Cheeky Fishing strongly believes in sustainable, catch-and-release fishing. Paying attention to conditions, especially water temperature, for summer fishing excursions be the difference between releasing a healthy fish or not. During the summer months, the Blitz will be showcasing stories about more hardy, warm water and salt water species so you can plan your fishing with the health of the fish in mind. We encourage to familiarize yourself with best handling practices from Keep Fish Wet as well as water temperature warnings from Trout Unlimited.
Guide to River Smallmouth Bass
Smallmouth bass on the fly is not a new concept, but more and more freshwater anglers are turning to the species during the warmer months for more productive fishing than their usual salmonid targets. Although they often occupy similar water types to trout, smallies are not just a substitute. They’re in a league of their own in tactics, size, and fight, and are definitely worth developing the skills to effectively find and catch.
Let’s start with locating some bass. Smallmouths are tolerant to a variety of freshwater ecosystems, but in this case, we’ll focus on targeting these fish in rivers and streams. Slower flowing, cool water (60 to 70 degrees) rivers are a great place to start. Look for big boulders, gravel bars, undercut banks, and other hard structure- bass hold to these areas in the summer to ferociously ambush smaller fish and crayfish. Making a nice cast into a tight, likely holding spot and having a huge bass inhale your fly is one of the many joys of this type of fishing.
The rest of the fun comes with how you target smallies. Fly selection for smallmouth bass is arguably among the most diverse in all of fly fishing, meaning that no matter what you’ve fished for before you likely have a few good patterns already. Elk hair caddis, big articulated streamers, stonefly nymphs, poppers, and more are all, in some way, included on the menu. What you choose will be influenced by the common forage in your specific stream, time of day and year, and the size class of the fish you have access to. Generally, it helps to be prepared with a few small to medium sized bait fish/crayfish imitations that fish well stripped, jigged, or dead drifted. The summer season also presents opportunities for excellent topwater fishing. Fish your favorite large foam hopper or frog pattern for eats that will make you want to sell all of your trout gear.
In addition to the size that smallmouth can reach for the streams they’re found in, the species is also widely regarded as the pound-for-pound hardest fighting fish in freshwater. Get ready for hook-shaking, aerial maneuvers, sudden net-side runs for cover, and the heartbreak that can come with it. Gear that can handle tough mouthed, hard fighting fish in close quarters while protecting the light tippet often needed to fool smallies in clear water is a must. Smallmouth bass and the flies needed to catch them come in a lot of sizes depending on where you fish, and fast action rods from five weights all the way up to eights can come into play.
Fights with river smallmouth can be a close quarters affair. When the fish do decide to make a break for it, a large arbor reel with a smooth drag is great for containing the ridiculous tactics that smallmouth will pull during the battle. Cheeky’s Limitless 425 came in handy more than a few times on a recent trip for me. To round out your smallie gear, a weight forward floating line will cover you well, although a sink tip or light full sink line can also be great for running streamers deep. Leader selection varies greatly due to the weight of flies being used and the clarity of water where you’ll find bass.
If tactics for smallmouth bass seem very broad it’s because they are, but that’s really the fun of it and why these fish are such a great warm water opportunity in the first place. It’s a testament to their versatility as a beloved sport fish and their availability to anglers around the country. Add the smallmouths’ reputation of aggressive eaters and relentless fighters to their resume and you’ll start to see why legions of freshwater anglers have put down the 6X and tied on a frog pattern for the summer. Chances are these fish are close to your home and deserve a few shots with a fly rod if you haven’t already tried.
Meet the Author: Ben Groppe is a multi-species angler and overall fish fan, dedicated to enjoying, preserving, and occasionally documenting the fisheries he loves. Off the water, he’s sharing his passion as one half of the blog Long Haul Fly Fishing.