Micropterus Dolomieui, bronzebacks, smallies, call them what you may; I love fishing for smallmouth bass. Why? The first thing that comes to mind is their remarkable fighting ability. I love the way they can put a hole in the surface of the water when they get airborne after being hooked, even in fast water.
Or maybe because they are completely underrated as fly rod a species, given their willingness to take such a wide range of flies aggressively.
Perhaps it’s because I’m drawn to their reputation as the outsiders of the piscine world; the notion that you are partying on the wrong side of the railway line of Fly Fishing Town when you have a scrap with these punks.
If you are skeptical about smallmouth bass, but haven’t landed a twenty incher in a river yet, its perhaps time you do. Here are some tactics that have helped me catch big smallies.
1. Understand thy Bronzeback
The biggest mistake most anglers make about smallies is the assumption that smallmouth bass are like largemouth bass. Smallies are very different from largemouth and I hardly fish for the latter. Although there are obvious similarities, such as spawning methods, I find the environment that smallies thrive in much more stimulating to fly fish in than largemouth.
Whereas largemouth like still water with lots of weed and fallen timber, smallies prefer swift water and thrives in rivers with a rocky substrate. The ideal smallmouth water has an even gradient with a good pool/riffle variation. Gravel is an excellent substrate to look out for, especially when it’s spawning season. The best substrate to look out for is rubble (fist to rugby ball size rock) as it supports a variety of minnows, crabs and aquatic invertebrates.
Smallies also like large boulders and rocky structure, but this should be in an environment where there are lots of gravel and rubble present as well. Large rocks in sandy or bedrock substrates won’t hold the same appeal for smallies, as they will probably be poor food producing areas. The smallies use the boulders primarily for two reasons. Firstly it acts as a current buffer and allows the fish an excellent ambush spot. As smallmouth are light sensitive they would often lie underneath it, or in it’s shadow, allowing the fish access to a mid stream location when the sun is bright. Smallies also like holding in fast water locations such as riffles and rapids and will always choose large structure within these.