Housy Smallmouth Report 8/10/17: Questions 67 & 68

When I’m teaching or speaking, I often tell people that I don’t have all the answers. This isn’t false modesty. I really don’t. But I do have many questions. And so it goes with the 2017 smallmouth season. So, to quote the Polish Prince, I’d like to know…

Where are the bigger fish this year? Last summer’s bronze bully bonanza stands in stark contrast to this year’s onslaught of sub-6″ fish. It’s not so much that I mind the action, but I’ve managed only one bass this summer in the foot-long class. Dusk, last year’s magic time when the double-digit inchers came out to play, has been largely pipsqueak heaven.

One theory I have is that last year’s uber-low water concentrated the fish into runs and holes that provided enough current and cover; when the dinner bell rang, the alpha fish in any given spot took charge. This year, with significantly more (and cooler) water, the bass are more spread out. Still, that doesn’t explain why I wouldn’t at least have chanced into a larger fish.

Which leads to my next question: why has the dusk-to-dark surface streamer bite been so slow? Last summer, I’d have bass hammer my deer-hair head/rabbit strip tail bugs the moment they hit the water. This year, my flies remain largely unscathed. (This may speak to the preponderance of small fish, since the bug in question is 4″ long.)

Obviously, more research is needed. I’ll be curious to see how the bite plays out in this watery laboratory for the rest of August.

Notes from last night: water at 270 cfs. I fished two runs from 6pm to 9pm. The first was TeQueely territory. Lots of action, although there is a structure-laden frog water section next to current and a deep hole that continuously, mysteriously fails to produce. I’m going to have to re-visit at dusk. White flies are just about done — in fact, there were far more sulfurs on the water last night. Also small tan caddis, and the ubiquitous black caddis. The two fly team of white fly soft hackle (I’m calling it the August White) on point and Black Magic dropper continues to shine. I’m swinging wets far more than I did last summer, mostly pre-hatch, and the bass just can’t keep away. Multiple doubles last night, and the Black Magic out-caught the August White 2:1. I’m targeting active feeders, swinging through and across current seams, but I’m doing boffo box office on the dangle with a slow hand-twist retrieve. Best fish last night, 9″, came on this last presentation (Black Magic).

From one year ago to the date. I know you’re out there. Somewhere. 

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Housy Smallmouth Report 8/9/17: No big deal

I’m a creature of habit, and that includes fishing. So every once in a while I need to force myself to switch things up, get out of my comfort zone, and try something different. That’s how I found myself last night in what’s probably the most popular pool on the river.

My evening began way above the covered bridge in some snotty rapids. One 6-incher on the TeQueely and done. I moved downriver to reconnoiter some new water. Didn’t like the looks of it, so I headed to my beat for the evening.

I hadn’t fished this run in a few decades. There’s a lot to like about it: substantial riffles that dump into a long pool, good current, ringed by both deep and shallow frog water. It’s fishy as hell.

Alas, it was infested with dinks. Even after it became difficult to see the fly, I was still hauling in pipsqueaks. OK, I was fishing on the wrong side of the river. But I didn’t see many of those telltale big fish bulges. On the positive end, I did boffo pre-hatch business with a Black Magic North Country spider dropper and a white fly soft hackle on point. They loved the flies on the dangle, rod tip raised, with a very slow or hand-twist retrieve. I had a few doubles, but mostly the bass were keyed on one fly or the other. I was intrigued that I would get several bass on the black — consecutively — then 2-3 bass on the white. (You may have heard this before, but droppers are the quickest way to find out what the fish want.)

Finally, you’ll want to know about the white flies. The answer was no. Very weak hatch, maybe a 2 out of 10. This pool is upriver from where I’ve been fishing, so I can’t make an intelligent scientific comparison other than to say it sucked. Black caddis were out again.

Good to meet everyone last night, and thanks as always for sharing the water.

Black Magic was featured in the color plates of Robert Smith’s book The North Country Fly. It works as well on eastern freestone river smallies as it does on English chalk stream browns. Black Pearsall’s silk, peacock herl, black hen.

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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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Housatonic Mini Report 10/29/14: More fun with streamers

After last week’s rains placed her flows into the thousands, the Hous TMA was down to a very wadeable 988cfs. The water, however, still had a moderate stain, and it was noticeably colder than last week. Cloudy conditions with a bit of a breeze. Fished a floating line with a seven-foot leader. I tied up a yellow and white marabou articulated streamer the night before in the hopes that it would discourage the smaller fish from jumping on. That kind of worked. I still had plenty of bumps, but the foot-long fish weren’t making it much past the initial strike stage. I did manage several some-teen-inch fat rainbows that kept me entertained with their cartwheels. In the higher flows, even a mid-teens fish felt substantial. I bounced around to five different name pools, and I had action in four of them. Getting stoked for a steelhead on a streamer next month.

Fat, aggressive, and obstreperous. Just the way I like my rainbows.

Housy Rainbow 1

Do I have something on my lip? I had confidence this streamer would work, but it’s nice to get approval from the target audience focus group.

Housy Rainbow 2