The Day the Big Bass Struck
Whether you hear the tale from Dallas, Texas's Lake Fork guide Dan Lynch or the two anglers he was guiding that day, the account of the fight with the big bass is equally harrowing. Fishing the spring spawn, the trio of anglers had eased their bass boat into one of the many small coves filled with fallen timber and stickups when they spotted a huge female largemouth lurking around a bed with a smaller male bass.
After landing the male—a respectable 5-pounder—Houston angler Mark Kalish began casting at a “big dark shadow” that moved up on the bed. “I knew it was big,” Kalish recalls. “I just didn't know how big.”
If you find yourself at Lake Fork, one of the state's most heavily fished lakes, you might find yourself at a great advantage. Among some 300 pro guides on Fork, Dan Lynch is the only one who specializes in fly-fishing. He operates B'wana's Guide Service.
For deep-water fish, it's best to go with shooting tapers or uniform density fly lines. In the past two years, Lynch and his clients have reportedly caught thirty-five bass weighing 10 pounds or more on fly. Lynch's custom fly patterns are bigger and bulkier than most bass flies you see in fly shops.
It took some persistent casting, but Kalish finally hooked the big female. The trio watched open-mouthed as the wide-bodied bass boiled up and then jumped right in front of the boat. With his friend Dan Edwards yelling for him to set the hook harder, Kalish held on as the fish twice wrapped line around a stump, somehow came free each time, and then ran under the boat. At that point, with the butt of Kalish's rod jammed against the side of the boat, Lynch stepped in.
“I knew we were in trouble and we had to do something quick,” Lynch says. “So when the fish came by, I made a grab at her, the line wrapped around my thumb and the hook pulled out.” After the bass got off, Lynch says Kalish “just sat there looking at me. You could tell it was a mega-disappointment.”
Estimates on the size of the fish vary from 12 to 15 pounds, depending on which of the eyewitnesses you talk to. Everyone agreed, though, that it was the bass of a lifetime. “You could have put your hand around a baseball, stuck it in her mouth and you wouldn't have touched the sides,” Lynch says.
Bass of this size and bigger are not that unusual at Fork where thirty-six of the state's top fifty bass have been caught and all have weighed 15 pounds or more. The difference was that this fish was hooked on fly tackle and would easily have qualified for an International Game Fish Association (IGFA) fly rod world record in the 20-pound line class. The fly rod world record on 20-pound tippet, the size leader that Kalish was using that day, currently stands at 9 pounds, 5 ounces.
This bass got away, but other big largemouth are being taken on fly tackle at Lake Fork these days, and not just during the spring spawn. For the last several years, Lynch has developed techniques for taking big bass at Lake Fork on fly tackle year-round. In addition to the more traditional fly-fishing approach of using poppers and deer hair bugs to entice bass when they are up shallow along the shorelines, he and his clients have hooked hefty largemouths at Fork when they are schooling on top in open water or down at depths of 20 feet or more.
In the last three years, Lynch has attracted a loyal following of fly fishers. A fly fisherman for forty years who is also adept with level-wind gear, Lynch drives a Champion bass boat equipped with the latest in fish-finding electronics and a 175 hp Mercury outboard. He has proven he can hold his own with the other guides on the lake when it comes to catching quality fish.
Dallas fly fisher Dwayne Rowe fished with Lynch this past spring and caught a 7-pound bass on a Whitlock softshell crayfish fly pattern. It was his biggest fish ever on fly. Despite high winds on the lake's open water, Rowe said the coves were holding large numbers of fish from 3 to 10 pounds.
Also last spring, Waxahachie angler Jim Simpson, a fly fisher also experienced at throwing spinner baits with conventional tackle at other big Texas reservoirs like Toledo Bend, caught seven bass on fly tackle fishing with Lynch at Fork. All of them weighed more than 4 pounds; the biggest was 7½ pounds.
In some cases fly fishers have an edge at Fork, one of the state's most heavily fished lakes, especially when the fish are up shallow during the spawn and post-spawn periods. “On Fork, the bass will tell you what date your spinner bait was built,” Simpson says. “They are starting to see flies that are a lot more lifelike.”
