Housy Smallmouth Report: White flies on the wane?

I fished from 5:30pm to 9:00pm. The hatch was decent enough, but nowhere near the numbers I saw last Thursday. Here are some of the lessons I’m learning.

Spot A was an area I’ve never fished before, below the 4/7 concrete bridge. A big, gnarly riffle that dumps into deep pool, then an even deeper pool, before transitioning into a placid run. I was disappointed to hook only one bass. I can’t imagine that there aren’t a lot of fish living in that stretch. Spot B was within the TMA. I tossed my TeQueely into some frog water on the edge of a riffle. The bass slammed into the fly the moment it penetrated the surface membrane. Best hit of the year, any species. Always investigate that transition water between current and frog.

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Think a Housy smallmouth might like a white fly soft hackle like this? (Size 10 hook, cream hackle, fibers, and white Pearsall’s.) You betcha. Trout, too. I took a pretty foot-long brown on this fly (no picture — quick landing and release), as well as numerous bass. Fishing a team of wet flies pre-hatch is sound in practice, but it can get problematic with smallies. I was fishing a team of two and had to cut one fly off due to excessive doubles. Same problem with the soft hackle I had dropped off my White Wulff and Convertible dries: too many doubles. I know, life’s tough.

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White flies get all the juice, but let’s not neglect their smaller photo-negative, the black caddis. Swarms of these flies everywhere. I even took a dozen home with me in my Jeep. Going to tie up some Black Magic soft hackles, about a 14-16.

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Last year, the bass would attack a streamer even if they were feeding on something small on the surface, and especially as dusk made its way toward night. Not so this year during the white fly hatch. So maybe smallmouth are more trout-like than I give them credit for. I was targeting one bigger fish that kept rising in some shallows — I got him to bump the streamer, but it was at best a half-hearted attempt. This dude came to net on a White Wulff size 12. 

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Housy Smallmouth Report: Crazy 8s

Yesterday was 8/8/16, a nice bit of numerology even if you’re not mathematically inclined. (For the record, I am not. But I do love and am attuned to numbers.) Water flow was a low 178cfs, voluminous compared to the current trickle that is the Farmington. And warm. Mid-to-upper 70s warm. (I can confirm this from personal sampling as I managed to fall into the river twice. A treacherous wade, that TMA.) There is something to be said about the cooling effects of wet wading inside your breathable Simms on a hot, sunny day.

To the fishing. I am not long on smallie experience, but I am a quick study. Here’s what I can tell you.

I fished from the general area of the West Cornwall covered bridge down to the Rt. 7 bridge. Six hours, 3pm-9pm. My M.O. was fish, drive, park, repeat. While the sun was up, the bass were, without exception, in brisk, moving water. They also tended to be on the small (5″-7″) side. I found players in every run I fished.

A smallmouth that Goldilocks would have loved. I like how the surface blends with the depths. The Hous is a weird-colored river.

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Fly selection was irrelevant. Bright white and fluorescent chartreuse? Loved it. Muted earth tones? Attacked it with prejudice. Horrible, dreadful pattern (like the TeQueely)? Total annihilation. The only fly I didn’t hook up on was the Gurgler, and that’s because I fished it in daytime and the little guys couldn’t manage the wide gap size 2 hook. This is the first time I fished the Deep Threat for smallmouth, and it was met with unilateral approval.

Crayfish are an anecdotal smallmouth favorite, as are flies in browns/orange/olives/black/etc. The river is loaded with the naturals.

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Once the sun dipped behind the hills and trees, the bigger fish action turned on. I lost count of the number of smallmouth I caught long before I took this shot, an attempt at an artsy silhouette portrait. 

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The vaunted white fly hatch never materialized. From 8pm-8:30 there was a consistent surface bite, but I had to work for every fish, and quite frankly, what was rising wasn’t worth the effort I was putting in with my Light Cahill dries (12-16). As dusk deepened, I decided to bail on the dries and go surface streamer. First cast toward the bank with the Zoo Cougar and I was on — and I mean on fast and hard. For the next half hour, I was in smallmouth heaven. Pound-for-pound, these might be the hardest fighting fish I’ve ever experienced. Tremendous sport.

My biggest smallmouth came as night settled in over the water. Sadly, he slipped the net while I was getting my camera ready, so you’ll have to be content with this shot of his younger brother.

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You know how sometimes on the drive home from the river something doesn’t sit quite right with you? Sure, you caught fish, but you may have LDRed a good one. Perhaps you lost a favorite fly on the bottom. Maybe there was that one fish you just couldn’t fool. You’re glad you got out, but there’s that little negative something inside that keeps gnawing away at you — and in a way, it wrecks the whole thing?

This trip wasn’t one of those.