Best of 2020 #7: Silver Linings Smallmouth

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.

Housatonic Smallmouth Recap: lots of walking, low, slow, and not very big

You may have noticed this year that there weren’t many Housatonic River smallmouth reports on these pages. It wasn’t for a lack of effort from your humble scribe. I believe I fished more days this summer for smallmouth than I have since I started seriously pursuing them (in 2016). So why did I go dark? Part of it was people — and anglers — everywhere. And anywhere. I ran into anglers in places where I’ve never seen a soul. Finding a parking spot was, at times, impossible. Part of it was the drought, which made for challenging conditions. And part of it was that in terms of size and especially numbers, this was by far the worst year I’ve had fishing smallmouth on that river.

One late July night illustrates this last point. I fished a favorite mark that was, to my delight, devoid of other anglers. I hit the White Fly hatch perfectly — in fact, I’d rate this as one of the top three blizzards I’ve ever experienced. The surface should have been boiling with frantic rises — dozens per second. Instead, I could easily pick out an occasional lonesome rise ring here and there. The lack of bass on the bugs was both extraordinary and discouraging. What’s worse, what was rising was small. Not a bruiser in the bunch.

At least the dragonflies had a good meal.

Since the fishing was awful, and — this is important — every year is different — I decided that I would embrace different. So I explored. I fished new water. I tried new flies (like Wigglies and Barr’s Meat Whistle). And I tried new methods (like indicator nymphing and dead drifting crayfish patterns along the bottom). These efforts will pay off handsomely in the future. So, 2020 wasn’t the year we wanted it to be. But we can take comfort in the hope and promise of 2021.

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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Secrets to Catching Bigger Smallmouth on the Housatonic

It’s the time of year when this question begins to flood my mailbox: “I’m catching a ton of little smallmouth bass. Where do I go on the Housatonic to find the bigger fish?”

There’s no single, simple answer. And it’s not just a matter of where. It’s also when. And how. Here are a few tips to help you catch the big one.

It’s 8:15pm. Do you know where your trophy Housy smallie is? My money’s on “at the business end of a Countermeasure.”

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– Fish near deep(er) water access. Big smallmouth like the cover and security that deep water provides. Picture them hanging out on the bottom of a deep hole during peak daylight. They didn’t get to be big by accident.
– Your chances of catching a big smallmouth bass increase exponentially as the day transitions into night. There will come a point where the bite will shut down, which is usually about the time you can no longer see your fly.
– Target shallows in low light, particularly shallows near deep water. Like many predators, big bass will move onto flats as twilight builds. They’re feeding with confidence under the cover of darkness. Last week as I was walking out of the river at 8:45pm, I nearly stepped on a monster smallie that was cruising in about a foot of water.
– Take the road less traveled. There are often rich rewards awaiting those willing to walk. If you were a big smallmouth, where would you be? Finding the answer to that question is half the fun.
– Cull the pipsqueaks with bigger flies. Four inches is a good cutoff point. Some of the little guys may want to fight outside their weight class, but often can’t get the hook in their mouth.
– Land your fly with a splat! For example, when I’m fishing a Countermeasure, I like to give it a noisy landing on soft water. Big bass will frequently crash the fly moments after it hits.
– This goes without saying: put in your time. The more you fish, the more chances you’ll have to hook up with a big one.

Dusk can be a magic time, but the big fish bite window is sometimes frustratingly short. 

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Late Housy Report: Slow, then Slobs

Another quick smallmouth mission Thursday night. From 5:30-7:00pm, I explored some new water near some old familiar water. It was, in a word, slow. We’re taking glacial. Maybe that’s a good segue into the weather angle — a cold front came through the night before, and in my experience that’s usually bad for bassing, striped or smallmouth. Pricked a few but only one to hand and he was small.

