Smallmouth Bass Fly Fishing in Ontario
Believe it or not, smallmouth bass are considered to be the #1 game fish in North America. Believe it or not, some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in North America is in southern Ontario, and believe it or not some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in southern Ontario is awfully darn close to some of the major cities like Toronto, London and the metropolis of Guelph. But don't let that worry you because there are so many rivers which hold smallmouth bass in southern Ontario that you can always find a location which is angler free. This page lists fly fishing tips, advice and flies for catching smallmouth bass in the Grand River and other southern Ontario watersheds.

In 1998, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources asked Ontario anglers to volunteer their catch information for smallmouth bass. 40 percent supplied returns. They caught a staggering 3 million fish. No matter how you slice it, that is a huge number. Needless to say, when the smallmouth bass season is open, I spend a lot of time guiding for them. The information and tips found on this page have been collected from 24 years of my hands-on experience fishing and guiding for smallmouth bass.

A Word of Caution:
US anglers please note. Unlike some areas of the US, in Ontario we do not fish for pre spawn smallmouth bass. It is illegal and it can carry a hefty fine. It's just one of those things we do up here. So if you are heading up this way check that the smallmouth bass season is open in the area you will be fishing.

The Seasons and Smallmouth Bass
Opening Season
On the Thames River in the London area, the season runs from the last Saturday in June to the last Saturday in November. On the Grand River, the season closes about a month earlier. When the season opens it's hard not to fish minnow and streamer patterns for post spawn smallmouth. And there are good reasons for doing so. The fish have been guarding their nests and a major part in defending the nest is to drive away smaller fish and minnows. Streamers and bucktails will usually trigger some kind of response, especially if they have eyes. If all else fails, a Mickey Finn, Black Nosed Dace, Thor, Zonkers or a Dexter will do the trick. Also, don't be afraid to try a big crayfish pattern, about a size #4, fished slowly. If the spring happens to show up early, and the fish have had more time away from their empty nests, a Bomber or a surface pattern like the Black Froggie of Death fished stationary on the surface will work well. If it is a late spring, throwing out surface patterns is simply a case of "washing flies."

Mid Season
By the middle of the season (late July to early September) smaller minnow and crayfish patterns in a size #8, come into their own. Also, this is the time of the year when a Hare's Ear Nymph, gold ribbed or otherwise, should be one of the first sub surface flies out of your box. Mayfly nymphs and Munchers are also very effective. The warmer the summer, the more you should be fishing nymphs. Tip: If you fish a small crayfish patterns, size #10 and smaller, you can cover all the bases as the fish will often take them when they are wolfing down larger mayfly nymphs like hexegenia.

Back End
There are two very productive ways to fish bass at the end of the season. The first is to throw "big chunky meals" at them. They are starting to pack on a few pounds before the winter freeze up. Large Muddlers and Mickey Finns in size #4 are always a safe bet. The second school of thought, and one I feel to be the better of the two, is to go after them with smaller sized nymphs like a Muncher or a Hare's Ear in a size #12. When the leaves start turning, I have found switching to size #12 nymphs will get me more fish. Think about it. Most anglers would not think twice about using something as obscure as a size #22 for trout, but they refuse to use a size #12 for smallmouth bass. Strange indeed. My clients have always done well on larger bass, 20-inches and up, fishing small flies at the end of the season.

There are no hard and fast rules on fly fishing for smallmouth bass, but I have found that slow careful wading is essential. In a word. Stealth. In two words. Very stealthy. If you slow down your progress as you wade down the river, you will probably get more fish. If you keep your false casting to a minimum, you will hook more fish, because false casting over smallmouth bass in low, clear water will spook them or put them off the feed.

No Joke: A Great Fishing Tip
If you are wet wading for smallmouth bass, take a good look at the colour of your socks. White or grey socks stand out like a beach ball floating on a backyard kids paddling pool. Before you get anywhere near the fish, they know you are there. Pick up a pair of darker socks or brown socks and you will be way ahead of the game. If you think I am kidding about this ... think again.

Flies For Smallmouth Bass
Before I go any further here, its prudent to say a few words about flies for smallmouth bass. Many anglers believe that bigger flies will catch bigger smallmouth bass, but that is not necessarily true. The two largest smallmouth bass I have managed to get my clients into, a 24-inch and a 23-inch fish, were both caught on rather small flies, fished on long leaders. Quite often 18-inch smallmouth bass will scarf down size #12 nymphs when I am fishing for carp or redhorse, so don't be afraid to throw smaller sizes of flies at smallmouth bass.

Here is a short list of patterns which I use day-in-and-day-out for smallmouth bass:
Dexter, Klinkhammer Special, Double Elk Hair Caddis, Smushed Hopper, Mickey Finn, Thor, White Puke Fly, Muncher Nymph, Outcast Crayfish, Black Zonker, Copper Muddler Minnow, Llama, Sparkler and last but not least a Blackwell's Baitfish.

