A few years ago my brother, Herman, and I were preparing for our annual springtime smallmouth expedition and decided we needed a pattern for high water levels and velocity. Herman did some research and tied up a few meatwhistles. It proved to be the business, and since then I have taken more big smallies on this fly than any other pattern.
Tied by John Barr in 2001, the meatwhistle was designed to be fished in the same manner conventional bass anglers fishes jigs and plastics; it had to sink fast and have lots of movement. He decided to name it the meatwhistle “after its ability to seemingly call in the largest fish.”
The fly has a lovely buggy appearance, as well as all the essential qualities that are important when targeting river smallies: the zonker strip, rubber legs and marabou gives the pattern plenty of movement, even when dead drifted. The marabou collar is a very important design element; it folds back when the fly sinks (allowing it to go down like a homesick mole), but puffs out when it settles down, resulting in a big profile. This pattern is presented tight against the bottom, and I like to fish it on a long leader and floating line. Getting hold of jig hooks can be a problem, so we have resorted to manually putting a 60-degree bend in a streamer hook. I sometimes also substitute the cone head with lead eyes or big tungsten beads in order to tie a heavier fly. For tying instructions, simply Google John Barr’s Meatwhitle. I like tying it in brown, using barred zonker and rubber legs and gold flashabou.
Many other patterns can yield success with smallies and one should always carry a number of small bass poppers and hoppers. I have taken good smallies working poppers through pocket water right in the middle of a rapid!
Patterns like Clousers (they were invented for smallies!) brush flies and buggers will all work for bass, so don’t be afraid to experiment. However, nothing comes close to the Meatwhistle when the smallies are aggressively on the bite!