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.
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…
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.
Last summer was challenging time to fish for smallmouth: we had the double whammy of heat and severe drought. In “Low & Slow: Summer River Smallmouth,” I talk about some of the strategies, tactics, and flies I used to find success in those truly tough conditions. You can read the article in the current (July 2021) New England issue of The Fisherman magazine.
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.
I’m excited to announce the first Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom of 2021: tomorrow, January 5, 8pm. This is a free event. I want to talk about some of the lessons I learned and re-learned last year, and how you can use that information to catch more fish. I’ve got some cool video to share, so you don’t want to miss this one. Feel free to share with your friends or on social media. See you Tuesday night!
If you’re already on my Zoom email list from last year, you know the drill. I’ll send out the Zoom link tomorrow. If you’re new to currentseams and want to get on the Zoom email list, please send me a request at email@example.com.
Do you know what your streamer is doing? I mean, do you really know how deep it is, how fast it’s sinking, how fast (or slow) it’s moving, and in which direction(s)? I think many anglers don’t. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into more than once, but there’s a clear way out of it.
Many years ago I tied up a streamer called the Hi-Liter. Part of its raison d’être was to be easily seen (its colors are hot pink and chartreuse) not just by the fish, but by me. I used the Hi-Liter to get a better visual handle on where the streamer actually was. A few years later I was interviewing George Daniel, and I was pleased to discover that he was doing the same thing. I’ll let George pick up the story:
“Take your favorite streamer, tie it in a bright, obnoxious color and fish it. You’ll be amazed to see what level and direction your fly is moving. You’ll learn a lot by changing the leader length, retrieve, and type of fly line — and that will allow you to really dial in your presentations.”
I spent a good chunk of time yesterday on the Housatonic, perched above the water on a rock, doing just that. The water was low and exceptionally clear, with none of the normal tea tinge that river usually displays. Not only did I get to observe and experiment with presentation, I also got to witness how smallmouth attack a streamer.
I used a white tungsten cone head Woolly Bugger for my experiments. The closing and attack speed of smallmouth is astonishing. One moment, your streamer is in isolation. In the blink of an eye, a shadow materializes at lightning speed out of nowhere. Smallmouth are classic ambush predators, attacking from below, behind, from an oblique blind side — or any combination thereof. You cannot strip a fly faster than they can swim, although they do not always want to chase and eat. I had several tremendous hits after I performed a combination of rapid long strips, then let the streamer begin to settle. WHACK! Where you cast is also important, as I had a good half dozen takes moments after the streamer hit the water.
I’ve been doing some reading on low water smallmouth and trout tactics — ’tis the season — and I came across a fly family known as wigglies. In case you’re a newbie like me, they’re basically long foam-bodied spiders on steroids. They go by all kinds of names (Ol’ Mr. Wiggly, Mr. Wigglesworth, etc.). They’re not poppers; rather, they’re meant to be strategically cast and drifted. You let the bug sit on the film, and the current (and all those rubber legs!) do the work. If you move the bug, it’s only to move its legs — not the body. Work that one out.
I have to confess that at heart I’m a natural materials purist. But I’m also not above trying new things. And I embrace the concept of there being many, many ways. So while I basically dislike rubber legs, I see the parallel here with soft hackles.
I’m also obsessed with learning. This has been a difficult summer for smallmouth — the painfully low flows aren’t helping — and being able to conduct experiments in a laboratory known as a river is its own kind of wonderful. Yesterday the bass were indifferent to the Wiggly as a searching pattern. At dusk, when I cast to a rise ring, they bull-rushed the fly.
Speaking of experiments: anyone imagining a smaller, black Mr. Wiggly with a piece of yellow sighter material on top and a soft-hackle or nymph dropped behind it? Black cricket season is almost upon us…and the trout are hungry.
Ol’ Mr. Wiggly, size 2 and 4. You need some in your box.
Out favorite dysfunctional — or is that non-functional? — committee met this week to begin formulating its future plans for striped bass. In another insightful essay, Charles Witek asks the question, “How Do you Define Success?” Suffice to say, the ASMFC grades itself on an absurdly low curve.
So where’s that Gurgling Sand Eel pattern you asked for? On its way. No, really. I’m hoping by the weekend.
Also coming soon: the official 800 followers celebration. Get your comments ready!
Last but not least, it’s been a tough summer due to drought and heat, but I fish in cycles, and right now I’ve got smallmouth on the brain. Big time. Nonetheless, to the Farmington I go. Guiding today.
Warm, low water doesn’t bother him. He liked the look of a TeQueely.
I fished the Housy the other night from 6pm-8:30pm. Virgin waters for me, below the TMA: some pocket water that dumped into a long boulders-on-the-bottom run, shoulder deep in the middle ringed with frog water. Action: underwhelming. Hatches: underwhelming (mostly tan and black caddis). So it goes, but I did catch fish and I had the place all to myself.
I took the usual assortment of late afternoon dinks. Pre-hatch swung wets produced very little interest (not surprising given the weak evening rise) and all the action came on the Black Magic top dropper. The smallmouth bite window was torturously brief: 8:00pm-8:15pm, then shutdown. I had switched over to a grey and chartreuse Gurgler, and my best fish of the evening came on that fly. Toward dark I did get the largest bluegill I’ve ever landed, but that’s really not why I was there.
Nearly a foot long, this dude whacked the Gurgler upon landing, then hunted it down about ten feet across a current seam. Almost put a burn in my rod hand forearm.