When you are buying smallmouth bass flies, or if you are tying your own, make sure you end up with flies which have a nice glossy head on them. Smallmouth bass will quickly rip flies to bits, but a glossy head on the fly is a good indication that the thread wraps are well protected under a coat, or two, of head cement. It's also a good idea to make sure you have some smaller sized flies in your boxes. Six dozen size #2/0 Zonkers are useless if the water is gin clear and the fish are turning away from that size of fly. In gin clear water, or in low water conditions, you may want to stick to using flies that are a size #6, or even a size #8, tied on a long-shank hook.

Gear for Smallmouth Bass
If you have a 5-weight trout rod and a floating line, you are good to go. For most of the time when you are fishing smallmouth bass, the water will be low and clear as you will be fishing during the summer months. A gentle and a delicate presentation are key points for catching smallmouth bass and a 5-weight with a floating line is just the ticket for doing that. If you go up to a 6-weight you will be over gunned as even a 20-inch smallmouth can be landed on a 5-weight rod. If you drop down to a 4-weight you may not be able to play a fish out quickly in order to release it as quickly as you can, which puts less stress on the fish. In 24 years of fishing smallmouth I have never used anything other than a double-tapered floating line, so there is no need for you to worry about picking up sink tip lines and things like that.

The Nice Thing Is ...
Here in Ontario there are many rivers where wildlife is the only thing you will meet when you are smallmouth bass fishing. There are many sections of rivers which hardly see a smallmouth bass fisherman, and it's those rivers which I like to guide on. To be successful when fishing for smallmouth bass you need to slow things down, and the easy way to do that is to stop, take a deep breath and take a good long look around you.

Smallmouth Bass fishing is wet wading. However, in late October and November waders are a must, but you can get by with light weight breathable waders. In the summer I am awfully fond of using a pair of "flats boot" for all my wading as they are light weight and they hug my ankles like a pair of gravel guards. If you have weak ankles, then a sturdy set of wading boots will do the job.

A Few Words About Leaders
This is dead easy.
1. Pick up two spools of your favorite leader material in 4-pound and 6-pound.
2. Tie one end of the leader material onto the end of the fly line.
3. Pull off about 12 feet of the leader material.
4. Tie the fly onto the leader with a Palomer knot.
5. Head to the river.

Tip: if you are trying to turn over a larger fly, like a size #2 Zonker, use the 6-pound leader, if you are throwing smaller flies and nymphs, stick with the 4-pound leader material. For the record I use Vanish and I have never had any trouble with it. No, I do not get it for free, I trade it over for fishing flies and I do not get paid to promote Vanish. I use it because it works for me. Now, if you are having trouble figuring out this leader system, please take a look at this illustration in my Ask Ian section, and things will soon become crystal clear. No kidding.

Detecting The "Soft Take"
Contrary to popular belief, when smallmouth bass take a fly, they won't pull your arm off when the hit it. Far too many anglers miss the soft take, which is good for the fish, because they can inhale the fly and drop it faster than you can blink. Most of the takes I get from smallmouth bass are soft, very soft. To pick up these soft takes you must keep in constant touch with the fly. Small mends in the line and following the fly with the rod tip are two easy ways to keep in touch with the fly. Also, if your leader looks like it is a 12-foot spring, it's basically game over before you begin. The easy way to straighten out the leader is to carry a small chunk of bicycle inner tube 2 inches will do it. Place the leader against the rubber tube, fold the tube over onto itself and gently pull the leader through the fold. Like magic, all the curls will be gone.

There is a second way to detect soft takes, and it is one I am proud to say I created. And, this system works for all species of fish, not just smallmouth bass. Here it is:

1. Tie a 12-foot section of 6-pound Fireline onto the end of the flyline.
2. Use a Blood knot to attach 3-feet of 4-pound Vanish onto the Fireline.
3. Tie the fly onto the end of the Vanish.

There is absolutely no stretch in the Fireline so as soon as a fish bumps the fly, you will see and feel the take. This system is deadly, but there is a catch. You need one less turn of Fireline at the blood knot than Vanish. In other words, go with five wraps of Fireline but six wraps of Vanish. It took me a while to figure this out, and I have no clue as to why this works, but it will produce a much stronger knot than if you go with an even number of turns of both materials. If you are confused as to how the finished leader should look, take a look at this. The Lethal Leader.

Guiding for Smallmouth Bass
Without question July and September can produce some spectacular smallmouth bass fishing. August is often far too warm to fish smallmouth during the day, and the mosquitoes can be fierce when night falls, so in August I tend to head out for smallmouth bass in the very early hours and it is all done by 11:00 a.m. If you fancy spending a day out on the river, send me an e-mail. Wet wading for smallmouth bass is a ton of fun, and sometimes you can hook into one or two large fish.

Rate: $350 per person per day.

E-mail: I want to book a day of smallmouth bass fishing.






A slow and stealthy approach is essential when fishing smallmouth bass. You should always try to let the fish see the fly before they see you or the fly line. For fun this image holds a few clues on how to approach a pool which contains smallmouth bass, carp and redhorse. So take a good look at the picture and jot down what those fishy clues are, how you would approach this section of water, and how you would fish it. When you are finished, click this link and I'll show you how I would do it. This Link