Fishing for Smallmouth Bass
Fly fishing for smallmouth bass can be tricky, so, here is how I
would approach and fish this pool. There are still a few leaves
on the trees so this must still be the early fall, therefore the
water will be chilly. Chilly water means that surface flies won't
produce all that much, so I should use sub surface patterns.
I can see into the bottom and the water is gin
clear. I need to keep the fly as far away from the fly line so that
I don't spook the fish. The obvious choice is a 15 to 20 foot level
leader of 4-pound Vanish. I'd keep in mind that I may have to drop
down to a 2-pound tippet. If I need to I would cut off the end of
the leader so that the overall length would not exceed 20 feet.
Say 16 feet of the 4-pound with a 4-foot tippet of the 2-pound.
I am using a 5-weight rod with a double tapered floating line, so
20 feet is the maximum leader length I can turn over accurately.
I need the accuracy because most of the fish will be under the willow
or tight to the bank. In water this low, there is no point in using
anything other than a floating line.
The trouble with a 2-pound tippet is that there
may be carp or redhorse mixed in with the smallmouth bass. If I
see carp cruising around, or if I can see redhorse flashing as they
are nymphing, then off comes the 2-pound tippet and I will add enough
4-pound to bring the leader length back up to 20 feet. A 2-pound
tippet will do nothing but snap off when a big carp or a redhorse
takes the fly. If they don't bust the fly off on the take, they
will no doubt succeed in rubbing the tippet over the rocks and structure
on the riverbed, which I can clearly see. I don't want to have them
swimming around with a fly stuck in their mouth, because I was too
silly to switch back up to a 4-pound tippet.
Remember, with a 20 foot leader I am very comfortable
knowing that if the fish are refusing the fly, it's the pattern
which is wrong. It is not that they are refusing the fly because
the fly is too close to the fly line and the fly line is spooking
I said that I would be using a floating line. I
need to coat the last 8-feet of it with Gink. Yes, the same stuff
you put on a dry fly to make it float. The Gink will keep the fly
line on the surface. This will make detecting the hits easier, as
the tip of the line will stop or jump if a fish touches the fly.
The greased up fly line will ride high on the water surface making
it easier to lift off, remember there is a 20 foot leader out there.
I won't spook away the fish by ripping the line from the water surface
as there will be less friction when the line is riding high on the
surface once it has been coated with Gink.
If you take a close look at the foreground of the
picture you will see that I have created a small wake. That is not
good. However, you will also see that I did not created a mud trail.
A mud trail drifting down over any fish in that sort of low clear
water, when they are in close to the bank or under a tree, is the
kiss of death. They will bugger off or simply go off the feed. The
good thing about the wake is that by the time the wake settles down
and disperses, I will have enough time to get my leader sorted out
and my fly tied on. From here on in I will only make small steps
of about a foot at a time in order to prevent making anymore waves.
Note that I said "fly" and not "flies."
Fishing two flies in low clear water which has a lot of structure
is nuts. In order to prevent spooking the fish, the flies would
have to be at least 6 feet apart. If I have two flies out there,
which are 6 feet apart, one of them is going to hang up on something.
Busting off a fly is no big deal, but it would sure as heck leave
a large section of leader in the water, and that is not good for
birds and wildlife.
The other reason I don't want to fish with two
flies is that a hooked fish will at some point head into the structure
at the base of the tree. One of the flies is sure to hang up and
I will bust off.
Take a look at rocks in the photo. You will see
that the water level is dropping. This is good, because at last
there will be fresh water moving over the area. If the water mark
on the rock was constant, i.e. no damp line on the rock above the
water level, then things would be different and I would need another
approach. But, seeing that the water is on the way down, there is
a good chance that the fish are picking up some extra oxygen, making
them a bit more inclined to chase food items. Then again in the
fall there is quite a bit of oxygen in the water, so the flow will
not be as much of a determining factor on how I would fish then
if it was the summer. In the summer when there is less oxygen in
the water, any movement of fresh water is good.
Another thing I have working for me is that the
sun is in front of me. This is a biggie. Take a look at the shadows.
With the sun in front of me, I won't be casting a shadow into the
area I am going to fish. My shadow will spook the fish but because
the sun is in front of me, my shadow will be thrown out behind me
and it won't spook the fish.