Steve Poarch, who is in charge of management of Lake Fork for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), says there is so much fishing pressure on the lake that the fish, on occasion, turn off to the usual plugs and spinner baits they see all the time. He says anglers willing to use float tubes or small watercraft and smaller lures and flies can get back in coves behind road bridges and find fish that haven't seen many artificials.
With Fork's reputation for big fish growing every year, it was inevitable that fly fishers would be among the bass anglers attracted to the 27,000-acre lake. Up until two years ago, when Lynch arrived on the scene at Fork, fly rodders would have to do it on their own or book a conventional guide who may or may not be comfortable taking out a fly fisher.
In addition to the bed fishing in the spring and top-water action in the fall, Lynch has experimented with techniques to take deep-water fish and school fish on flies, offering his clients virtually year-round opportunities.
For deep-water fishing, he uses his fish finder to track movements of bass suspended over submerged roadbeds and other underwater structure. He recommends shooting tapers or uniform-density fly lines for the deep-water fishing. Although it is more tedious than casting a deer hair popper along a grassy shoreline, Lynch says the fly fisher who can patiently work a fly at deeper depths or make cast after cast to entice a big bass to finally crush a fly on a bed has the best chance to land a double-digit fish at Lake Fork.
Lynch admits that the deep-water fishing is the toughest sell to fly fishers, but a big bass down 20 feet suddenly bending a fly rod double has made believers of some skeptics. “There are some [fly fishers] who just will not swing over and even look at deep-water fly fishing,” Lynch says. “But bass are on to about six or seven months out of the year. Why wait until they get on top or move up on the beds?”
Veteran Dallas fly fisher Mike Huffman, another Lynch client, says the Lake Fork guide has not found a magic formula for hooking bass on a fly in deep water, one of the most difficult challenges for a fly fisher. “If you are talking about the real slow, touchy-feely plastic worm stuff, there is no way with a fly rod,” he says. But Huffman says Lynch has learned to capitalize on the deep-water schooling behavior of big bass at Lake Fork, a phenomenon that doesn't occur at every reservoir and farm pond. “You think of the bigger bass as generally being homebodies and occupying their lair and cruising only in a certain area, while at Fork you have this massive behavior,” Huffman says. “And if you drag your fly through a school of twenty or thirty of those big fish, there will be one or two that will hammer it hard enough that you will feel it.”
If you haven't fished with Lynch at Fork, seen his on-the-water videos, or talked to his clients, it might be difficult to buy some of his accounts of Lake Fork fly-fishing. In the last two years he claims he and his clients have caught thirty-five bass weighing 10 pounds or more on fly, all of which would have surpassed the existing IGFA world record on 20-pound tippet. Lynch's biggest bass from Fork is a 12-pounder.
While Lynch uses a fly rod as light as a 7-weight for sight-casting to smaller fish around the beds, he has used up to 12-weight fly rods to stop some of the larger fish. “We break rods, we have had lines snap, we have 25-pound leaders break,” Lynch says. “A lot of different things happen out there.”
Instead of running all over the lake, Lynch finds a variety of bass habitat within close proximity of his launch point. He targets fish in neighboring coves and occasionally slips out in the middle of the lake to chart activity on his fishfinder. During the course of the day he rarely travels more than 2 or 3 miles from the put-in point. Depending on the time of year and lake conditions, he will make a short run out to open water to fish over submerged structure.
Frequently, Lynch spots bass from the faintest outline or movement of a tail or fin. On two trips with Lynch last spring we saw dozens of spawning largemouth in coves and along open shorelines in front of summer homes that other boaters seemed to be passing by.
One of Lynch's goals is to have one of his client's catch and donate a bass on fly tackle large enough to qualify for the Lone Star Lunker program.
Lynch has developed a number of techniques that work for him on Lake Fork. Some of his approaches are borrowed, like the crawfish and jiglike epoxy head fly patterns he ties. Some are new, like the braided Kevlar line he likes to use for a leader when fishing around heavy moss. When a big bass gets on, the thin, strong line cuts through the moss, he says, preventing the kind of break-offs that usually happen when monofilament collects a pile of debris.
