Peninsula Fly Fishers

Fishing Kistler Tips

by Dennis Kellett

I'm writing this humbly, making no claim of expertise undefined I just haven't fished for bass for enough hours. That said, I have been to almost every Kistler fishout, and done well. I've heard laments, and sometimes complaints, from some attendees who've been skunked. I get such a kick out of fishing bass in the spring, and at Kistler in particular, that I want everyone else to get in on the fun of having bass bust your popper or yank your rod tip into the water when you set the hook on a worm you are working on the bottom.

If you're a trout fisher, you can probably get by with what you have already. Adding a few bass flies may be all you need to do to have a super bass day. Here's the gear list:


  • a rod: I've used a five-weight rod for throwing poppers at the bass at Kistler and elsewhere, but the casting is more difficult with my largest poppers or weighted streamers and worms. The casts require more energy and much more attention to timing and form. Distance is definitely limited. However, the five-weight was able to easily handle the usual size bass found at Kistler, so if you don't have a bigger rod, use your trout rod. It'll "git 'er done".
    I find my eight-weight ideal for bass fishing. It can throw the biggest, most wind-resistant flies to as great a distance as I feel I can control the fly and make a hookset. It isn't hampered when the wind comes up.
  • a reel: A reel's purpose in bass fishing is to hold the line when you are not fishing. Any old reel will do.
  • some fly lines: Long casts are not the rule, so using a line a weight or two over that for which the rod is rated can give you the necessary mass in the aerialized line to load the rod and carry the weight and wind resistance of the popper. (This is particularly true if you are using a five- or six-weight rod.) Bass bugs and heavy streamers are not easy to cast, and since delicacy is not usually called for, you can modify a fly line to make casting easier; remove several feet of the delicate front taper; that helps turn over poppers and heavy streamers. A weight forward line is good for shooting line, but that thin running line on the back half of the weight forward isn't much good at propelling a popper. You might find a double taper or long body weight forward does a better job, especially when you lengthen your casts.
    For poppers, a floating line is all you need for lots of fun. A sinking or sink tip line can make a popper dive down on the retrieve and float back up on the pause. I saw Dave Whitlock demonstrate this in a tank at the Sporsmen's Expo some years back. He got strikes from the jaded tank bass! The sinking or sink tip lines are good for getting a worm down, but you can manage the same thing fairly well with a long leader and some weight on a floating line.
    Here's a tip: Clean your fly line every couple of hours. Pond scum on the line interferes with shooting line through the guides. Working line out with false casts becomes hard work. It costs you fly-in-the-water time, makes your casting arm sore and your casts worse, and might be spooking fish.
  • a few leaders: Make them short and terminate with nothing smaller than 2x. You want that leader to turn the popper over on the cast. You want the leader strong enough to pull the fly out of the weeds your going to hang up on. You want to be able to manhandle the bass when you've set the hook.
  • a landing net: Nope. I tried. The net caught more water weed than fish every time. I just lip 'em now.
  • a fish finder: I don't have one, but I hear their best use is spotting structure, not so much spotting fish. That can be really helpful in water ou don't know well yet.
  • a pair of waders: Kistler in spring is cool enough that you want some protection. I don't use wading boots when I float tube. I stick the neoprene booties in the fins. I use oversize beach shoes to protect the booties if I'm walking around.
  • a float tube: A canoe, a pram, or a kickboat would work well, too. They get you to more productive water, for sure, but there is plenty of shallow, weedy water accessable to shore fishers and waders. I abandoned my float tube one really windy afternoon, and waded the shallows of pond one. I had a good time, didn't run out of places to fish for hours, and scared up quite a few bass.
    If you are going to get a new float tube, I recommend the U or V shaped tubes, rather than the O shaped tubes. The O tubes are so much harder to get into and out of, and walking backwards in fins, down slope, on a slippery bank is asking for a bath or much worse. I've done some very original modern dance on a few occassions. It's pure luck that I haven't cracked my noggin but good.
