SMALL BUT DEADLY SPRING TACTIC
That adage “bigger baits catch bigger fish” is true—in most cases—but not with this one.
We’re talking about the float-’n’-fly—a small 1/16- to 1/8-ounce hair jig suspended beneath a small bobber using 4- to 6-pound line fished on a super-light spinning rod.
Before you say, “I’d never!” read on and see how this technique has accounted for some hefty tournament wins during the winter and early springtime, often outperforming other baits to catch above-average bass.
The technique—though it’s been around for a long time now—made headlines several years ago on the West Coast. Using the float-‘n’-fly technique, Ryan Friend first won an FLW tournament before backing it up with yet another victory during a televised WWBT event, netting close to $100,000.
Personally, I’ve caught a ton of fish over 3 pounds on waters where a 2-pounder is good. My largest fish on the fly is a 5-pound spotted bass, and last week I stuck a 4-pounder.
First, this is a really fun technique. Watching the bobber get sucked under the surface will, for most of us, trigger childhood memories of when we first learned to fish, really spiking one’s adrenalin. Then, setting the hook with light line and fighting a 3- to 4-pound bass, for what seems like an eternity, is downright exciting.
Not for you? Okay, but don’t be surprised when you get your butt kicked by your buddy who’s using this unassuming bait.
The hardest part of the technique is finding the right place to fish it. Lakes with steep bluff walls are perfect. I look for places with 15 feet or more of depth near the bank, with big rocks, waterfalls, and channel swings with cut banks, all being prime ingredients. Be creative as this bait shines when the fish are in the 10- to 20-foot zone.
Though largemouth and smallmouth will bite the fly, it’s best suited for lakes with deep water and spotted bass.
THIS TECHNIQUE SHINES WITH GARMIN LIVESCOPE.
The other day I was fishing a 3/4-ounce jig in 55 feet of water on a long, flat point. I then noticed a few fish swimming in 20 feet of water about 25 feet ahead of the boat. If you have Garmin LiveScope, this is most likely not the first time this has happened, so you should be prepared. I tossed out a Float ’N’ Fly, landing a nice 2 1/2-pound spotted bass before catching a few more out in open water.
LiveScope is simply amazing. Who in their right mind would toss a small fly over 55 feet of water 500 yards from shore?
Personally, I use a 7-foot, 4-inch medium-light Okuma Serrano paired with an Okuma Helios HSX30 spinning reel, Fins 15-pound white braided line tied to a 6-pound fluorocarbon leader, Thill Balsa Oval Slip Float (make sure the hole for the line is small), and a SPRO Phat Fly.
I don’t use a bobber stopper because they tangle the line and can get caught in the guides. Instead, I tie a Uni-to-Uni knot so that the knot is larger than the hole in the bobber, which stops the line at the end of the leader. This is more difficult to re-rig but fishing it is much easier. I’ll start with a 15-foot leader so that if I do snag the fly, I have a little room to re-tie. Once it becomes shorter that 12 feet, I’ll replace the leader.
Similar to fishing a jerkbait, the hardest part is knowing how long to let the fly sit. I cast the fly close to the bank, letting it sink until the bobber stands upright. Finding that right depth can be tricky because you want to be as close as possible to the bottom without actually touching. Most often I’ll cast it a little shallower than my leader is long. If I notice my bobber isn’t standing upright, I’ll give it a little tug to bring the fly deeper until the bobber does stand up. At that point, the waiting game begins. I’ve had days when the fish bite as soon as it gets close to the bottom and others when I had to let it sit for 30 or more seconds. Be sure to keep an eye on the float once it goes under set fast, as they won’t hang on long.
BAIT COLORS AND SIZES
I mostly use the SPRO Phat Fly because it works great right out of the package. They make two sizes in 1/16-ounce and 1/8-ounce. I generally use the heavier of the two, as it seems to fall at a better rate than the lighter fly. I’ve had the best luck with the Bluegill color, but at times the Blue Shad, Baby Bass or Grey Ghost outperform—in other words, experiment to see what’s best for that day.
The float-’n’-fly is a fun technique that might just land you in the winner’s circle. I hope you’ll give it a try.
Mark Lassagne, from Dixon, California, served our great nation as a U.S. Marine. He is a successful tournament angler competing on the West Coast. In addition, Mark is the editor-in-chief of Bass Angler Magazine. In 2016, he was the California Bassmaster Federation State Champion. He has qualified for the Bassmaster Top-150, West Coast Bass Classic, and FLW Costa Championship. As a tournament angler, Mark has cashed a check on nearly every lake across the West Coast.