One of the most-impressive fishing seminars I’ve ever seen took place 10 years ago in Houston inside the George Brown Exhibition Center.
There was a large aquarium trailer with a casting platform from which several speakers did presentations. I managed to catch a well-known professional bass angler, who was giving a talk on casting and working jigs and worms.
During the presentation, he managed to hook one bass. The audience was impressed.
But not nearly as impressed as with the next speaker, who managed to hook five bass — on flies.
His name was Dave Whitlock.
I’d seen Whitlock several times before, but usually with a projector or tying a fly. This was the first time I’d seen his techniques in action. Needless to say, I came away a true disciple.
In July, the North Louisiana Fly Fishers brought Whitlock and his lovely wife Emily — a former fisheries biologist — down from Oklahoma to Bossier City to be a featured presenter for their annual “Masters Series.” There was no way I was missing this event.
So just who is Dave Whitlock, and why has he been significant to our sport?
Some 40 years ago, Whitlock left his cozy job as a research chemist to devote himself to painting, writing and fly fishing. In a short time, his works appeared in a number of publications.
Soon after, he was a regular contributor to several magazines and a member of the Scientific Anglers pro staff, as well as a frequent guest on the very popular Outdoor Life television show.
Over the years, he’s served on the pro staffs of companies like Sage and Simms, and has written five books including the L.L. Bean Handbook on Fly Fishing. He’s a member of the Freshwater Hall of Fame, Trout Hall of Fame and Fly Fishing Hall of Fame.
His flies and tying innovation earned him the Federation of Fly Fishers’ Buz Buzcek Award for lifetime achievement.
While Whitlock has had many contributions to trout fishing, his first love has always been bass. In our sport, where cold-water and saltwater interests dominate, having an expert of his caliber lends balance to the fly fishing universe.
He’s also done something very few of us have done — catch monster bass on fly.
And he said the secret begins with the cast.
“You want your fly to hit at the same time or before your leader hits the water,” Whitlock explained. “Then remove any slack from your line without moving the fly. Slack is your enemy. For that reason, always keep the rod tip right on the water.”
“Presentation is also key. Big fish like animation. Don’t just plop-and-stop over and over. Give it a different action; mix it up. Almost all the big bass I’ve caught on fly came from letting it sit long or moving it slowly or, in some cases, from an accidental motion.”
Dave also advised against using the rod tip to move the fly, as that introduces slack.
When asked about the flies he uses for big bass, he suggested deep thinking.
“Surface flies like divers and poppers work well for all bass, but the big ones stay deep most of the time and feed there,” Whitlock said. “Intermediate and sinking fly lines will do the trick, but the most overlooked option is the sink-tip line.”
There are a few sink tip lines on the market, but Dave suggested making your own. One option is to buy a sinking fly line that’s on sale, and then cutting sections from it. You can make loops at the end of each section, such that the sink tip can be attached to the end of your floating line, and your leader can be reattached to the end of the sink tip.
Let’s say you’re fishing with a popper, and now you want to fish deep with a worm fly. You can take the leader off, loop the sink tip on, and loop the leader back on and tie on the worm fly.
No need to have an extra reel handy that has a sinking line. That simple.
Another beauty of sink tips is that they are much easier to cast than full sinking lines.
Dave has intensely studied fish underwater, not just for his artwork (which is stunning) but also to research the types of flies that fish would most likely eat. This has led to almost two dozen of his creations.
I asked what flies he uses for monster bass.
“My two favorites are the Near Nuff Sculpin and the Near Nuff Crawfish,” Whitlock said. “I called them ‘Near Nuff’ because I wasn’t trying to replicate the organism but rather imitate it’s basic outline, colors and movements.”
“Both flies use materials that undulate in the water. I add lead eyes to give them more jigging motion, which excites big bass. And like with all streamers I fish, I mix up my retrieve.”
I’m glad to have seen Dave Whitlock again. The bass around here are not so glad.