Kayak fishing for big bass with big flies is super fun, and a great way to beat the summer heat. It’s becoming more and more popular, and there’s even dedicated bass fly fishing tournaments popping up like the Ditch Pickle Classic on Lake Champlain.
But, it comes with it’s own set of challenges (and advantages) for the kayak fly fisherman, so in this article we’ll look at some of those, and my Top 10 Tips and Strategies for how to solve them, and even use some to your advantage as you target trophy bass in thick cover like lily pads. The article concludes with a video of landing a trophy bass at one of my new home lakes here at Long Branch Lakes in Tennessee in my Jackson Kayak Kilroy.
Tip #1 : To Catch Big Bass On the Fly, Go Where There’s Big Bass
That means fish for bass when and where the time is right, and choose your fly appropriately. You’ll waste a lot of time fishing with fly poppers in cold water, or in the middle of a deep lake. Fly fishing action gets hot when the water is hot, and surface fly fishing is typically a shallow water game (usually under 6 feet). If you like lily pads, then you’re usually good because if they’re present, it means it’s warm, they’re growing, water is shallow, and big bass are hiding and hunting in them. Bass love the cover, and so does the prey bass love to eat. Mix in a tree, floating logs, dock, anchored boat, or whatever other cover in a lily bed, and plan for a fun afternoon.
Tip #2 : Choose the Right Fly and Gear for the Right Conditions
Cold water bass fly fishing means sub-surface flies, sinking lines, slow stripping. Windy days makes casting big flies more difficult, and reduces the effectiveness of surface flies. Ideal conditions for fly fishing for bass with poppers are sunny to mixed clouds, calm winds, and usually mornings and evenings, but action is available all day. I like an 8WT Tip-Flex rod for casting most bass flies, with a floating line designed to turn over big bass flies, like the Orvis Hydros Bass/Warmwater line. Match most any large arbor reel with a good drag and some backing and you’re all set with your rod and reel.
As for bass flies, big streamers in various colors are all you need for subsurface fishing. For topwater, foam or hair poppers are my favorite, and select one with a weed guard when possible, especially for heavy cover like lily pads. Pat Cohen from RUSuperfly.com and Brian and Ken at the Vermont Fly Guys tie some amazing bass flies.
Tip #3 : Casting Big Flies Accurately Is More Important Than Far
Learning to get that fly to land and sit where you want it to is critical, and one of the pleasures of fly fishing. Casting in cover means you have to cast accurately, or you’ll spend all day unhooking from trees, loosing flies, getting frustrated, and spooking a lot of fish you should be catching. Use the kayak to get close, then hit your spots. If there’s a basketball size opening in the lily pads, practice until you can cast into it at 30 feet. I’ve caught many bass with casts within 10 feet of the kayak. Smaller flies are easier to cast, so start there, and work your way up.
Tip #4: Use the Kayak for a Stealthy Approach
Kayak fishing gives you huge advantages in thick cover – access and stealth – use them. Kayaks can go where boats can’t, which means unsuspecting fish. When approaching a lily mat, stop 30-40 feet away to work the near edge. Using a tool like the Power-Pole Micro Anchor gives you a huge advantage here, allowing you to quickly and quietly hold position and really work an area before moving in. Once the edge is worked, shift up to the edge of the mat, and cast at open areas in the mat. Then I like to push into the mat, work more interior areas, or cast to the far edge.
Don’t forget about sneaking up on docks or other cover too – especially cover that bass get accustomed to humans making noise on. It’s no secret that bass like to live under docks, but they also tend to get lock jaw when they hear human footsteps from above. Approaching a dock from a different angle, quietly, let’s you get a fly in front of them while they’re still in hunting mode.
