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!

“8 Flies Smallmouth Bass Can’t Resist” at Field & Stream Online

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…

I’m pretty sure this guy ate a TeQueely, one of the featured patterns in “8 Flies Smallmouth Bass Can’t Resist.”

Smallmouth Report 6/24/21: Not warmed up yet

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.

Not too shabby, just about two pounds, and a worthy opponent on a five-weight. I have only the utmost respect for the power and doggedness of these creatures. They just don’t want to come to net.

The Countermeasure Fly Tying Video

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.

More film and video news: Farmington River Dry Flies and SBS Countermeasure

I mentioned earlier this week that the short film Striper Moon — A Legacy will soon be available on Amazon Prime. I’ve been busy with some video projects as well. On Wednesday, we shot home interview and fly tying footage for director Matthew Vinick’s film on Farmington River dry fly fishing. We covered stuff from hatches to our day on the river to the Survivor Strain program, and I also tied up a classic Catskills Light Cahill dry. I’ve seen a rough cut of my segment, and it doesn’t suck! I’m very excited to be involved with this project.

The title of the film is Summer on the Farmington. Matthew Vinick and John Kosmaczewski are partners on the project. Here’s a low-res still, taken from video, of me doing battle with a high-teens Survivor Strain brown. That’ll put a bend in the old cane pole.

~

Last but not least, I recently shot footage for a step-by-step video on the Countermeasure. Just gotta edit and do voiceover. Coming soon!

Why I love topwater smallmouth

It’s been a tough year for smallmouth in terms of size and numbers, but I’m finding enough topwater action to keep me stoked. I’ll present a more detailed report on my summer adventures in the next few weeks, but for now this picture says it all. I’ve been getting a lot of action on Jack Gartside’s ¬†Gurgler and my Countermeasures bug.

GurglerSmallie

Rose = Vitreus. Oh, + Smallmouth

Like clockwork, the first rose bloom in my garden means the Vitreus are popping. Funny thing: I went last night not to the Farmington, but to the Housatonic. (All this warm, humid weather had my smallmouth juices running.) Sure enough, there was a substantial hatch of Light Cahills. When we left the river at 8:30pm, there were clouds of spinners overhead. The fish surely ate well after dark. To the fishing: a little slow, but a few smallmouth were brought to hand on deerhair head topwater flies. My first smallie of the year came on a Countermeasure. That seems right.

My Grenada hybrid tea is usually the first out of the gate, and the Light Cahills were out in force. My Housy spies tell me that the spawning beds have cleared, and that the smallie action is picking up. I think a couple more weeks of warm weather would help. And of course there’s the Farmington…hmmm…decisions, decisions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Steve Culton’s Countermeasure featured in On The Water’s “Guide Flies”

The Countermeasure, my favorite smallmouth bass bug, is the featured pattern in Tony Lolli’s “Guide Flies” column. It’s in the current (April 2020) issue of On The Water. Here’s a link to my original post on the Countermeasure. For bonus material, you’ve got a photo of the column and a pdf. Please support fishing magazines and writers by reading and subscribing. Without readers like you, we are nothing.

CountermeasureOTW

CountermeasureOTW

Big Tailwater Brown on the Countermeasure

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.

CountermeasureBrown

Housy Smallie Mini Report 7/31/19: No falling in, no white flies

Another quick-hit mission to the Hous. Fished from 7:20pm-8:45pm and the action was much better than earlier in the week, if still not spectacular. This year’s weird pattern continues: instead of a building feeding frenzy with a crescendo at dark, the bulk of the bigger fish came when there was still plenty of light. No white flies yet, but I would think that will happen this weekend. Water was a little below average cfs and 78 degrees, light stain. Some decent sized bass, but no monsters — biggest were in the foot-long range, a very respectable size. Fished subsurface (TeQueely) and on top (Gurgler and Countermeasures). Did take a couple right at 8:45, but they weren’t huge.

Dolomieu the Leaper.

Screen Shot 2019-08-01 at 2.13.25 PM

~

Don’t neglect the frog water-like shallows. This brute hit the Gurgler in a about a foot of water, right after the bug landed.

Screen Shot 2019-08-01 at 2.14.41 PM