I had every intention of going home, but I got sucked into the dolomieu vortex and I stopped at a favorite hole. So much for the cold front theory: three bass in the 10″ class on the first four casts. Consistent action from 7:30-8:45pm, then shutdown, same as the other night. The best part was a few some-teen inch slobs in the mix, all on the Countermeasure at dusk. All of the bigger fish blitzed the fly moments after it hit the water.

Someteen inches of bronze fury. A forearm burner, this one. Savage hit — he actually took some line off the reel at hookset — and a bulldogging fight. Countermeasure. Dusk. Good stuff.

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Housy Smallmouth Report: And so it begins

A quick zip-in, zip-out smallie mission the other night to get reacquainted with an old friend. Or is that old friends, with an emphasis on the plural? Regardless of whether the subject is the river (242cfs, 76 degrees, clear) or the smallmouth (many of them, mostly in the 8″-12″ class with a couple at a foot-plus), a splendid time was had. Fished from 7:30-9pm, down Kent way. The bass liked the Gurgler, TeQueely, and of course the Countermeasure. Best action was from 8pm-8:30pm — as night fell, the bigger fish action tapered off and the smaller guys came out to sip bugs in earnest.

I test drove a new line on my 5-weight 10′ Hardy Marksman2 — or should I say a new weight line. It’s same line I’ve been using for several seasons, the Scientific Anglers Mastery Anadro. I like its long WF taper for mending. I had been using the 7 weight (225 grains) but wasn’t thrilled with it on that rod for throwing bigger flies longer distances. So I upped it to the 8-weight (260 grains). Casting was easier, but it made the rod feel a little noodly. I’ll give it another shot, but perhaps I need to rethink in terms of a bigger rod. More on this as it develops.

Why I went fishing. A pretty fair Housy smallie that crushed a grey and chartreuse Gurgler a few strips after it splashed down. After a nice aerial display by the bass (that bastard judge from East Germany only scored it a 5.4) we had this Kodak — er, GoPro — moment.

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Housy Trout & Smallies in the March/April issue of Eastern Fly Fishing

Hot off the presses: “Upper Housatonic River, CT — The Smallmouth River That Thinks It’s A Trout Stream.” You can read it in the March/April issue of Eastern Fly Fishing. You’ll find a little river history, a little reconnoiter, some trout and smallie basics, and a couple of my favorite Housy fly patterns. Oh. It’s also a pretty good read (said the author modestly). I believe you can get a copy at matchthehatch.com.

Where we set out to prove the O.W. Holmes quote, “There’s no tonic like the Housatonic.”

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Best of 2018 #10: Topwater smallmouth before the floods

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…

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A handsome fish, this one. I got into more larger smallies this year than ever before.

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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. 

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Housy Smallmouth Report 8/1/18: No snow day

A short outing last night, from 7pm-9pm, below the TMA. Once again, I had the river all to myself — I haven’t seen another angler in the last week! It was pouring when I left the Jeep, but it was over by the time I was on the water. Steamy, tropical, just disgusting air. The river was 440cfs, still a bit over where I’d like it, but I’d rather have this than 100. The fishing was OK — that is, I caught another bazillion fish, only this time there were a few more pipsqueaks in the mix. Sure, there were a bunch in the 10-12″ class, but the big one eluded me on this night. Favorite moment: stripping a TeQueely, bang!, and then both fly (now out of mouth) and bass go aerial.

Mysteries as yet unsolved (but I have my theories): Why such lousy action on wets? (water height, and the fish are feeding deeper than surface/film). Why the lack of visible surface action? (see above). After the previous night’s blizzard, why only a few white flies? (weather, different location, nature of the beast).

On the way home, I called Ken (Abrames) and we had a good chat about smallies, in particular fly patterns. I will be heading to the vise shortly to hammer out some of our ideas.

I call these fish “scrappers.” They’re just short of being forearm burners, but loads of fun and completely unwilling to come to the net quietly. (C&R fans, note the water still dripping from my hands.)

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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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