Need Some Help Catching Smallmouth
I?ve got a fabulous little stream in my backyard with an incredible diversity of fish species. I?ve caught suckers, chubs, bluegill and redbreast, black crappie, large- and smallmouth bass, channel catfish and bullheads, and rock bass. The stream is between 20 and 40 feet wide with a low gradient. Most of the headwaters are in farm country, with lots of cows in the water, and the water turns opaque orange after anything more than a light rain. The bottom is mostly sand and clay, but there are rocky areas, with house-sized granite boulders guarding deep pools and basketball-sized granite chunks in the riffle areas. There is also a lot of beaver activity, with many piles of sticks and twigs in and near the water. There are no aquatic weeds in the water, and only a small amount of bottom algae during parts of the year. Although this is where I fish most often, I also visit other similar streams in the area, mostly streams that flow through city parks.
My fly-fishing career is only about two years old, with most of my first year learning how to cast, and most of my second out of the state on a work assignment. Arriving back home in mid-summer of this year, I expected to be catching smallmouth like a pro on my 6-weight rod, with many different presentations and techniques I have been studying and practicing. Unfortunately, my hopes did not come true, and I?ve still only caught a handful of smallmouth bass on a fly rod. To make matters worse, on days when I want to catch fish, I?ll take my spinning gear and catch 3 or 4 bass in an hour on an eighth oz. jig and grub combo. My track record for sunfish is only slightly better. The water is cooling down for the season, and that has historically meant that the fish are not available with any technique (although I do still try from time to time in the winter), so I have some time to figure things out and be ready for next year.
Here are my jumbled thoughts on what some of my problems could be. I know I don?t move around as much with my fly rod because pulling in all that line to walk through the woods to a new spot, just to pull it back off the reel again is a pain. Many of the pools are too deep to wade, so most of my fishing is from the bank. Because the water is over 4 feet deep in many places, I don?t have a good way to get my fly to the bottom. I don?t like casting large and heavy flies, even with my 6-weight; I prefer size 8 and 10 poppers, size 10 or smaller nymphs, and size 6 or smaller streamers. The larger stuff just seems like a sloppy substitute for spinning gear. Retrieving and then re-roll casting (no backcast with all the brush around) is also a pain, so I prefer to fish close by, and mostly use dead-drift or swinging retrieves. In contrast, my spinning gear is always being retrieved actively. Repeated roll casts to work line out of the rod tip can also spook many fish in the immediate area before I even make my first presentation cast. My dead-drift and swinging retrieves may actually be effective, but a lot of takes are missed and maybe not even noticed. When the water is clear, I often see fish follow, but don?t get a hookup. This may also be because my fly lures hit the fish with the hook point first, while my plastic grub feels like food in the fish?s mouth, so they hold on much longer.
I?m eager to hear any advice you have to help me increase my fly fishing catch rate.
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Surely someone has some tips. What do you do to catch smallmouth on a fly rod?
Fish the rocky-bottomed areas. Fish bigger flies on the bottom and slower. If that isn't what you enjoy doing stick with the panfish. I'm not trying to be too critical here but you've got to go with what the smallies want.
Patience brother. From the look of that stream and what you said, you need to work on your roll cast technique. There is no reason to do multiple roll casts to get your line out 20 to 30 feet (which is way more than enough for your stream). When you get to a spot you like pull out as much line as you think you need. Then wave your rod back and forth in front of you (sideways not overhead) so the line comes out a rod length away from you on your casting side. You should have a pile of line on the water at your side. Now simply execute a roll cast to your target. (Practice)
Secondly if you want to catch bass in the 4ft or deeper water you have to use weight. I would suggest clousers or crayfish patterns with the weight built in. If the current is not too strong they will get down quickly enough. Every thing is a matter of practice and patience. Execise both and you should be able to catch as many if not more fish on that water system than with spinning gear. Just don't give up fishing however you do it and have fun.
You live in a similar area to mine. Life is good....
For smallmouths, don't use little flies. They like a mouth-full. Try using a brown and orange Clouser Minnow, or Wooley Booger (tie with the hook-up). Just work them over the bottom in short hops, and hang on. If you have any Crawfish Smelly Jelly (or similar product), place a drop on the head of the fly every 20 or 30 casts. Black Woolley Boogers do a good job imitating a hellgramite, another favorite food of SM bass. If all else fails, tie on a# 4 purple Bunny Leech (with Clouser eyes).
For bluegills, nothing beats Richard Komar's Black Widow. Also, any Gorilla Glue Bugs, or Pom-Pom Spiders will trigger murderous strikes from these little scrappers. When the water gets below 65 degrees, they slow down a lot, and won't move very far to take a fly, and they will hit light, so use a strike indicator. Scale-down the fly size to small nymphs, and midges. Buzzers are especially good for bluegills in the winter. Same goes for suckers, darters, log perch, etc....
Thanks for the responses. Admittedly, I've made the problem a bit impossible, hoping to get some helpful responses. In truth, I have caught a few smallmouths on my fly rod with several different techniques, I'm just dissappointed that my spinning rod seems to outproduce on that particular species by about 5 to 1.
It's refreshing to hear that not everyone says, "just through a surface popper along the bank", which seems to be the conventional wisdom for river smallmouth on a fly rod. I've tried that; the results have not been spectacular. Of the three responses so far, all have been for subsurface flies fished near the bottom; maybe a consensus is forming.