A little light reading –or photo perusing — on Labor Day weekend. A smallmouth bass bug fly tying binge is good for the soul.
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.)
More photo shooting yesterday afternoon, then fishing from 6pm-9pm. Visited two honey holes in the TMA. The first was the bomb — it’s footprint is probably smaller than the size of the average house — but when it’s on, it’s on. It’s got subsurface structure, current, and frog water. Good for six bass, one the evening’s best, about two pounds, on the TeQueely. The second was a bit of a drag, with far less action and none of the larger fish I expected. The bass didn’t start showing themselves until well after 8pm, and then it was mostly smaller fish. I’m learning that with these higher than usual midsummer flows that the bass are far more spread out than usual. Still, I caught countless smallies on subsurface and topwater streamers, wet flies, and dries.
As I walked out, I was inundated by white flies. The bass may like to eat them, but I can tell you from unfortunate experience that they don’t taste very good.
Head shot of a slab smallie. A forearm burner, this one.
Once they get over a foot long, you’ve got a battle on your hands, especially in flows near 500cfs. Handsome fish.
Tied for a client, this neat little collection will drive smallmouth bass (and trout) out of their minds. We have the subtle (size 12 August White soft hackles), the traditional (size 12 Black Magics, tied as a 14-16), the horrible (size 4 TeQueelys), and the noisy (Gartside Gurglers, size 2 and 4).
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.
I spent some time at the bench last week on two dramatically different smallmouth patterns, the TeQueely and the Home Invader. Neither of them are the kind of streamer that I’d typically fish. The TeQueely is, in a word, horrible. What a mashup of flash and garbage! But smallies love it, so I’m more than willing to suspend my principles in the interest of cartwheeling bronze. You’ll find it on several “best streamers for smallmouth bass” lists.
At first glance, Doug McKnight’s Home Invader is far too opaque for my tastes. And I’m no big fan of dumbbell eyes. Again, allow me to move past those objections and point out what there is to love about the Home Invader, namely marabou, fox fur, and hackle tips. And this fly knows exactly what it wants to be: a big meal for a hungry or uber-aggressive fish. You can read more about the Home Invader and find tying instructions here. Tying instructions for the TeQueely are listed below.
So ugly, they’re beautiful. The TeQueelys are tied on a size 4, the Home Invaders on a size 2 TMC 1710 (1x strong, 2x long). The Home Invader second from bottom is an all marabou variant. All flies pictured are at least 4″ long.