The Wait

If you’re fishing surface flies for bass, the wait can be your most potent technique

By Rob Breeding

“The Wait” is the opening song on the mix tape of my youth.

I don’t mean the Metallica cover of an old Killing Joke tune, nor is this a malapropian reference to The Band, as fitting as that may seem for our troubled times. Of course, when isn’t “The Weight” apropos.

No, “The Wait” of my youth is The Pretenders version. Like many men of a certain age, I had a serious crush on Chrissie Hynde, and this ecstatic explosion of post-punk frenzy is a major reason why.

That’s not the wait the now middle-aged version of myself obsesses over. I’m still all about the wait, but it’s a wait only fly fishers targeting bass understand.

What I’m trying to ascertain is how long I can resist the impulse to twitch or otherwise move that popper after dropping it in amongst the bassiest looking tangle of weeds and overhead limbs I can find.

Poppers are the bass equivalent of fly fishing the salmon fly hatch. Bass wallop these baits with a water-displacing explosion, followed by runs and delightful aerial tendencies. If you don’t set the hook solidly, their head shakes will send the bait flying disappointingly back in your direction, as the bass swim away.

Poppers are surface lures, and when retrieved, chug through the surface film like a disoriented frog, or at least some large food-like thing. Largemouth bass aren’t always the most discriminating eaters, but I suppose when you’re finning around with a maw like that, everything begins to look like food.

The wait, however, is quite important. When I first learned of fly fishing for bass, I read a piece where the author described dropping a popper into a choice spot, then waiting until the ripples dissipated before starting the retrieve. That’s been my MO ever since.

On calm days the ripples dissipate pretty quickly. Maybe a 20 count. If there’s a chop on the water the ripples may not even be apparent. Still, the more I fish poppers — and as the weather warms, now’s the time — the more I like to let that popper sit, motionless, waiting for a bass to strike.

The longer the soak the more the fish reward my patience. A 20 count has become my bare minimum. If it’s an especially good looking spot, I’ll let the popper sit more than a minute.

The other day, after a particularly unpromising cast, I was immediately distracted by something more important: fishing a cold beer from the cooler. I kept the rod in hand as I turned away, dealing with the complications of getting a cold one in a koozie and taking a swig, when suddenly the rod came alive. It wasn’t huge, but any strike while I sip beer is clearly a miracle.

Probably more than half the bass I’ve fooled with a popper have succumbed during the wait. The strikes mostly occur in the first 30 seconds or so, but if it’s good looking water, I’m in no hurry to pull it away from cover.

I’ve got a couple of spots where bass hang out below a high bank and I can cast to fish and watch as they consider that frog-colored popper. The splash itself doesn’t faze bass the way it might a trout. Sometimes they react with a gills-flared charge. Sometimes they just nose over to the fly, sitting beneath it, giving it the you’re-home-late glare. Sometimes they eat it, but more often just fin away.

If you’re fishing surface flies for bass, the wait can be your most potent technique, but it can also be agonizing, especially if you can see the fish. My observations suggest a twitch rarely incites a bite, however. So wait until you can wait no more, then retrieve.

Gonna hurt some, whoa my baby. But it’s worth it.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.