The other day while I was looking for a story on how to catch big monster brown trout on a fly rod, I watched a video called “Streamer Chronicles” which is part of a great video series YouTube powered by Fly Fishing the Ozarks.
During this video, Chad “Mississippi” Johnson, a renowned fly tier of models like CJ’s Sluggo, a well-known White River fly fishing guide for large brown trout and a regular shop at Dally’s Ozark Fly Fishers ( www.theozarksflyfisher .com) Fly Shop in Cotter, Ark., explained how he and others are trying to attract alligator-sized brown trout that are over 30 inches or more and can approach sizes to two digits in weight.
As I’m on an ongoing quest to try and land a 10 pound – or better – Texas bigmouth on a fly rod, I sat and listened, paid close attention and I took some notes.
Especially when Johnson urged fly anglers not to just “rake the fly”, cast it to shore, pull out the flowing fly line in regular pulses, and wash, rinse, repeat and repeat.
Instead, he said a fly fisherman wanting to fool an apex predator into the water — in his case, a huge brown trout that Arkansas has become famous for over the years — must learn to bringing his fly to life, making it look like a vulnerable, weak and crippled baitfish that represents an easy meal that a bully angler in the water simply cannot resist.
I smiled when I heard Johnson’s lesson – who also tried to teach anglers to avoid being put to sleep by a monotonous motion of regular casting and retrieval, drowsy actions that can have an angler caught off guard when a strike finally occurs.
And because it reminded me of another lesson from long ago from legendary bass fishing pro Kevin VanDam.
By now most of you are probably aware that VanDam – or KVD as many know the sport’s GOAT (greatest of all time) – has set the standard for success in professional bass fishing during its long and rich career with the Bassmaster Elite series, Major League Fishing. , and now the Bass Pro Tour.
The fisherman who was once known as the “Kalamazoo Kid” when a photo of him piloting a bass boat on Lake Texoma made Sherman Democrat cover in the early 1990s when the BASS Oklahoma Invitational was held on the backyard tank, is a household name in fishing circles today.
He’s also a Hall of Famer, the face of numerous Bass Pro Shops commercial and TV shows, and the unrivaled standard with a long list of credentials that every aspiring bass pro hopes to achieve in their own career.
If you don’t already know the following, consider these facts about the Michigan native: He’s the winner of four Bassmaster Classic titles, including back-to-back triumphs at the 2010 and 2011 Classics; the owner of seven BASS Angler of the Year titles; the winner of 25 BASS events and some $6.4 million in BASS earnings alone; winner of an FLW Angler of the Year title; and winner of multiple Major League Fishing Cup titles and a Bass Pro Tour event.
Simply put, KVD is the undisputed king of modern tournament bass fishing, and it’s not even close for the sport’s GOAT finalist.
Big deal you say? Yeah, that’s it. The man is a real bass fishing machine, no matter where he’s fishing, what time of year he’s on the water or what the conditions are while he’s there.
And believe it or not, KVD can even teach a fly fisherman like yours a really great deal about earning more connections with largemouth bass.
As long as you’re willing to listen to what he (and other bass fishing professionals) have to say, then figure out how to transfer that information to the skill set you need when you’re on the water with a fly rod in your hand.
Years ago, I gleaned the same truth that Chad Johnson was trying to teach in the “Streamer Chronicles” video the other day when angling writer Steve Price – who helped inspire my own outdoor writing career when he came to Texoma for that 1992 tournament and gave me some great career advice – wrote about it all in the magazine’s April 2010 issue bassmaster
During this Bassmaster piece, Price asked KVD whether or not erratic lure motion could be critical to triggering a bass strike.
KVD’s answer is one that a lure angler and a fly angler should take to heart: “Absolutely. Bass are very sensitive to any erratic movement of their prey, so I either use lures like tubes that have this erratic action built in, or I add it myself.
“I’m going to shake it, twist it, stop it, start it, speed it up, slow it down – all the things I can do that are out of the ordinary. And I do a few with every throw or flip. When I can combine irregular action with speed, it’s even better.
“I’ve seen so many times where bass show no interest in a school of baitfish or bluegill unless one of them shows weakness, and that’s the one. they choose. It’s no different than a lion chasing a wildebeest; the predator is looking for something that gives it an advantage, and bass are very good at using their habitat and existing conditions to do so.
As I’ve covered VanDam over the years, from his 2001 Bassmaster Classic victory in New Orleans when I wrote for ESPNOutdoors.com to his first Major League Fishing Cup victory in Alpena, Michigan a few years ago , I have always marveled at how he retrieves the lures so essential to his motor fishing brand of putting bass in the boat.
This is true with a spinnerbait, topwater, square nose crankbait or deep dive crankbait, all KVD’s excel at fishing, many of these baits bearing his name and image on the Strike King Lures packaging in which they are delivered.
But never is this concept more apparent than when you watch VanDam fish a jerkbait, a lure he is almost without question, the finest practitioner to use in modern bass fishing history.
In fact, I got to see a VanDam jerkbait clinic years ago while sitting in a camera boat on Lake Amistad at the first-ever MLF event in November 2011. In doing so, I don’t couldn’t help but marvel at how well it vacuumed. bass after bass, how he could jerkbait a literal country mile, and how violent and wickedly efficient his side-to-side “hunting” motion of the bait was as he spun that way, spun from that way and would stop in between so a West Texas bass just couldn’t resist.
So how does this all work out for a fly fisherman?
Simple. As Chad Johnson said, don’t get caught up in the motions of doing a rhythmic cast, landing your fly in a “bassy-looking” area, then methodically picking it up with a steady “strip, strip” motion. , strip”.
The same retrieve move, by the way, that 99% of all fly anglers seem to fall into by default. And the kind of retrieval that a big bass looks towards before offering a yawn and a sulky refusal.
Instead, follow KVD’s advice and the advice of “Mississippi” Johnson. Or, to use my paraphrase of the concept, let your fly become a sick wildebeest.
Get the fly near places where a bass might be hiding. Get the full attention of a fat old bass mama as you erratically take off your fly like a tipsy sailor. Hit the fly into objects. Scale it. Stop that. Start it. Rip it, pause it, and drop it in a shimmer of death. Vary the recovery speed, fast one minute, slow the next, then somewhere in between.
In short, do whatever you can to make your fly look like an easy-to-pick meal that a large predatory bass just can’t refuse to take.
Do this once on a trip and you might catch some good bass, or even a big brown trout if you’re on northern Arkansas’ famous trout water.
Make this type of attention-grabbing, strike-initiating recovery happen often enough during a trip and you could have an exceptional day on the water.
And learn to incorporate such tactics into your arsenal every time you take to the water and maybe one day you’ll be known as the KVD of fly fishing for bass.
If I don’t beat you for that title first, of course. Because as wacky as it sounds, that’s the goal, and if it’s a goal that’s achieved, it’ll be thanks to figuring out how to make my flies look like the sickest of all wildebeests.