The 2021 Smallmouth Season that Wasn’t. Or Was It?

I had big plans for this summer. I was going to go on smallmouth fishing binge the likes of which I’ve never experienced. I was going to conduct a bunch of experiments with presentation and techniques and different flies. I was going to find and learn some new water, and I was going to do some in-depth study of water I discovered last year.

And then the rains came. And came. And came. And kept coming. It was one of the wettest summers on record. The Housy was stuck on a black or blue dot on the USGS page for the entire month of July. August wasn’t much better.

But I’m a stubborn sort and I wanted to fish for smallmouth. I was damned if little things like flood stage and water the color of chocolate milk was going to stop me. So I went fishing. I managed well over a dozen outings, for which I am giving myself a gold star. I mostly had fun. I even got into fish. Here are some of the things I learned and re-learned.

Not only can you catch fish in high, heavily stained water, you can catch some big fish in high, heavily stained water. This slob could be measured in pounds. It was one of three fish in the 16″ or bigger class that I landed, on — get this — surface bugs in a 2,300cfs flow. As it turns out, it was my biggest Housy bass of the summer. All fish were taken in water about three feet deep about a rod’s length from shore. I highly recommend that you don’t wade in water that you’re unfamiliar with if you can’t see the bottom. And don’t forget the wading staff! My apologies for the substandard photo. But it’s a nice smallie.
I’d rather fish in very high or very low water than in medium-high to high flows. In the latter, there is no consistency to where the fish are from day to day, as they have enough water to virtually go anywhere. So one evening, I’d bang up a dozen quality fish in a pool. And the next, in the same mark, I’d blank or only get one or two. It’s also frustrating to have the river at a level where you just can’t wade into certain very fishy areas due to depth and current speed. I still managed to go exploring, and I fished two brand new marks with varying degrees of success. Pro tip: whether you’re fishing in high or low flows, structure is your friend, as are current breaks between faster water and slower water. Here’s the proof.
In high water, hatches go on. Not only did this’s years White Fly hatch happen, it was one of the stronger showings I’ve witnessed, and it went well into August. Sadly, the surface action was virtually nil, although I did manage a few bass on dry flies over the course of the summer. Wet fly action was a little better, but if you know there’s likely to be a strong hatch, fishing well under it — AKA nymphing — will put a very big smile on your face. I didn’t see that many black caddis this summer, but there were a bazillion sedgy-white caddis, size 18, most afternoons and evenings. The bass liked them a lot.
Some things didn’t change. There continued to be a shutdown moment right as dusk transitioned to darkness. And the Countermeasure continued to produce quality fish at that moment. I had several foot-plus bass on that fly as my last bass of the outing. Here’s to better conditions in 2022!

Upcoming articles for Field & Stream, and warm water caution

Good Monday afternoon! A bit of a late start for me today as I was out chasing fish last night and didn’t get to bed until the wee hours. August is traditionally viewed as a prime vay-cay month, but here at currentseams we are busy-busy-busy. First up: I have three new articles in the pipeline for Field & Stream Online. In no particular order (these are just working titles): Tactics and Strategies for Fishing High and Low Water; Seven Best Flies for Smallmouth Bass; Small Stream Fly Fishing 101. As I have not yet begun to write, I have no pub date other than ASAP. I’ll get that information out to you when I know it. In the meantime, it’s not all chained-to-my-writer’s-desk energy. I still have fishing — lots of fishing — to do.

To the Farmington River. August is typically an active guide month for me, but I’ve had to make the difficult decision to suspend lessons on the Farmington until further notice. The issue is one of elevated water temperatures, which begets limited time and access. This graph of the water temp out of the gate at Hogback says it all:

A short week ago, you had just a shade over 64 degrees out of the gate, with a spike of a still trout-friendly 66. Today we’re already over 68 degrees (keep in mind that this is Riverton) and it’s not even a scorcher kind of day. With a heat wave projected for this week, it doesn’t take a degree in environmental science to recon that the trout will be experiencing stressful conditions. So please: give the trout a break. Protect the resource. It sucks, but it’s the right thing to do. And, as with gravity, what goes up must come down.

Best of 2020 #7: Silver Linings Smallmouth

Feast or famine is the new normal for stream flows. In the summer of 2020, we were left wanting for water. After a soaking spring, precious rainfall eluded us through the start of fall, creating harrowing drought conditions across Connecticut. Thankfully, we have smallmouth bass.

It’s no secret to readers of Currentseams that I am a smallmouth addict. So even though the Hous was low and warm, it was still within the acceptable range for targeting Micropterus dolomieu. So I went at it hard. The challenges were many. Low water meant fewer places to find fish, and sometimes what was there wasn’t in the mood to play. This was clearly an off year on the Hous, with an exponentially smaller class of larger fish (this was by far my worst year in the last five for bass you could measure in pounds) and fewer fish in general (I witnessed one epic white fly hatch with hardly any bass on the bugs). Parking and crowds were a concern; there were times when I saw more angler traffic in a day than I normally do all summer. So what did I do?

I explored. I walked. I tried new water and new methods and new flies. I learned so much that I’m going to be writing an article about it in a future edition of The Fisherman magazine. It may be winter, but I can still feel the humidity falling over my shoulders like a coat, sweat collecting along my brow, as the dragonflies buzz around my head at dusk. Maybe one more cigar for the walk back to the truck?

This summer I tried to use multiple methods when learning a new piece of water. So in a typical outing, I might strip and swing a streamer, pop a Gurgler, swing wets, or dead-drift a surface bug. Here’s a nifty shot of a decent smallie blowing up on a Wiggly.