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.
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
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."
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Detecting The "Soft
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
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
Guiding for Smallmouth
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
Rate: $350 per person per day.
want to book a day of smallmouth bass fishing.