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!

Noah’s Ark — er — Housy Report

Drat this cursed rain! Last year the river was pathetically low. This year it’s disgustingly high. The upper Housatonic has been mostly unfishable this month, and as a result we’ve missed out on what’s normally a very productive period. I’ve been feeling bitter about the whole thing, so I decided to take a drive out to the river and see what the conditions were first-hand, and maybe even wet a line. You know — you don’t know if you don’t go.

After peaking around 7K cfs, the river dropped about a thousand cfs a day in the trout TMA until it stalled at 2.1K. It’s holding there now (with more rain on the way, of course). At 2K+, the river is either raging whitewater or a vast, featureless glide. This mark is normally a series of riffles and pockets that dumps into a deeper run flanked by frog water on one side and a rocky flat on the other. Now it’s this garbage.
Speaking of garbage, the shores are littered with debris. Most of it is natural, like this driftwood, but there are also tennis balls, plastic bottles, and other man-made crap. This photo was taken ten feet away from the present water line.
My heart sank at my first sight of the river. I don’t know why, but I expected that perhaps the water would have cleared up a bit. Wrong. Depending on your location, its color ranges from tea-stain to chocolate milk. Visibility ranges from one to two feet. The culprit is silt, which is everywhere, particularly along the riverbanks. Your first couple steps off the bank will be a sinking experience. Never wade into low/no visibility water unless you know the bottom structure intimately, and then, never stray into the current. Studded boots and a wading staff are a must. Be smart and stay safe.
Here’s the thing: fish don’t know that the river is flooded. They’ve still got to eat. While you can’t wade to places you’d normally fish in high water, the beauty is that the bass aren’t out in the raging torrents — they’re in the calmer water close to shore, particularly as the daylight transitions to dusk. I fished two evenings this week. One was not good — only one 8″ smallie to hand. The other was a little better, including this slob that could be measured in pounds. What a battle in a 2K flow!

Found on the Housatonic: One Spiffy Landing Net

Someone lost a landing net on the upper Housatonic, and I have it. It’s a nice net, but it’s been in the water for sometime (it was mostly submerged). Describe its general size, frame shape/material/color, and net material/color and we’ll arrange a reunion.

Also found on the Hous.

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Housy Mini Report 8/19/19: Low, slow, and small

A quick zip in/zip out (there have been a lot of those this summer) last night from 7:00pm-8:30. I hit three marks in the FFO section and it was tough going. First spot blank, second spot one pipsqueak, third spot nothing until the 8pm to dark slot. A couple on streamers, a half dozen then on White Wulffs (although the white fly hatch is kaput). No real size — biggest was 10″.

The mysteries of smallies on the Hous continue, as I have fished these marks in past years at the same height (200cfs) at the same time of year and same time frame and done gangbusters. This was by far the worst outing of the year in terms of size and numbers.

Where’d you go, bubba?

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Housy Report 9/6/18: the curse of the cold front

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.

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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.

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This fly, still in testing & development. 

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Housy article complete, Farmington feature next

The Housatonic River piece is off at the editorial suites of Eastern Fly Fishing; it’s due out in the Feb/March 2019 issue. Next project is a feature for the same mag on the Farmington River. Haven’t taken fingers to keyboard yet, but I’ll be out this week shooting photos on the river with UpCountry Sportfishing’s Torrey Collins (hopefully his gf Mandy will be joining us). As always, if you see me on the river, come say hello.

Fish-friendly photos. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

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Housy & Farmy Mini-Reports: Water, water, everywhere

A couple of hardy anglers had the temerity to fish the Hous Friday evening. 1,300cfs is certainly doable, if not challenging. We hit three spots and found fish in two of them. I had my first customer on that marabou crayfish prototype, and it was a solid smallie, just under a foot. I had the brilliant idea that I should try to catch a bass on the surface in that turbid flood, and by casting back to the bank…what do you know, a couple of  customers. Both were too small to get their mouth around the hook, but I’d had my fun. Today the river is even higher and rising. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

This morning I had a 90 minute window, so I nymphed two spots on the lower Farmington. 550cfs, very cold for this time of year. First spot was a blank. Very surprised by that. I know I was getting deep enough because I lost my drop shot tag. Move around, find the fish, etc., so I changed locations and first cast, bang, a hefty rainbow that broke my leader at the top fly junction. After post-loss inspection, the leader above the break was frayed, so it was either compromised before hookup or Mr. Rainbow took me for a ride around a rock. Re-rigged, and landed one of the nicest brook trout I’ve ever taken on the Farmington. Both fish hit the top dropper in the rig, a size 16 Wingless March Brown.

