5 things I learned from being a gear hucking hillbilly

fly fishing vs. just fishing

Raiders hat + Bob Marley shirt + 50 pound braid = HUGE bass

I always get a kick out of people who say yeah I  fly fish.  Well whoopty-friggin-doooo.  Don't get me wrong here - I LOVE fly fishing, but when the term "fly-fishing" is thrown out there like it's some kind of status symbol I always get a bit of a chuckle.  The majority of the time when I'm fishing it's with a fly, but fly fishing isn't always the most effective way to catch fish.  Just to give a little bit of back-story on this - I grew up in a small town in Utah, and really didn't start fishing with anything other than a wad of velveeta cheese on a hook until I was about 21.  I gradually made the change to lures, then I got a float tube, then I got introduced to fly tying and fly fishing, then I sold ALL of my non-fly fishing stuff etc. etc. you get the picture?  You guys probably all know this so-called progression of fishing that we all perceive to have fly fishing at the very top.  Well...  In 2006 (when in my mind, I had reached the top because I could readily catch fish on a fly), I got schooled.

This bass ate a fly in open water
Around 2006 I found myself living next to a really great private pond that held a very impressive Bass population.  Naturally, it was a huge motivator for me moving to that community, but it proved to be almost too challenging to hit with a fly rod.  The reason for this is that the home owners really loved to fertilize their lawns, which in turn made the pond a gnarled cauldron of matted weeds.  Yes.  A perfect bass environment.  I could get a fish or two on topwater early in the morning when they were hugging the edges, but later in the day when they headed for the depths, it was a complete no-go.  I tried about everything in the book to tie weedless jig/flies that would penetrate the thick weeds and remain effective, but it was no use.  It wasn't until I invited good buddy Bryan Gregson over to fish that my eyes were opened a bit.  He brought his trusty Sage XP and some craw patterns, but he also brought a baitcast setup and a spinning setup.  Even though we had a banner day on fly rods that day, he decided to "lend" me his non-flyfishing (heathen) gear.  For some reason my fishing soul was re-energized with the challenge of learning how to use this gear over again to catch bass.  I gradually built up a small arsenal of baitcasters, spinning rods, and eventually a big sparkly glitter sled (aka bass boat).  Here are some of the things that I learned from then until now.

1- Gear fishing is EVERY bit as technical as fly fishing.

This smallie crushed a tube fly
I have heard it a million times.  "Bass fishing is so easy, because they just come out and CLOBBER your fly," and "All you do with gear fishing is throw out your lure and reel it back in.  There is no challenge in that."   Well, welcome to Farmer Jim's pond with fish that have never seen anything.  Well, guess what... it is rarely that simple when you fish on a water that gets any amount of fishing pressure.  There are myriads of techniques for rigging, casting, presentation, boat position, use of electronics, and use of SCENT (yep, I said it... scent).  There is a reason why I have 6 to 12 rods rigged at all times on the bass boat.  Learning how to break down a bass water has helped me immensely in fly fishing because I have learned how to break down water and come up with a game plan and a technique instead of just flogging the water and hoping for the best.

2- Casting practice is every bit as important with conventional gear as it is with fly gear.

So you are scanning water, and there is a small opening in the snarled tree that you are looking at.  The hole is about 6" in diameter and the water is shallow so you can't splash and spook the fish.  If you miss your spot, you will spend the next half hour untangling your line from the snarled tree.  Yeah, I spend a lot of time in the front yard flipping and pitching into small targets.  Same goes for fly casting.  You should spend a lot of time practicing different casting techniques so you can present your fly more effectively.  Admittedly, I probably practice more with my baitcasters than my fly rods.

3- Knot strength is everything.

I used to try to learn new knots for fly fishing, but after bass fishing I realized that a standard clinch knot and a loop knot are all I need when attaching flies.  When you start snapping 40 pound braid setting the hook on a 3 pound bass, you realize that you need to pay more attention to the type of knot that you use, and to make sure that it is tied perfectly every time.  The amount of torque a 7'6" "flippin" stick puts on line is tremendous.  I'm not downplaying the fact that that you need to tie good knots in fly fishing, but bass fishing really made me focus on knots and knot-strength much more.  So far, if I need a knot that will hold as close to 100% strength as possible, I use the good old palomar knot.

4- Fly Fishing isn't always the most effective way to catch fish.

Check out Curtis' ZAGGIN ZOOK
I get it.  We fly fish because there is a major element of a challenge when we do it.  Sometimes, a fly is by far the most effective technique to use because the fish are eating something that is much more effectively represented with a fly than with some type of lure or bait.  Other times, fly fishing might still work if you get lucky, but for all intents and purposes, all you are doing is waving a really long rod in the air for hours.  On one particular trip to one of our bass havens, somebody.. cough, cough, couCURTIS, was going to make 100% effort to throw a fly rod all day while I was hucking my heathen sticks with the heavy artillery.  He had tied up some bugs that were comparable in size to my stuff so he ended up throwing a 9 wt all day.  I probably made 2,500 casts that day- Curtis? 250.  A sore shoulder led him to Tackle Warehouse to order some wares for the next time around.  There are, however, times when fly fishing for bass is the best way.  On a trip to Oregon several years ago, Curtis smoked us all because he was fishing a crease fly that was the perfect size and color.  As hard as I tried, I couldn't buy a bit with my heathen gear.

5- Don't judge.

I learned a long time ago that the guy sitting on the bank hucking rapalas just might be able to teach me something.  We are never done learning and if we think that fly fishing is the be-all end-all of fishing, we can miss out on opportunities to learn and become better fishers.  I'm not telling you to run out and buy a can of worms and an Ugly Stik, but maybe the next time you are out fishing and you see the guy fishing with non-flyfishing gear, you will think twice before you label him as a backward-hilljack-bait-chucker (which I certainly have never done before... right?).

Bruiser Bluegill new for 2014 Bruiser Blend Dub HERE

It would be safe to say that I'm a very avid bass angler, and I enjoy gear fishing for bass every bit as much as I enjoy fly fishing for trout.  For fly fishing, I tie flies, build rods, etc.  For gear fishing, I make lures, I pour lead and do custom paint, etc.  I like fly fishing because I can highly customize the say that I present my fly.  I like gear fishing because I can highly customize the way that I present my lure.  To me it's just fishing.