Close to Home Bass
aka.Bucketmouths Under the Band Shell
Glunk! To a fly rodder in search of largemouth bass, there is no better sound than being out on a quiet little lake shortly after first light and hearing the sound of your popper displacing water on a strip. Well okay, I guess the ensuing raucous strike on that popper is even better.
In the Twin Cities metro area, we are surrounded by bass lakes. Of course we have the heralded lakes like Minnetonka, but what I am referring to is what I call “nook and cranny” lakes. Within a half hour of the metro area, there are more good largemouth lakes than anyone could conceivably fish in a couple summers of hard fishing. Some of these lakes are right in the city, literally. It’s no revelation that we are blessed with natural resources, particularly water, in the state of Minnesota. I think what goes vastly unappreciated however are the opportunities we have so close to a major metropolitan area. When I daydream about fly fishing it is usually about walking a flat in the Bahamas, floating down the Madison in a drift boat as the continuous riffle patters against the glass hull, or simply rounding a bend on one of our southeast streams and seeing the surface being dimpled by rising trout. With those visions in mind, it is somewhat surreal to be fishing bass on a metro lake with the Minneapolis skyline as a backdrop above the dense canopy of trees.
Fly fishing for largemouth is incredibly exciting, “I don’t care who you are”, to borrow a phrase from a popular but not particularly funny comedian. Explosive surface strikes and arm jolting streamer takes to me is what it’s all about. I do enjoy a good dose of solace and tranquility though when I’m out on a flat lake in the morning. Crisp fresh air and cool water with only the occasional announcement of a Canada goose (or in this case distant cars) are my only company. Believe it or not, even in the metro area the latter distraction is avoidable in many cases. What a lot of people probably don’t realize, or perhaps better stated utilize are the smaller lakes that offer healthy populations of largemouth and in many instances support impressive sized fish. As a matter of fact, the new state record largemouth of 8lbs. 15 oz. was caught out of Lake Auburn (261 acres) last October. The beauty of the myriad of choices is that many don’t have a public access beyond a canoe put in, do have motor restrictions, and some have special regulations to help spur a trophy fishery. These lakes are very well suited for wading or using a float tube or inflatable pontoon.
I happen to work in a retail environment and I have sold countless float tubes and pontoons over the years to customers wanting to use them in predominantly agricultural areas to fish farm ponds. Rarely have I heard a customer indicate an interest in the smaller lakes surrounding the Cities. An added bonus: these lakes don’t have a mountain range bottom contour, so targeting a largemouth on a fly rod is just as effective as any method.
There are some great resources for finding these lakes. Extensive research and records have been kept on fish stocking data, net catch data and in some cases fish length of the net samplings. All of this is information available through the DNR. Visit the MN DNR @ www.dnr.state.mn.us/lakefind/index to find lake maps, accesses, fish stocking data, etc. From this point, you can break it down by county or specific lake and you can literally get lost in the available information. If you want everything at your fingertips in a nice spiral bound book, Sportsman’s Connection offers a publication titled West Metro Area Fishing Map Guide and East Metro Area Fishing Map Guide. These books retail for about $20 and offer all of the aforementioned information in one handy package.
Once you give these lakes a try, make it fun and start tracking your own information. Keep a journal and log your fishing days including the date, conditions, and success on various bodies of water. I have done this for years with my waterfowl hunting and steelhead fishing. The migratory nature of these creatures makes it that much more important for planning your timing, but keep in mind that fish in lakes move too and certain spots under certain conditions will often times provide that same predictability. It is also fun to look back through past experiences and I often get a good laugh here and there at some of the trials that are involved in pursuing my passions. In my opinion, there is ultimately no better source of information than your own.
Back to the actual fishing, fffffffft…the sound of a bass popper whizzing past your ear. The sound is eerily reminiscent of an errant golf ball if you’ve ever experienced that discomfort. Your line checks up at the end of a good cast and the popper settles on the water sending small circular rings outward. Glunk, your first pop. Glunk, your second pop. The anticipation of a surface strike conjures all of my imagination, and when the water boils and you see and hear the water splash all at once I am startled, the hair on my arm stands and the hook set is purely instinctual. The best part as far as I’m concerned is when the upward motion of your arm is halted by the dead weight of a largemouth that immediately turns its head down for the weeds or launches into the air, head shaking for freedom. Now that’s exciting, “I don’t care who you are”.
