You can read my newest piece, “8 Flies Smallmouth Bass Can’t Resist,” right now at Field & Stream online. Even if you’re more of a trout person, I’d recommend giving it a read as many of the patterns translate to the Salmo family. Naturally, I’ve included a few of my own bugs, like the August White and the Countermeasure. Besides, it’ll give you something to do while waiting for all this water to recede…
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.
The Countermeasure strikes again, this time on a fat tailwater truttasaurus. Look at the fins on that beast of a buck! Many thanks to currentseams follower Ken for sharing his success. You can read more about the Countermeasure pattern here.
Six Countermeasures, ready to swim. You can find out more about the Countermeasures bass bug here.
A look back at some of my favorite fly fishing moments from 2018.
I’d been licking my chops all year, waiting for the Housy smallmouth season. And why not? The fish are plentiful, the anglers scarce, the water’s pleasantly warm, and there’s something magical about the feeding frenzy that occurs during the change of light on a hot summer evening. I went to the Hous earlier in July than usual with the thought that I was going to find some new honey holes. I had to do a bit of walking — a mile hike in waders in 90% humidity will get you lathered up proper — but man, did my efforts pay off.
Little did I know that these July outings would be the crescendo. August brought rain, and more rain, and then it rained again and again and there went the summer smallmouth season. High and stained, with flows in the thousands, was the new August normal.
This night in particular remains fresh in my memory. Dozens of quality bass bull-rushed my Gurgler as late afternoon transitioned into evening. Then at dusk, I tied on a Countermeasures and tossed it into the shallows…
A handsome fish, this one. I got into more larger smallies this year than ever before.
Dusk can be a magic time. This guy was sipping on emergers in about a foot of water. Based on the titanic hit he laid on the Countermeasures, I can only guess that if he were a football player, he’d be a linebacker.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a weather pattern exists for days, then a cold front comes through and kills the bite with ruthless efficiency. So it was yesterday when I guided John. Air was cool (70 degrees) and overcast, water was up about 100cfs to 500+cfs, but running clear. A few bugs (micro caddis, Isos, sulphurs, tiny BWOs) but nothing substantial. We fished the Cornwall TMA. Right away I could tell we were going to have a tough time. The run was uber-sexy, lots of submerged boulders and seams and not a touch on several proven patterns. We finished by swinging wets to some slashing fallfish, and we had fun catching a half-dozen or so.
Off to Spot B, a slower, deeper run. One really nice bass from this run, taken on a soft-hackled crayfish fished hop-and-drop along the bottom. Spot C is normally infested with smaller bass — on this day it was a barren wasteland. Off to Spot D, where we finally got into some risers at dusk, both trout (which have clearly moved out of some of the thermal refuges) and smallies. John did a great job in some truly tough conditions, always kept a positive attitude, and was rewarded in the end.
Sidebar: I saw more anglers yesterday than I did the entire summer. And that’s not an exaggeration.
Well done, John, seen here delivering a team of two soft-hackled wets on target.
Look what we found! This dude was sitting in about 3-4 feet of water not too far from where we were standing. He clobbered the fly on the hop phase of the retrieve.
This fly, still in testing & development.
Six Countermeasures to go, ready to drive some big brown or slab of a smallie out of its mind.
The Countermeasure is a riff on a bunch of proven patterns. It’s basically a Deep Threat in crayfish colors with a deer hair collar and head tied Zoo Cougar style. Bite triggers abound: a seductive Zonker-like tail; hints of flash; flowing soft hackles; dangly legs; bulky head. It’s a surface and film fly that you can land with a loud splat!, then swing, wake, strip, and/or dangle. (I’ve had smallies try to pick it out of the air.) There’s really no wrong way to fish it. It shines on a floating line, but it also ventures into neutrally buoyant territory if you use it with a full sink line.
I’ve been field testing the Countermeasure for three years now, and rarely disappoints. There are times when the smallmouth can’t keep away from it, and will bull rush it the moment it hits the water. And did I mention it’s a killer pattern for those big malevolent Farmington river browns?
The Countermeasure smallmouth bass and trout bug
A closer look at the head, viewed from above. It’s not a super-tight pack; two pencil-sized clumps of hair spun on the shank usually do it. I start shaping it with a razor blade by trimming the bottom flat, then the top at gentle upwards angle. Scissors do the rest.
It took me a long time to come up with a name that I liked. Then, few weeks ago, I was watching The Hunt For Red October for the millionth time, and I saw the Dallas release these brilliantly devised gadgets that churned and boiled and made the torpedo think they were the intended target. Then I thought about how the smallies would rather kill than critique this bug. And there it was. So, Red October fans, repeat after me: “Release Countermeasures, on my mark!”
The Countermeasure Rogues’ Gallery:
Housy smallmouth, August 2016
Housy smallmouth, August 2016
Farmington River brown, August 2017
Housy smallmouth, July 2018
Housy smallmouth, July 2019
Big tailwater brown, August 2019
I spent some time at the bench last week on two dramatically different smallmouth patterns, the TeQueely and the Home Invader. Neither of them are the kind of streamer that I’d typically fish. The TeQueely is, in a word, horrible. What a mashup of flash and garbage! But smallies love it, so I’m more than willing to suspend my principles in the interest of cartwheeling bronze. You’ll find it on several “best streamers for smallmouth bass” lists.
At first glance, Doug McKnight’s Home Invader is far too opaque for my tastes. And I’m no big fan of dumbbell eyes. Again, allow me to move past those objections and point out what there is to love about the Home Invader, namely marabou, fox fur, and hackle tips. And this fly knows exactly what it wants to be: a big meal for a hungry or uber-aggressive fish. You can read more about the Home Invader and find tying instructions here. Tying instructions for the TeQueely are listed below.
So ugly, they’re beautiful. The TeQueelys are tied on a size 4, the Home Invaders on a size 2 TMC 1710 (1x strong, 2x long). The Home Invader second from bottom is an all marabou variant. All flies pictured are at least 4″ long.
We can endeavor for hot, but sometimes you’ve got to take what nature gives you. I fished the TMA from 5pm-8:45pm last night, dedicated to the smallmouth cause. I started off with a white/chartreuse conehead bugger in a mix of sun and shadows and caught a bazillion smallies from 4-6″. That was fun, but it really wasn’t why I was there. So I headed to another spot that would be completely in the shade.
This second run was a bona fide honey hole for me last summer, with plentiful bass, and some pushing the foot-long mark. On this evening, it was a bittersweet reminder that every year is different. One dink was all I could manage.
In fact, it took a while for things to get going. The best fishing really didn’t happen until full dusk, with the typical it’s-dark-now shutoff. The big one eluded me, but I took several fish that pushed 12″. Most of the smallies were keyed on emergers, and unlike last year there were stretches where they ignored the streamer. (And several instances where they pile-drived the bug the moment it hit the water.)
And you can’t make this up: around 7:30pm, I was swinging a Zoo Cougar through a pocketed run. Bump….BUMP. Fish on. As I was stripping it in, I said out loud, “You think you’ve got an 18″ brown, but it’s really an 8″ smallie.” A few moments later, I realized that it was a trout — a big old rainbow. Once I knew what I had hooked, I hauled it in quick. The fish was in great shape, high teens, fat, intact fins, deep pink band. I was going to take a photo, then thought better of it, and released the fish, which swam off in seemingly great spirits.
Water was 296cfs and 69 degrees. No white flies yet.
Handsome fish. This guy took the bug on the dangle near the surface, and treated me to several frantic aerials. I like the translucency of the pectoral fin.