervous minnow.  Cast, let it sink a bit, and retrieve it back to you with erratic strips.  Don’t fall into the bad habit of a constant retrieve.  You’ll catch more fish when they think their lunch is leaving!  You can fish the bugger any way at all: cast upstream and twitch down to you, then twitch slightly as it swings past you and hangs in the current below you, then twitch and strip it back to your rod tip.  One hint: put your rod tip right on the water surface while you’re twitching and stripping.  Striking fish will encounter a tight line and result in more hookups.  Strikes on high rods just pull on a big U-loop of slack – and you’ll have lots of misses.

When your shoalies and smallies are glued to the bottom, especially in the high sun, go knock on den doors and offer them a lobster dinner.  Dens are boulder fields, rock ledges, and logjams, especially the shady side of each.  You can toss Reindeau’s Hairy Fodder upstream and bounce it on the bottom, back to you, to imitate a downstream- fleeing crayfish.  Toss it across the stream, toward the bank, and twitch it while it swings.  As it finally hangs in the current below you, stick that rod tip in the water and short-strip it back upstream.  If you’re greedy like us, tie two feet of 10lb tippet to the fodder’s hook bend and drop the woolly bugger off the back. That dual-dinner menu is hard to resist.

Hopefully, these tips will get you started on some summer fun, while you await the return of trouting in the fall.  Don’t forget a big hat, sunscreen, bug spray, flashlight, plenty of water, and a good fishing buddy (at a distance) for river safety.  Toss one of these six bugs in the right spot, work it like the natural food, and hold on. These river bass have bad attitudes and broad shoulders! And they’ll make you smile in the summer sun.

Author’s Note:  Jeff Durniak recently retired as DNR’s Regional Fisheries Biologist for North Georgia.  He now spends his time terrorizing fish and working his hobby job at Unicoi Outfitters. 

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