Tip #5: Learn How to Strip Through Lilly Pads
Fly fishing differs significantly from traditional fishing in that your line tends to lay down and in the lily pad mat. There’s no way to lift your rod tip and just have the lure skip across the mat, it’s all down on it, and that means tangles. Weed guards on flies helps, but only goes so far. There are a few ways to combat this. First, choose where you cast wisely. If there’s an open pocket, cast there. If there’s an open line through the lily’s made by a beaver, gator, or a kayak/boat, etc, cast there so your line lays in it. Second, When the fly hits, let it rest for a second before you start stripping it. Many bass will hear it hit, look at it, and if left still or only slightly twitched, slam it before you ever strip it. In heavy cover, you may only get one to three strips before you’re tangled up. Third, strip with power in open water, strip very slowly over lily mats. This lets you get that traditional pop on the water where you can when it’s open, but when the fly gets to a mat, bringing it in very slowly can keep you from getting tangled up, and bass still respond to that slow crawl across the mat. And if they respond, and explosion up through the mat is one you won’t forget.
You also need to be extra careful and mindful of where you strip your line. Keep it all in the kayak, cause a single loop left in the water will catch around a lily pad and pull it all out of the kayak as you paddle around. The nice open cockpit of the Kilroy really helps keep it all managed and protected.
Tip #6: Use a Heavier Bite Tippet
I like a 18” section or so of heavier bite tippet when fly fishing for bass in cover. Bass have a lot of teeth, and will wear or break through light tippet very quickly. Check your tippet after landing every fish, and re-tie if you have to. Heavy tippet also lets you yank snagged flies out of weeds without fear of loosing them, or pull tight on a big bull-dogging bass intent on winding you around logs, weeds, or anything else he can find to get away. I like a 25 lb section of bite tippet in heavy cover, where bass won’t be leader shy.
Tip #7: Hunt Fish With Your Eyes and Ears, and When That Doesn’t Work, Think Like a Fish
Sight fishing from a kayak with a fly is the crème-de-la-crème for me. See the fish, cast to it, get it to eat. Not as easy with bass that aren’t often in open, clear water, but still possible. Look for shadows and noses peaking out from under lily edges. Listen and look for splashes in the lily mats, or up against the bank. Cast near them when you can. When it’s impossible to see the bass, think about how they ambush hunt, and where would you go to do the same – edges where prey looses cover, is likely to fall in the water, etc, and where the bass has its own protection from predators. Even for a fly fisherman, using tools like the Raymarine Dragonfly to map and understand the structure and transitions beneath the surface is very powerful in creating your fishing strategy, let alone seeing fish holding there.
Tip #8: Land the Small Ones Quickly
Where there’s big ones there’s small ones, and a good way to spook the big ones is a hooked small one running all over the place, getting you tangled in the weeds, and blowing your cover. They’re fun too, but if you’re hunting big bass, don’t let the spazzy babies ruin it by landing them fast, and directing them away from where you want to fish during the fight.
Tip #9: It’s Hot. Be Comfortable. Protect Yourself and Fish Longer.
You won’t catch fish from the couch, so the longer you can stay on the water, the better. That means staying comfortable, hydrated, and protecting yourself from the elements. Take a break if you have to, rest in our Elite Seat, bring some food in your JKrate and have a shore lunch, take a nap. Every Jackson Kayak comes with a custom Nalgene bottle, so there’s no excuse not to stay hydrated on the water.
Lastly, protect your skin so you can fish with your grandkids too. The sun is no joke, and long days on the water add up. I prefer to cover up instead of using sunscreen lotions, and modern sun protection clothing like products from 12WT or Mountain Khakis help keep you comfortable and protected from the sun during long days on the water.
Tip #10: Have Patience. Have Fun. Make a Memory.
Aggressive bass takes on the surface of the water are incredibly exciting and worth the effort. Enjoy the process. Remember that greater challenges equal greater rewards. You’ll loose flies, get your line tangled up, loose fish, sweat a lot, and maybe even curse a time or two. But I guarantee you’ll smile when you reach your hand down to mouth that could swallow your fist, and lay a huge bass in your lap.
If you enjoy video/photography like I do, it’s really easy with modern technology to capture the moment, and all Jackson Kayaks make it easier than ever with integrated GoPro mounts. All the photos and video here were captured using GoPro cameras, mounted on a combination of YakAttack and RAM camera arms mounted to integrated features on the Kilroy.
Here’s a video, shot on GoPro cameras and edited using their free GoPro Studio software.
Have fun out there.