Deadly Topwater Bass Bug
August 01, 2015
A simple but deadly topwater bass bug
There are many productive topwater bass flies out there: swimming frogs, poppers, sliders, divers, and dozens of others. But after decades of bass fishing on waters from Colorado to Texas and all across the West, I've found that when bass are on a topwater bite, my Cat works just as well as any other fly—and it's simple. I need only three sizes and two colors: olive for bright light and black for low light.
To me, simplicity is part of the charm of fly fishing for bass. With just a couple of these flies in my pocket, I'm ready for an evening of bass fishing anywhere. The guys in the fancy bass boats need multiple tackle boxes to hold all their baits, but that's not our game.
I use the same fly nearly all the time, but I constantly change my retrieve based on the mood of the fish. The vertical face of the Cat allows you to use a variety of retrieves that produce different disturbances on the water's surface. The three basic retrieves I use are: 1) a slow, steady strip, which creates a bow wake; 2) a slow retrieve with gentle pops; and 3) medium to hard pops with longer pauses.
All my retrieves incorporate pauses to some degree, and many of the strikes occur during the pause. Even when the Cat is sitting still, the marabou collar and rabbit tail both undulate, suggesting life.
The take can sometimes be explosive. At other times, bass simply suck the fly down. The low light of morning and evening, when the water is usually calm, is your best bet for topwater action.
By frequently pausing during your retrieve, you have plenty of opportunity to keep the line tight. When a bass takes the fly, set the hook authoritatively with the rod tip. If it is a large bass, strip-set simultaneously. Bass are usually easy to hook, and the tip set works well most of the time.
Depending on your locale, the surface bite usually starts sometime in the spring, in March or April. Early in the season, when the fish are a little more sluggish, I prefer a subtle retrieve.
As the season progresses and the water warms in May and June, I use a more aggressive retrieve, adding some pops with the glide. Toward the middle and end of summer, my "pops" become more distinct and more audible, sometimes spraying water into the air.
These retrieves are not etched in stone, and do not depend solely on water temperature, so try a variety of retrieves and let the bass tell you what they want. This is not match-the-hatch fishing, but bass can be moody.
The amount of cover (weeds, wood, and other structure) dictates what size rod you should use. A fast-action, 5- or 6-weight is what I use most often with the Cat because these flies are light and fun to cast, and you rarely need extremely long casts. If you need to haul bass out of heavily weeded cover, use an 8-weight rod.
I use a Sage 6-weight TCX rod with a floating RIO Clouser fly line and a 5-foot-long, 16-pound-test Umpqua Freshwater Shorty tapered leader. I use 16-pound-test Umpqua Tough Nylon to add tippet to the leader when necessary.
Bass generally are not leader-shy, and heavy leaders allow you to rip your fly out of cattails and weeds, and easily skip-cast your fly under overhanging bushes and trees. The short leader allows you to make quick, accurate casts along the shore much better than a long leader, and draws as many strikes.
When you are finished tying the fly, impregnate the entire clipped-hair body with a silicone fly floatant. Be careful not to get the silicone on the marabou or rabbit fur.
John Barr is a contract tier for Umpqua Feather Merchants. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.