Photo by Roger Phillips, Dave Gourley with a 4-pound largemouth bass taken from the Snake River in Sunday, March 23.
A few of my fly fishing pals have been trying to unlock the mystery of early season bass. We’ve learned a lot from bass anglers and tournament guys about early season tactics and tried to translate them into fly fishing. We’re starting to have some success finding big fish in the Snake River, and here are some things we’ve learned.
• Don’t expect big numbers. We’re trophy hunting, not racking up lots of fish. There’s a lot of casting between hook ups.
• Water temperature and weather conditions can be critical. Warm and stable seem to be the best conditions. Temperatures in the high 40s is minimum. Low 50s is better.
• Don’t bother with an early start. River temperatures tend to fluctuate 3 or 4 degrees every day, and fish tend to get more active when the temperature creeps up.
• Save the topwater stuff for later. Concentrate on water about 3 to 6 feet. It’s where you can fish most effectively with a fly.
• Fish are really unpredictable what they will hit, but err toward slower retrieves. Fish are less likely to chase flies in colder water, but get a fly in front of them and they will strike. I even hooked a largemouth on a dead-drifted fly.
• Expect the unexpected. A 4-pound largemouth on the Snake in March? Not what I expected, but that was the big fish of the day on Sunday.
• Don’t rely on your summer tactics or locations. It’s a place to start, but fish are likely to be hanging out in different places. You’re starting with a clean slate in spring, so you have to relearn the river.
• Big bass get active earlier than smaller bass. This goes back to the first part. Don’t sweat it if you’re not landing a bunch of small bass. Get into the mindset that you’re trying to catch a trophy bass, and the lack of small bass can work in your favor. They aren’t grabbing your fly before it can get to one of those big fish.