New Flies for the Dog Days of Summer
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Written by G.S. "Stack" Scoville Jr., M.D.   

These bass and panfish patterns will make your fishing sizzle.

In the southern United States, the dog days of summer can last until early October. During summer and early autumn, you’ll find bass, bluegills, and other panfish throughout the water columns of lakes and ponds, and these fish are ready to take flies in streams and rivers, too. Most fly fishermen are familiar with well-known patterns such as the Clouser Minnows, Lefty’s Deceivers, various grasshoppers, and poppers; all have earned great reputations. But there are many little-known regional patterns that provide an alternative look and are better imitations of the local forage. Using flies that haven’t been seen on your home waters may be just the ticket to make the summer fishing just as hot as the temperature.

Visiting a regional fly-fishing show is a great way to find new patterns. The traveling Flyfishing Show, the Sowbug Roundup, and regional Federation of Fly Fishers conclaves are terrific venues to find new treasures for your fly box. The following patterns are proven fish catchers, and I discovered all of them at local fly-fishing shows.

Lessons from the Tour

Good fly tiers are observant and innovative. These traits certainly apply to Russ Hampton, of Clermont, Florida. From his tenure on the professional bass-fishing tour, Russ knew that certain lures consistently catch fish. The Spider Jig is one such lure. Russ had great success with this style of lure, and when an innovative manufacturer marketed the Fly Tail, Russ said, “I knew that I could design a bass fly that would come close to the action of that lure.” The result is the Bass Spider Fly.

Russ fishes his Bass Spider Fly with a slow, stripping retrieve. He says to stay alert: the strike is a “soft take, just a tic on the line.” It is important to watch the line; if a bass takes the fly as it sinks, you may simply notice that the line is moving from where you cast it.

Russ says the Bass Spider Fly also works well when crawled or hopped along the bottom using an extremely slow retrieve; the bass actually pluck this fly up in the same manner they pick up a plastic worm. When fishing the Bass Spider Fly on the bottom, Russ advises to “fish it slow, slow, slow.”

Duane Hada, a renowned fishing guide and wildlife artist in the Ozarks of north-central Arkansas, has developed two flies for catching smallmouth bass in the Buffalo River. Duane’s flies imitate some of the bass’s favorite forage fish. The first fly is a mad Tom imitation. Duane developed this fly for the heavily fished stretches of the Buffalo River and Crooked Creek. Mad Toms, of the genus Noturus, are a group of small bottom-hugging catfish that are an important part of the diet of the local smallmouth bass. Duane says that the mad Toms in his area range in color from caramel to brown, gray, and black.

The shape of the head is one of the interesting characteristics of Duane’s Top Minnow. Fish the fly with an occasional short strip to create a “muted, not a loud” pop. The rounded deer-hair head creates this softer sound. The Top Minnow imitates the Gambuzy minnow, which is a native minnow that lives near the surface of the water.

A New Damselfly

All fishermen have seen damselflies circling and hovering near the edge of the water. The nymphs provide a great source of food for bass and bluegills, and so do the adult damselflies. Kyle Hand, who lives in Texas, has developed a fantastic adult damsel imitation that will work anywhere. Treating the braided body material with Water Shed makes the fly much more buoyant. The cul de canard head is another important feature of this imitation. Kyle uses the split-thread technique, popularized by Marc Petitjean, to insert CDC fibers in the thread, and then wraps the fibers on the hook as a hackle. Kyle is also experimenting with dryfly hackle tied at the head, and reports very good results. He uses this damselfly imitation to catch bass, crappie, carp, bluegills, and even trout.

Tony Spezio, of Flippin, Arkansas, contributed several flies to this collection of new patterns. One is the Chili Pepper, a fly originally developed by Bob Root, of Yellville, Arkansas. Root’s pattern called for a palmered ginger hackle, but Tony uses a more available brown hackle. Based on Tony’s experience, the Chili Pepper is a fantastic fly for catching carp, trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, bluegills, redfish, speckled trout, and Amazon River fish. This fly looks a lot like a Woolly Bugger, and Tony believes the combination of the gold bead and copper tinsel chenille makes the difference.

The White River Demon is another of Tony Spezio’s patterns. There are several notable design characteristics that contribute to the fly’s fish-catching ability. First, the beadhead is plastic, not metal. This lightweight bead prevents the head of the fly from sinking first. Second, with only five wraps of .015-inch lead behind the bead and a double layer of craft braid for the body (the braid traps air), the fly tends to have a neutral buoyancy and remains suspended in the water. When the fly stops at the end of a strip, Tony says, “it just shimmers.” The Chili Pepper and White River Demon are about the only flies Tony uses when fishing for smallies.

Tony has also developed an elegant floating fly for catching bass and panfish. The Froggy is a unique pattern made of foam. The foam makes the body seem slightly translucent when viewed from below; the fish can actually see the markings on the top of the pattern. Fish the Froggy with a slow twitching action. The fly makes no sound, but the protruding eyes make a small wake. Use darker foam, such as black and gray, to make Froggies for fishing in low-light conditions and at night.

The last fly is the Harpeth River Special. The Harpeth River is a fine bass and panfish river just south of Nashville, Tennessee. The river eventually flows into the Cumberland River west of Nashville. Jim Mauries, the owner of Fly South, told me about this fly. The fly dates back to at least 1945, and may be even older. The original pattern and its variations have been attributed to Wryland Arley, J. B. Parks, Jimmy Jacobs, and Jack Schmitt. Fish the Harpeth River Special using the swing cast and a down-and-across presentation. You can even fish the fly attached to a small metallic spinner.

These patterns have been extensively tested, and they all catch fish. Add them to your fly box, and turn up the heat on the bass and panfish.

When he’s not tying beautiful classic salmon flies, G. S. “Stack” Scoville is hunting bass and panfish in Tennessee and Arkansas. Stack lives in Memphis.

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