Sight casting may suggest a quest for bonefish, redfish, or permit on southern saltwater flats. Largemouth bass are perhaps the last species to consider, but during my teens, while casting four-inch ringworms to them in plain view, I never got over how sight casting felt a little odd, but was very productive. I’ve never done this on lakes, but clear-water ponds continue to offer me mid-afternoon summer opportunities when the weather is sunny, settled, and hot.
In recent years, Hedden Park Pond, near Dover, in Morris County New Jersey, offered me the best views and numbers of bass caught on a short outing. A lunch break yielded one bass short of a dozen, all of them on six-inch Chomper’s Shaky worms rigged weightless. Since weeds weren’t thick, nor was much wood in the water, I used a size 2 plain shank hook tied directly to 6-pound mono, no weight added. Bass lazily sunned themselves inches from calm surface. By approaching these fish stealthily, keeping fairly distant, yet making sure casts presented the worm quietly, a foot or two in front of each target, they simply punched forward and engulfed the offerings.
You won’t always find the bass motionless, however. Usually, they slowly cruise a foot or two
under the surface in shallows anywhere from a foot to six or seven feet deep. The difficulty is to anticipate where the worm and bass will meet. You want to get that worm right in front of a fish, because the bass usually seem in limbo, not eager to go out of their way and take a worm. Unlike the distance I managed to keep at Hedden Park, sometimes bass will take a worm in plain view a few yards from where I stand. It’s as if they’re half asleep and don’t notice my presence, and unless I pitch right to them, they won’t take the worm.
If you anticipate big bass in a pond that is weedy and/or filled with woody cover, have a spool filled with 15-pound test braid at your disposal, and if you do see big ones, mount that spool on your reel and tie two feet of 15-pound fluorocarbon directly to the braid by a uni-to-uni splice to serve as your leader. Use a 2/0 weedless inset hook. Most of the time, however, the bass you can see and cast to will be on the small side.
Once in a while, you’ll hear one of these small fish splash or see another leap. That’s the best clue to what this visible behavior is all about. Particularly in ponds with lily pads or other aquatic vegetation penetrating the surface, damselflies hover over and dip on them. Often confused with dragonflies, damselflies are a more delicate insect with less outsized mandibles, feeding on smaller prey. They don’t fly as fast as dragonflies and seem to be a relatively easy target for leaping bass. I’ve witnessed dozens of small bass leap for them, but I’ve never seen a bass larger than about a pound pull such a stunt. The connection between this insect forage and why these smaller bass swim about near the surface on hot afternoons is clearly evident, but I think there’s more to the behavior than I understand. Unfortunately, I haven’t further clues to offer besides stable high pressure equaling lazy and visible bass, but I can certainly tell you it happens and makes for interesting fishing.
An old adage states that where you find small fish, larger will stage behind them in deeper
water. On some occasions where the water was very clear, I’ve enjoyed action with bass of about a pound two or three feet deep, with depths of about 10 feet closely adjacent. By fishing that deeper water, I’ve scored much better bass. Wearing polarized sunglasses is a good idea for any kind of sight fishing, and though I don’t recall if I wore a pair on a particularly interesting occasion, they couldn’t have hurt. Then I witnessed not one bass, but an entire pod of three-pounders rise from deeper depths to the six- and seven-foot level behind the smaller fish I had riled.
Practiced fly casters might have a field day on cruising and basking bass with damselfly imitations, and though I’ve always stuck to spinning rods and plastic worms for plenty of fun, I would feel pleased to hear about sight fishing success for largemouths on the fly. Despite damselflies hovering up top, I wouldn’t bother with poppers under a scorching sun. I would use a streamer pattern that sinks slowly. Perhaps just the ticket.
Bruce Edward Litton is an outdoor journalist and photographer who makes Bedminster, New Jersey his home. In addition to articles in a variety of fishing periodicals, Bruce's outdoor interests are best followed on Litton's Fishing Lines, a blog that connects anglers in New Jersey to experiences mostly in the Highlands region of the state. The blog essays and articles on fishing and other outdoor pursuits are very wide-ranging reflecting his outdoor and fishing explorations up and down the East Coast