Pound for pound, smallmouth bass are some of the hardest fighting freshwater fish that are easily accessible here in the states. Their takes are aggressive, their fights mix muscle with acrobatics, and they readily take a variety of flies throughout the water column. Though they might not be as aesthetically pleasing as a wild trout, pound for pound, smallmouth put trout to shame.
Finding the Fish
The most important information to know is where to locate the fish based on the season. In most areas, smallmouth season spreads from spring until late fall.
Spring is separated into pre and post-spawn sections. Early spring (pre-spawn) may be the toughest season to locate smallmouth, but the fishing can be extremely rewarding since they are hungry after the slow winter. The new flow from snowmelt stirs up bait, and despite the water hovering the mid-40-degrees, smallmouth take advantage of the new food supply. Look for pockets of deeper, slower moving water, and expect the fish to be suspended in the water column. Swinging flies through these pockets is effective and slowing down your retrieve to almost nothing will help elicit strikes. Since painstakingly slow retrieves are necessary, choosing flies that “breathe” in the water, tied with natural material, are best.
Smallmouths’ metabolisms speed up once water temperatures hit the mid-50’s, and they prepare to spawn. During the spawn, it is best to leave the fish alone. Regardless, smallmouth tend to exclusively focus on reproductive success during spawning and forgo their normal feeding patterns until finished.
Post spawn bass in the late spring tend to be both ravenous and active considering the warmer water temperature, and the need to replenish energy after spawning. Fly fishing during this time is especially exciting because you can throw massive streamers and expect aggressive takes. In rivers that get herring runs, don’t be afraid to break out 8-9 wt. setups to throw streamers in the 6-10 inch range. Despite their name, hungry smallmouth have no trouble inhaling flies typical used for pike and striped bass. During this time of year, the fish are on the move as they come off of their spawning beds and head toward deeper waters. Fan-casting in open water near structure or drop-offs are good places to focus on.
During the hot summer months, smallmouth tends to concentrate over deeper structure. During the early morning, or late evening, casting a popper structure near the banks can trigger some exciting surface feeds. However, as the sun rises, look for deep water ledges, rockpiles, or weed beds where the smallmouth congregate and wait to ambush prey. Crayfish patterns, clousers, and deceivers bounced along the bottom are all tempting targets for a hungry smallmouth.
Fall usually produces the most consistent fishing of the entire year. Cooler temperatures bring smallmouth up into the shallows, and they can easily be accessed by wading. Fishing rocky areas and ledges in two to eight feet of water will produce fish. Do not underestimate the strength of these fish. If you are on a river, smallmouth can be found in relatively strong currents, and presenting a fly in fast moving water will connect you with some feisty fish.
A six or seven wt. setup is our choice for almost every application. Reel choice is simple: the Limitless 375 is our go-to reel. Built for 5-7 wt. applications, the Limitless 375 has an oversized arbor to accommodate the thicker intermediate and sink tip lines that you will need to present the fly in the strike zone. For late-spring fishing in larger rivers and lakes, the Launch 400 paired with an 8 wt rod will be your favorite set-up. The Launch 400 is ultra-light weight for its size and has a very low start-up inertia. Your shoulder will thank us later after casting streamers on the Launch 400 all day.