Printemps, the French word for springtime, literally translates as prime time. While it is certainly possible to catch them throughout the year, spring is undoubtedly the most productive time to target big smallmouth.
As spring approaches and water temperatures rises to between 12 and 14 degrees, smallies will become hormonally primed and start moving towards the areas where they will fan out nests and spawn. This is known as the pre-spawn period and fish will start feeding vigorously in preparation for the rigors of spawning. The fish will be close to, but not actually in the spawning areas. Good spots would be pools with gravel substrate, but focus on areas with slack water such as bankside or island eddies and pockets behind large boulders. Big females often congregate in likely areas during this stage and flies fished slowly and close to the bottom, produce best results.
Males will start fanning out nests as soon as the water temperature hits 16 degrees. After laying eggs, the females will move away from the spawning sites to recuperate. For the next few weeks the males will first guard the nest until the eggs hatch and will remain on the nests until the fry eventually disperses. During this time the bass do not feed but will diligently protect the nest from intruders. Because they are super aggressive at this stage, smallies will hit any fly that comes close to the nests. Fly choice is less important than presentation, and poppers can be quite effective at this time provided the nests are in shallow water.
The post spawn commences as soon as the fry disperses and the males will move away from the nests to recover from the spawning and nest-guarding ordeal. In some areas this is actually a difficult time to catch them as they go into a recovery period dubbed the ‘post spawn funk’, which may last up to three weeks. Luckily some fish start spawning before others do, so when some fish are sulking, others will have started feeding again.