  • a float tube anchor: This saves you from constant kicking to try to stay in one place when the wind comes up. Actually, I find it more necessary for my pontoon boat. You could buy something that looks like the cutest little model anchor, but just get a two- or three-inch diameter spherical lead fishing weight, tie some one-eighth-inch cord to it, stow it all in a plastic zip bag, and you will stay put in any wind you'd care to fish in. It doesn't hang up on the bottom or drag too much weed up when you retrieve it. Tie some knots at regular intervals, and you've got a depth finder, too.
  • a personal flotation device: Think how embarrassed you'll be at your funeral for having drowned completely to death on a fishing trip to a farm pond.
  • protection: hat, glasses, sunscreen ... yeah, yeah, yeah. If you don't know this stuff, your mom shouldn't be letting you walk to school by yourself.
  • some flies: You could go out with a pack of black woolly buggers and do OK if you already knew how to catch bass (or are really lucky all the time, like Mary N, or Sherrie K, or Judy D, or Sharkbait [you know who you are] ... and I could name more names). But why be stingy? Some frog poppers would be great. Those and the classic red and white combo on a #2 hook have always caught me fish at Kistler. Some worm-like flies (think plastic worm as for conventional gear) are good. I like rabbit strip flies and Ice or Cactus Chenille worm flies.
    A chenille worm brought me my biggest ever bluegill, and it happened in Kistler pond one. I was dredgeing the bottom off the dam. Fishing had gotten really slow. I was slowly kicking around, eventually not believing that anything was going to happen. --You can see it coming, can't you?-- I had a yank so hard that I almost lost the rod. I pulled back and the fish put a strong bend in the eight weight. I thought that I had a better than average bass on. That fiesty, finny friend played hard all the way to the top. Wow!
    I like gaudy streamers for bass. Hey, it's fun to take a break from fussy trout, so live it up. I've tied up crazy combinations of bright colors in feathers or thin mylar ribbon. I've got bites on them, trolling them over weedbeds.
    You have to figure that Kistler bass eat frogs, tadpoles, little bass, and bluegills. Minnow streamers should work, and check out Dave Whitlock's sheep flies style perch or sunfish. In fact, check out Dave Whitlock on bass, in general.
    Getting back to woolly buggers, here's a very easy tie that's caught me bass almost everywhere I've fished for them. It's just a standard woolly bugger with an olive marabou tail, an olive chenille body, and a palmered, webby, grizzly hackle dyed medium yellow. I don't know what it looks like to a bass, but I've caught a lot of them as I walked shorelines, casting that fly to any structure I can see.
    Bass fishing and weed guards go together like Lucy and Ricky. There's going to be trouble, no matter what you try. If you don't use weed guards, you lose flies or have to go to them and disentangle them. If you use weed guards, you'll find that they are also pretty good hook set preventers. It's frustrating, but I vote for them. (Sometimes I coup d'etat myself, and cut them off on the water after the third good take that I couldn't set.) I find the mono loop style lets me slip the fly through messes that seem impossible. That's good, because I don't hesitate to cast anywhere I think I might find a fish. The fly turns on it's side when the guard encounters an obstruction. The trick is to pull the popper through the potential snag very slowly. Put guards on the poppers and on the worms and fish fearlessly. My next batch is going to have a lighter mono than the 20# Mason hard mono I've used in the past. I hope I can stay weedless, but miss fewer strikes. I'll tell you how it turns out with an update on this page.
    A thought about frog poppers: Frogs don't float on top of the water like, well, pieces of foam. The back end dangles, especially when they are resting. Your frog popper ought to behave similarly, because you are going to be offering it for close examination by the bass while you are counting sixty Mississippi's. Check Google images with the search terms "frog water". Check the posture of the frogs in natural habitat. They are often seen holding onto a leaf or stem, with just the head out. When you are fishing your froggy, swim it to some vegitation and let it rest. Even swim it out of the water and let it rest, then make it leap back into the water.
  • a last note on gear: If you want to catch more bass and bigger bass, get a spinning or bait casting outfit and some Berkeley scented worms. The conventional tackle bass fishers catch rings around us. However, fly fishing can compete decently when bass will take poppers or it's around their nesting time of year. Lucky us, we're going in the spring to Kistler, where a flyrodder can do pretty well.