Mr. Long Kype Jaw also has some shoulders and a complete set of dramatically contrasted fontenalis fins.

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Getting your word’s worth

The word machine is humming along. In fact, I’m taking a break right now from one of the many pieces I’m working on. (Despite the sunny weather, I made the command decision to write today. With all the high water and piss-stinking miserable humidity, and thunderstorms later, the fishing will have to wait.) Here’s what’s in the pipeline:

“Steel Deal,” a feature on Great Lakes steelhead tactics, coming this fall in Field & Stream

A feature on the Housatonic River for Eastern Fly Fishing, scheduled for March/April 2019

A feature on the Farmington River for Eastern Fly Fishing, scheduled for Fall 2019

“The Little Things 3.0” — I’ve completed this and I’m pretty sure Field & Stream is going to buy it for publication next year.

Please support these magazines, even if it’s just to buy a copy of the issue with the article. No readers means no more pubs which means no more interesting articles from folks like me.

Then, there are the new presentations I’m working on for the Fly Fishing Show…

And I haven’t forgotten about that new smallie bug. I promise it will be worth the wait!

No. Not happening right now.

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Housy Smallmouth Report 7/24/18: Feel the burn

And so we break the seal on summer smallies. The Hous was stained and rising (450cfs+) and warm, the air was thick and damp, and the smallies were on the hunt. I fished below the TMA — what a walk! — from 6pm to almost 9pm. Started out with a white cone head Woolly Bugger, and its production level was uninspiring. I wondered if they might like something a little darker in the stain, so I tied on a TeQueely. BANG! First cast. So I fished that for a while, cleaned up, then switched over to a Gurgler. Hysterical topwater action ensued. At 8pm I tied on a bug I’ve been prototyping and testing for three years now (I will release it very shortly, so stay tuned!) and the smallies attacked it with extreme prejudice, sometimes moments after it hit the water. No white flies yet, but I made my own hatch at dark with a White Wulff, landed one, and ended on a high note.

And I had the entire stretch of river all to myself.

Fun with Gurglers:

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Hello, boys, I missed you! I got into dozens of fish. The pipsqueak factor was very low, with this bass being typical of the evening’s take.

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Last night was textbook: increased activity once the sun went behind the mountains, a feeding spike from 7:30pm-8:30pm, then shutdown at dark. Smallies will move into shallows as dusk approaches, and that includes some of the bigger fish. This guy was patrolling in about a foot of frog water. He clobbered the bug as soon as it landed. I can always tell it’s a good fish when my forearm starts to burn mid fight. Lousy photo, but this slob measured in the low teens and was the best bass of the outing.

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Housy Smallmouth Report: White Nights

I fished the Hous last night from 6pm-9pm. Things began slowly. The water was up (300cfs and lightly stained) and I’m not sure if that meant the fish were a little more spread out or just hanging on the bottom. I covered some prime runs, long since out of the sun, and only found a few dinks willing to eat. Even once the sun was well below the hills, there was very little surface action, and even fewer fish willing to jump on a surface/film bug. At 7pm I saw two white flies in the space of five minutes. Perhaps the start of something good?

I kept thinking that the pool would light up around 7:30pm. 8:00pm passed and still nothing, nada, bupkis. Then, the first rise ring appeared. I fished a size 8 Convertible on the surface with a size 12 Partridge and White dropped off the bend. The bass liked both flies: dead drifted, swung/waked, and very slowly retrieved. By 8:30 the air was alive with bugs, the water surface cluttered with fluttering white masses (as a fine contrast, there was also a good showing of black caddis, size 16.) I took my last fish at 8:45, and shot the video from the previous post on the wade out.

Some notes: the bass were keyed solely on the hatch. I could coax no interest in a surface bug or streamer. Also, the mosquitoes were fierce once my cigar went out. Bring bug spray or an extra stick. With warming and dropping water levels, I would expect tonight’s action to be excellent.

Best bass of the night, just over a foot long. He took the soft hackle as I performed a slow hand-twist retrieve in some frog water. A really good battle from this fish — he sounded after hookset, bulled and raced, and I didn’t see him until he reached the net.

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