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Part One Hundred-eight

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Smallmouth Magic

By John Freund

Tim cut the motor on the Evinrude. We were now in perfect position to float a productive section of the Youghiogheny River in southwestern Pennsylvania. He chose a fly rod (which at the time I considered a novelty) with a chartreuse cork slider fly on the end. I would get down to the real work with my assortment of crankbaits. My ever present confidence soon ebbed. By the end of that rocky stretch the score was eight to one, in favor of the flyrod. That lesson learned two decades ago was my introduction to river smallmouth flyfishing. Since that time, thanks to a very healthy population of smallmouth in the "Yough" and considerable time spent pursuing them, I have developed four very effective patterns.

It was apparent to me early on that very large smallmouth will hold in water that barely covers their back, right along the shoreline. When found in these areas, the fly rod finesse approach will usually prove to be the most productive. The reasons are twofold: 1)A featherlight entry into the water is necessary at times not to startle fish; and 2) Due to the fly offerings near weightlessness it can be kept in the fish's strike zone much longer than lures with spinning tackle.

I decided there were four major food forms that were necessary for me to properly imitate if I was going to be successful on my home waters. Terrestrial based insects, minnows, a flash "attractor" pattern and a hellgrammite/leech were the forms that I targeted.

Fish holding in scant inches of water (under overhanging bushes or trees) were usually preying on terrestial based insects. I knew this to be true from fishing with crankbaits. When the fish were in an aggressive mood a strike would many times occur as soon as the lure hit the surface of the water, even before it was given action. The fish were there expecting something to fall into the water. My grasshopper was designed to float a long time and provide maximum action with a minimum of forward movement. The offering is already in the strike zone so the use of only slight manipulations will keep it where it will do it's best. I should mention I prefer two types of surface bugs depending on the season. During the summer months, a hard-bodied chartreuse slider, preferably in size 2 is hard to beat. As summer recedes I prefer the deer hair grasshopper in olive and chartreuse. The deer hair on this pattern provides the"crush" that a smallie is accustomed to on these long-bodied insects.

Float trips on the river are a "run and gun affair" with no time for back-tracking. My attractor "flash" pattern was made to fish fast since most casts can't last longer than five to eight seconds without getting too far behind the canoe. The colors of chartreuse, silver, and a touch of red were incorporated into a neutrally buoyant body to entice active roaming fish and to keep snags to a minimum.

Minnow imitations should have eyes, don't you think? Most of the smallies I catch on minnow crankbaits are usually hooked on the front or middle treble hook. In my mind at least, I like to think the fish are using the eye as a bullseye for their interception. This is an area where traditional streamer patterns are often found lacking. The problem is with traditional ties there is no room for large eyes necessary to be effective. What is imitated in effect then is only the rear portion of the baitfish. Ringo is a streamlined imitation tied with synthetics and peacock herl with large eyes which has given many bass heartburn.

As you may have surmised by this point, I normally target shallow, active fish. When I want to put on a show though, I pull out Ugly Moe, my hellgrammite pattern (works as a leech also) Remember the real McCoy's saying----no brag, just fish (or something like that). The last time out with Ugly Moe I caught two twenty inch smallies. This pattern was designed to be fished deep with a fast stripping action that is very unnerving to outsized fish.

I have much more I would like to share with you but a mans gotta fish. ~ John Freund

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