Popper Technique

I cast to targets from about thirty or forty feet, normally. From that distance, I can see pockets in the weed cover and cast pretty accurately. I sometimes cast as far away as sixty feet in undifferentialed cover, or to respond right away where a fish has shown itself. At the longer distances, the hook-set is less likely. Another reason to keep casts shorter is line control in a float tube. You can get some pretty tangled spaghetti with forty feet of line in your lap apron.

Poppers are a bit mis-named. You don't fish them by constantly popping them, not at least as a primary technique. If you are casting to the edge of a weed bed or a stump or a pot hole in a weed bed, smack the fly accurately into the spot and just let it sit. Let is sit for a whole minute (actually count to sixty Mississippi's). Then give it a small twitch. Often enough, instantaneously you'll discover the jolting thrill of a bass launching itself like a Polaris missle. When your fly smackes down, it gives notice to nearby bass that something possibly edible or threatening is in the vicinity. If your fly lands right on top of a bass staked out at this ambush spot, that bass probably makes a short retreat, just to be safe. When no threat materializes, curiosity takes over and that bass, and possibly others nearby, creep up on the fly. A bass will sit under a fly, checking it out for a good bit of time. When you twitch the fly, the bass thinks that your fly is alive, in which case it is something to eat -- and right now before it gets away! In clear, shallow water sometimes you can see this whole drama unfold. Way better than any video game.

If you are prospecting, that is, not casting to specific structure, you might want to pop the fly if you didn't smack it down. You might want to pop it when beginning a retrieve, and occasionally during the retrieve. If you are lucky enough to encounter bait boiling on the surface, popping your fly frequently can call the fish's attention to it.

If a bass strikes and misses (or you miss the hook set), cast the fly right back where it was; the bass is likely to be looking for what it missed, and strike again.

Worm Technique

Drag worms on the bottom, or over the top of submerged weed beds. Cast them into pot holes in weed beds that come all the way to the surface; let the fly fall. Work the fly slowly. If nothing happens, work the fly more slowly. The takes are often spongy, as the bass vacuums the fly into it's mouth. You don't always get a yank. I think it is harder for fly gear than conventional gear to transmit these strikes.

The Bass's Habits

Bass are ambush predators. They lurk around cover. Cover is weeds, stumps, a big rock, a downed tree, a creek bed, a boat dock, and underwater point or saddle. Cast very close to cover that you can see. When those areas aren't producing strikes, cast speculatively to other areas. There is a lot of structure that we can't detect bobbing on the top to the pond.

When the sky is bright, bass like overhead cover. That cover could be overhanging trees, a dock, a boat, a floating log, a water weed canopy, or ddeper water. Kistler ponds don't have docks and a lot of the weeds near shore don't give overhead protection. During mid-day, if the top bite is off, try fishing deeper or cast to the pot holes and the shady side of the thick weed beds.

Kistler Habitat

Kistler's ponds are not very deep, they have extensive shallow margins thick with weeds. The water is usually a little green soupy. There is only a small amount of water sheltered by overhanging trees. There are no points, saddles, submerged road beds, stick-ups, or stumps. So, where to fish? Fish the weeds. Cast to the shady side of patches, the holes in dense growth, the little coves in the edges of weed "islands". Cast into the shallow margins. Watch and listen for signs of fish. The first year I went to Kistler, I could see and hear the tall thin water weeds near the shore being shouldered aside as bass prowled for something. I got several dramatic flying strikes, and even hooked a couple of them despite my delayed striking due to astonishment at the suddenness and violence of the attack on my popper.

If you come mid-morning and leave mid-afternoon, you may be there only during the slow time. The bass are probably going to be more deeply hidden mid-day than at morning and evening. Like most fish, they are a bit light shy, plus it's safer to hide. Try to get there early or stay late. No guarantees, but you will have a better chance.

The Other Fish

Bring a lightweight rod for bluegill. Rig it up and carry it on the back or side of your float tube. You'll get nibbles and pops at your bass popper. That's when to switch rods, if you like to play with those little demons.


Sign up for the fishout, and come with high hopes. If you're not having much luck, paddle over to a club member who's done it a bit, and ask for advice. We're a club to help each other and to have fun together. Don't be shy about asking for help.

To those experienced bass fishers in the club: Please add your advice and experiences to this article.

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