Lynch's custom fly patterns, including his jiglike “B'wana's Mop Fly,” tied with the thick hackle feathers from a dust mop, are bigger and bulkier than most bass flies you see in fly shops. He says he designed them that way after he saw how a big female largemouth could move traditional bass flies out of a bed with one flick of the tail. These large flies are also needed to get the attention of large bass feeding in schools down at depths of 20 or 25 feet, Lynch says.
A few days after Kalish tangled with the big bass, I was fishing the same cove with Lynch in the hopes of a repeat performance. Lynch made sure we entered the cove the same way, positioned the boat the same way, and threw flies at the same bed surrounded by the same stickups.
When a husky bass came charging out of the bed with crawfish pattern firmly attached to its jaw, the fish made a run for the nearest sunken timber and then ran under the boat. The fact that it was a male fish weighing in at 5½ pounds didn't diminish the excitement. Taking a fish of this size on a fly rod at most lakes is a major accomplishment. At Lake Fork it is just practice for the real thing.
The fly caster who can patiently work a fly at deeper depths or make cast after cast to entice bass on the beds has a realistic chance at a double-digit Lake Fork largemouth. Brightly colored fly patterns designed by Lynch are for throwing to schooling bass on Lake Fork.
Lake Fork's flooded timber, submerged stumps, and stickups provide ideal habitat for bass and ideal targets for fly casters. Float tubes or small watercraft allow fly casters to approach secluded coves that haven't yet seen conventional lures, much less specialty bass flies.
On Flies, Natural and Artificial: To Catch a Trout
Excerpted from The Compleat Angler, published in 1676 by Izaak Walton
Now for Flies; which is the third bait wherewith Trouts are usually taken. You are to know, that there are so many sorts of flies as there be of fruits: I will name you but some of them; as the dun-fly, the stone-fly, the red-fly, the moor-fly, the tawny-fly, the shell-fly, the cloudy or blackish-fly, the flag-fly, the vine-fly; there be of flies, caterpillars, and canker-flies, and bear-flies; and indeed too many either for me to name, or for you to remember. And their breeding is so various and wonderful, that I might easily amaze myself, and tire you in a relation of them.
There are twelve kinds of artificial made Flies, to angle with upon the top of the water. Note, by the way, that the fittest season of using these is in a blustering windy day, when the waters are so troubled that the natural fly cannot be seen, or rest upon them.
The first is the dun-fly, in March: the body is made of dun wool; the wings, of the partridge's feathers.
The second is another dun-fly: the body, of black wool; and the wings made of the black drake's feathers, and of the feathers under his tail.
The third is the stone-fly, in April: the body is made of black wool; made yellow under the wings and under the tail, and so made with wings of the drake.
The fourth is the ruddy-fly, in the beginning of May: the body made of red wool, wrapped about with black silk; and the feathers are the wings of the drake; with the feathers of a red capon also, which hang dangling on his sides next to the tail.
The fifth is the yellow or greenish fly, in May likewise: the body made of yellow wool; and the wings made of the red cock's hackle or tail.
The sixth is the black-fly, in May also: the body made of black wool, and wrapped about with a peacock's tail: the wings are made of the wings of a brown capon, with his blue feathers in his head.
The seventh is the sad yellow-fly in June: the body is made of black wool, with a yellow list on either side; and the wings taken off the wings of a buzzard, bound with black braked hemp.
The eighth is the moorish-fly; made, with the body, of duskish wool; and the wings made of the blackish mail of the drake.
The ninth is the t-fly-fly, good until the middle of June: the body made of tawny wool; the wings made contrary one against the other, made of the whitish mail of the wild drake.
The tenth Is the wasp-fly in July; the body made of black wool, lapt about with yellow silk; the wings made of the feathers of the drake, or of the buzzard.
The eleventh is the shell-fly, good in mid-July: the body made of greenish wool, lapt about with the herle of a peacock's tail: and the wings made of the wings of the buzzard.
The twelfth is the dark drake-fly, good in August: the body made with black wool, lapt about with black silk; his wings are made with the mail of the black drake, with a black head. Thus have you a jury of flies, likely to betray and condemn all the Trouts In the river.