Before I begin, I should warn you, if you are a traditional fly fisherman that believes only hand tied flies belong on the end of a fly line then you may want to stop right here. But if you go fishing to catch fish and you understand the advantages of using a fly rod to do so, I am about to share something with you that will add to your success on the water.
First a little background. I have been fishing all my life, or at least most of it. And while I have dabbled in fly fishing over the years, I have mostly used bait casters. I have always considered fly fishermen at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to catching fish. I am not sure why I thought that, but I did. After some encouragement from a fly fishing pal of mine, Jim Neilson, I decided to pick up a fly rod and try it. Since I don’t tie my own flies, I bought what my research said was the best flies for catching my favorite fish, the shoal bass. They worked, sort of. But I did not have the success I was having using some of my favorite soft plastics on the bait caster.
Despite many of my river fishing friends throwing big baits, I have always done very well with small crawfish and baitfish imitations on my bait caster. Of course these small plastics required a little weight on the line to be able to cast them. You just can’t cast a very light weight piece of plastic very far on a bait caster. So one day I look at my old faithful small plastics and wonder if I could cast on my fly rod? I asked around on a few sites and I got comments from “try it, it might work” to “that’s not fly fishing .“ But my pal Jim said “try it and let us know how it does.” Thanks to Jim, I have had my best year on the river ever. Not only has my catch rate increased but so has my success on big shoal bass.
It makes a lot of sense if you think about it. This light weight crawfish imitation weighs about what a real crawfish weighs and this baitfish imitation weighs about what a real minnow weighs. On top of that, the action from these un-weighted baits is almost exactly the action of the real thing. Very erratic actions and slow falls just like an injured bait. The un-weighted crawfish just tumbles in the current like a dead or dying crawfish. What could be better? A hand tied fly you say? Not in my experience.
Hand tied baitfish flies do not dart side to side like this plastic baitfish imitation. Hand tied crawfish patterns fold up when the feathers get wet and are not much more that a wooly bugger. They will catch some bass but not nearly at the rate I have found with these plastics. So what are these small plastic baits you ask? They are the Zoom Super Fluke Jr. and the Yum Craw Papi. Colors matter too. My most successful colors are the pearl white and the baitfish colors for the Fluke and the Crawdad color for the Craw Papi. Others work but these are the closest to the real thing I have found.
Throwing these small plastics on a fly rod is not real easy but with a little practice you can do it. I use a 7 wt. rod. A 6wt. seems to be just a little light and an 8wt. is a bear to cast all day. A 7wt. also has just the right feel to make landing a big bass fun while not being to light that you cannot get them to hand in strong current. I throw them on straight 15 pound fluorocarbon leaders. No you don’t need 15 most of the time but 15 pound line sure helps if you get a wind knot and it hold up to a little more abrasion on the rocks. Another little trick I have learned is using the right hook. The back cast and the forward cast can “pull the skirts down” on these baits. You need a hook that will keep them on and not slide down the hook. The best hook I have found is the Gamakatsu Skip Gap hook. This hook was designed to skip plastics under docks while holding them on the hook. They work perfect for casting the baits on the fly rod.
You may not consider casting small plastics on a fly rod fly fishing, and maybe it isn’t? But I can tell you one thing, if you want to catch more and bigger bass on a fly rod, these baits will do it or my name is not River Pirate. Try them and let me know how you did. I bet you catch more and bigger bass than you ever have on a hand tied fly.
The lures and hook:
The Craw Papi rigged:
The Super Fluke Jr. rigged: