January recalls fishing the float n’ fly

G. Sam Piatt

I first thought smallmouth guide Bob Coan was kidding me when he said a sure-fire method for taking big smallmouth bass on Dale Hollow Lake in the dead of winter is by casting the float n’ fly.

Noting my skepticism, he said, “You come back down here after Christmas, when the water temperature drops to the mid-40s. I’ll make a believer out of you.”

Well, he did.

It was January 2005 when we pulled away from the Horse Creek Dock in his bass boat. I looked over the outfit he had rigged up for me. It was an eight-foot spinning rod with an inexpensive spinning reel. The reel was loaded with 6-pound test monofilament, with the end of the line tied to a 3-way swivel.

On one of the other loops of the swivel he had tied an 8- to 10-foot leader of 4-pound test line, the smaller line making the line almost impossible for a

fish to detect in this lake’s clear water. He clipped the bobber to the remaining loop on the swivel.

The bobber, about 2 inches long, is most usually made of Styrofoam, although some are plastic. They’re shaped like a pear, with the big end pointing down.

The fly is less than an inch long and is adorned either with duck feathers or with the lively-looking artificial craft “hair” available in most bait shops. The feathers or the hair are dressed to the shaft of the hook and extend a little beyond the bend in the hook. Good hair colors are chartreuse, white and blue. Duck feather flies usually have strands of chartreuse, blue or red tied into them.

You can buy the specially made rods and reels for fishing the float n’ fly at tackle shops around Celina, Tenn., for $50 to $60.

Once out on the main lake, we trolled along, 50 yards or so off the banks, while watching the depth-sounder for bait fish.

Smallmouth feed mainly on threadfin shad and the alewife. When the water temperature drops to the low 40s, it seems to stress these bait fish out. Schools of them will swim in circles, twitching, just 6- to 10- feet below the surface. This can bring smallmouth up from the depths for an easy meal.

Casting with an eight-foot leader can be cumbersome, but I side-armed my lure out and let it plop down 30 yards from the boat. I twitched the bobber a few times, then let it lie. In a moment the bobber tipped onto its side – never went under – and headed toward the shoreline.

“Set the hook, now!” said my once fat guide who lost 60 pounds on Dr. Atkins’ low-carb diet.

I did. The 4-pounder I battled in and then released was proof enough for me that the float n’ fly will produce big smallies in January and no doubt on into the early weeks of February.

Before the trip ended in a cold rain, we boated and released three other smallmouth, none of them as big as the first one. But just as much fun.


Like many other families in this area, we’ve always enjoyed a summer vacation at the beach. The most popular spot is Myrtle Beach. Another destination is Virginia Beach, a little closer than Myrtle.

It’s been five years for me without a beach vacation. The last one was in 2013, at Folly Beach, South Carolina. My granddaughter, Samantha, and her husband, Brad, lived in an apartment in Charleston at the time. Now they, along with 1-year-old Emerson Rose, live in their new home on John’s Island, not far from the beach.

But the trip that comes to mind today happened at Myrtle.

There were 13 family members sharing a four-bedroom condo. They included our granddaughter, Melanie, her husband, Pat Estepp, and their first son, Isiah, hardly a year old at the time (he’s now 16).

One morning Pat, my son, Kendall, and I had an early morning tee-off time scheduled at a golf course up the beach.

I got up early, long before the others. Everyone but Pat and Kendall and me planned on sleeping late. All were snoozing as I put on the coffee pot and two slices of bread in the small toaster oven, poured myself a cup of java, and went out on the deck to look down on the beach, 12 stories below.

I sat there watching the Atlantic break on the shore. I had opened the newspaper when Kendall, who was sleeping in a lounge chair in the living room, flung open the sliding glass doors and shouted something about “your toast.” Above his head, black smoke billowed out on to the patio.

I looked through the door to see 12 people, even little Isiah, wide-eyed with fright. They ran frantically around as smoke alarms were going off everywhere.

Thankfully, there wasn’t enough heat to set off the sprinkler system in the ceilings.


G. Sam Piatt

Reach G. Sam Piatt at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619

Reach G. Sam Piatt at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619