For the most part, I try to spend my hours on the water in the morning and early evening. That’s not to say bass can’t be caught throughout the course of the day, but in the most likely and accessible locations the fish tend to be most active at this time. Rushes, lily pads, stumps, small bays, points and various other shoreline structures such as docks typically will hold fish during these periods of the day. Many of these lakes don’t have docks so that is not an option, but lakes like Minnetonka if you so choose have lesser used smaller bays to escape the onslaught of boat traffic. Halstead’s Bay, Tanager Lake, Carson’s Bay, Gray’s Bay and Libb’s Lake are a few that have either no wake zones or areas that are accessible to smaller craft be it canoe, pontoon or float tube without having to worry about bobbing in boat wakes.
I like to target the most aggressive fish at the right time of the day, as this allows me to fish poppers. I prefer popper fishing simply because I enjoy top water action. Foam block heads are my personal favorite because of the noise and disturbance they create, but deer hair poppers and divers are also a great choice. A seven weight is okay, an eight weight better, and sometimes a nine weight best depending upon the size of the popper and what the wind happens to be doing on that day. Wade or float craft fishing can present a unique casting challenge. You are at water level and sagging back casts can present problems, so a little more horsepower is called for. Suck it up and buy a good bass bug line such as a Rio Clouser or a Mastery Bass Bug Taper. They turn your fly over better and make the actual fishing experience so much more pleasurable. I’ve found certain saltwater lines to be fantastic also, and vastly prefer them at times. They might require a good straightening before you start fishing, but they are stiff, shoot well, and turn over wind resistant or weighted flies very effectively. The big advantage is they don’t get limp when the summer heat arrives. Streamer and baitfish patterns on sink tips are best for weed lines and deeper fish. One clue I always look for or try to find on a map is sand/gravel spits or rock piles that extend from a weedy break line. Over the years I have taken my largest bass from these locations. Because of the average depths of many of these lakes, these spots are very accessible with a sink tip. From an aquatic invader standpoint, milfoil is an unfortunate consequence to the use of our lakes, but like it or not it is in many metro area lakes. This being the case, might as well entice some fish from under it ha? While you might think milfoil would not lend itself well to a fly fisherman, look for the open spots or big holes in the canopy, and place a popping bug in these areas. In these conditions opt for the nine weight, keep the fish high and put the big stick to ‘em.
There are a plethora of options and opportunities to fish for largemouth bass in the metro area as well as out state. Warm water fly fishing has been growing in popularity over recent years, but still remains an underutilized resource. With family, work and other responsibilities demanding of time, I simply can’t take a whole day to dedicate to fishing sometimes. These lakes offer me quick hit options where I can take the two or three most productive hours of the day, wet a line, escape the concrete madness (there’s an oxymoron) and catch some quality largemouth. Many of these lakes also host tiger muskie, good pike and panfish. Bonus fish can be taken on a regular basis. This is also a great way to introduce a kid to fly fishing. For the most part you are dealing with open spaces and few obstructions. These small urban lakes can be covered in a few hours. With a child’s attention span in mind, this is often the perfect time frame.
Largemouth on a fly rod can be as thrilling as hooking a steelhead, a rising trout or a long bonefish run. It’s all about perspective, and the daydreaming I spoke of earlier first struck me when I was a child being carted from baseball practice this to school function that, passing lakes around the Cities wondering if there were fish in them. Well, when I was old enough to get around on my own, I not only realized that daydream, but have had a lot of pleasure over the years in doing so. The trap we fall into as fly fishers, daydreamers and just plain being human beings is what I like to call the grass is always greener syndrome. There is some distant fishing oasis, some undiscovered flat, some run of coaster brook trout that nobody knows about in our mind. Dreams are fine, but if the chance to actually catch a fish that day is my foremost priority why would I drive past these nearby, underutilized aquatic jewels? Try them, experience them and keep your journal. I guarantee you will develop your own favorites, sometimes all by your lonesome, and that can be your oasis within the masses.