Picking The Right Fly
The temptation here would be to go with a terrestrial pattern like
a Smushed Hopper and fish it close to the bank. A Klinkhammer Special
or a Double Elk Hair Caddis could also do the job fished close to
the bank. The bank is steep and it also has a clayish look to it,
so any bugs that fall in would have a hard time getting back out
again. An easy meal for the fish. I am not going to use a hopper
because any items which have been washed into the river would be
moving downstream quickly as the water is on the drop.
I would go with a crayfish pattern as at this time
of the year, in the cold water, crayfish can be a bit lethargic
making them an easy meal. The fish are looking to put on weight
as the change in the weather should have let them know "Winter
is just around the bend, so you had better start pigging out and
beefing up." If the crayfish fails to produce then the next
patters, in sequence, would be: White Puke Fly, Black Puke Fly,
Muncher Nymph, Hare's Ear Nymph, Blackwell's Baitfish, Dexter, a
small Mickey Finn or a very small and thinly dressed Blacknosed
I am starting out with soft, squishy and easy to
catch items/flies, and then working up to flies which need a faster
retrieve. If I start with drab flies and flies which I can fish
effectively with a slow retrieve, then I can fish longer without
spooking the fish. With all of these flies mentioned above, I can
easily cast them on a long 4-pound leader, so I don't have to faff
about switching leaders and flies. In order to hook fish I need
to keep the fly in the water for as long as I can, so I don't want
to have to use up valuable fishing time by faffing about changing
flies or leaders.
Once I have tied the fly onto the leader using
a Palomer knot I will sharpen it and then make sure the hook point
is sharp by dragging the point across my thumb nail. I want to make
certain that if I get a tap, the fish will almost set the hook itself
and I need a sharp hook point to do that. Next I will poke the hook
point through my shirt sleeve to make sure it is barbless. Barbless
hooks are easy to remove from the fish and a barbless hook will
"stick" much easier than a barbed fly.
Next I will straighten out the leader by pulling
it through a bit of inner tube rubber and I will also pull and straighten
out the last 8 feet of my fly line, so that there are no kinks of
twists in it. I want a straight connection between the fly and the
fly line. A straight leader will help me to detect any hits.
To start out I would begin with short casts, paying close attention
to make sure I can get the flies to drift over the darker spots
in the river. I would also start to count down the fly to make sure
I know how deep the smaller pockets are. Sure I am going to bust
off the fly, but I need to get it down to where the fish are. Even
in clear and shallow water there are often hidden pockets which
will hold fish.
Once I have cover the area directly in front of
me with short casts, I will lengthen the cast until I end up dropping
the fly inches from the far bank. Once I have made a few drifts
with the longer cast, I would take a small step down stream and
begin the process again by making short casts and working out to
the longer cast.
I always use the same system for retrieving a fly. I start out with
a slow retrieve and then gradually speed up the retrieve until I
find the speed the fish want. Remember if a fish wants the fly,
you will not be able you retrieve it fast enough to keep them from
grabbing it. The key here is to try and get the fly over the fish,
or where I think the fish are, as many times as I can without spooking
To fish this pool properly it should take about an hour or two.
It would have 5 or 6 changes of flies as I fished through it, which
would make me feel very confident that I had covered all the water
as effectively as I could. I would also be on the look out for any
holes, hidden structure or pockets which may not be easy to see
when I first looked onto the pool, and I would mark those spots
on a small map before I walked down to the next pocket. I always
carry a note book and a pencil to make notes as I fish the river.
They may not be of much help when I am making them, but in the long
run they do help.
In the fall smallmouth bass, carp and redhorse
will start to seek out winter habitat which means that they will
start to congregate in small areas in which they can over winter.
Many of the areas which held these species during the summer will
be void of them, so you need to be prepared to think outside of
the box to find them. When you do find them, quite often there will
be 20 or 30 fish in the one area, so you need to make sure you don't
Sorry if this is a bit disjointed, but that is
how I would approach fishing this pool. There are a few other tricks
I would use, but unless you are a fellow Aquarian you would not
have a snowballs chance in hell at following my thought process
on fishing this pool.