Last summer was challenging time to fish for smallmouth: we had the double whammy of heat and severe drought. In “Low & Slow: Summer River Smallmouth,” I talk about some of the strategies, tactics, and flies I used to find success in those truly tough conditions. You can read the article in the current (July 2021) New England issue of The Fisherman magazine.
I fished a mark on the Hous last night from 7pm to 9pm, and it was very, very slow. By the time I reached the water, there’d already been a strong caddis hatch (mottled light tan, size 16) and there were sulphur spinners in the water. A few smaller trout and smallmouth were eating bugs, but I they were in some deeper water, way out of casting range. The flow was medium and lightly stained; the water really hasn’t warmed up yet and I find the smallie fishing goes better when it does. Bugs I fished were the TeQueeley, Gurgler, Mini D&D, Wiggly, and Countermeasure. Well, I did try some nymphing, but I don’t think I got deep enough. I had a hysterical swipe at the indicator from a little fish as I was preparing to cast, but mostly I practiced presenting and conducting experiments. (I have a lot of experimenting to do this summer, and I’ll let you know at some point how it goes.)
It wasn’t until 8:30 that I connected with my first smallie, a respectable 10″ fish. Right at dark I started pounding the shallows with the Countermeasure, and I was rewarded with my first good smallmouth of the year. But that was it, leaving me alone on the river with the bugs and my cigar.
You’re now at Countermeasure Central on currentseams! Here you can watch the tying video (below); see the original post/recipe; and read the Guide Flies feature piece from On The Water magazine. In case you’re new to this pattern, the Countermeasure is a riff on several proven streamer designs (like the Zoo Cougar and Zonker). It’s loaded with bite triggers, and it’s one of my favorite smallmouth bass bugs. Oh! Big trout love it, too.
You may have noticed this year that there weren’t many Housatonic River smallmouth reports on these pages. It wasn’t for a lack of effort from your humble scribe. I believe I fished more days this summer for smallmouth than I have since I started seriously pursuing them (in 2016). So why did I go dark? Part of it was people — and anglers — everywhere. And anywhere. I ran into anglers in places where I’ve never seen a soul. Finding a parking spot was, at times, impossible. Part of it was the drought, which made for challenging conditions. And part of it was that in terms of size and especially numbers, this was by far the worst year I’ve had fishing smallmouth on that river.
One late July night illustrates this last point. I fished a favorite mark that was, to my delight, devoid of other anglers. I hit the White Fly hatch perfectly — in fact, I’d rate this as one of the top three blizzards I’ve ever experienced. The surface should have been boiling with frantic rises — dozens per second. Instead, I could easily pick out an occasional lonesome rise ring here and there. The lack of bass on the bugs was both extraordinary and discouraging. What’s worse, what was rising was small. Not a bruiser in the bunch.
At least the dragonflies had a good meal.
Since the fishing was awful, and — this is important — every year is different — I decided that I would embrace different. So I explored. I fished new water. I tried new flies (like Wigglies and Barr’s Meat Whistle). And I tried new methods (like indicator nymphing and dead drifting crayfish patterns along the bottom). These efforts will pay off handsomely in the future. So, 2020 wasn’t the year we wanted it to be. But we can take comfort in the hope and promise of 2021.
I’ve been doing some reading on low water smallmouth and trout tactics — ’tis the season — and I came across a fly family known as wigglies. In case you’re a newbie like me, they’re basically long foam-bodied spiders on steroids. They go by all kinds of names (Ol’ Mr. Wiggly, Mr. Wigglesworth, etc.). They’re not poppers; rather, they’re meant to be strategically cast and drifted. You let the bug sit on the film, and the current (and all those rubber legs!) do the work. If you move the bug, it’s only to move its legs — not the body. Work that one out.
I have to confess that at heart I’m a natural materials purist. But I’m also not above trying new things. And I embrace the concept of there being many, many ways. So while I basically dislike rubber legs, I see the parallel here with soft hackles.
I’m also obsessed with learning. This has been a difficult summer for smallmouth — the painfully low flows aren’t helping — and being able to conduct experiments in a laboratory known as a river is its own kind of wonderful. Yesterday the bass were indifferent to the Wiggly as a searching pattern. At dusk, when I cast to a rise ring, they bull-rushed the fly.
Speaking of experiments: anyone imagining a smaller, black Mr. Wiggly with a piece of yellow sighter material on top and a soft-hackle or nymph dropped behind it? Black cricket season is almost upon us…and the trout are hungry.
Ol’ Mr. Wiggly, size 2 and 4. You need some in your box.
In the middle of Gurgler tying land, I noticed that I tend to render my bugs far sparser than most of the ones I see in bins. No surprise there — sparse is how I usually roll — but it’s also because I learned to tie them from Jack Gartside’s website. You can see how the pattern’s creator tied them here.
These ones below are just like the ones I use for smallmouth bass. They’re the same as Jack’s original recipe, save for the hook. Instead of a long shank, I’m using a Gamakatsu B10S stinger hook which is light, strong, and sticky sharp out of the box.
Gartside Gurglers lovingly rendered in white. I can’t say that color is critical, but I will choose different colors based on light level and water clarity, and sometimes for my own visual reference. It’s a high confidence pattern, and is often on everyone’s Top Ten list when it comes to topwater smallmouth flies.