Have you ever taken or gone to a buffet with a large guy…you know what I’m talking about, the guy that piles it high and deep, over and over…I must admit that on occasion I can consume mass quantities of calories myself while at a Chinese restaurant. Smallmouth are much the same, in fact your big fish of most species are just like your buddy who embarrasses you while at Golden Corral.
What a summer it has been for smallmouth fishing. Since mid-July I have been on several different streams; creeks and rivers that offer a smorgasbord of smallie fishing. My standards have risen as well, a few years back a 14 inch smallie was something of value, something I would certainly take a photo of. As it turns out my photo opportunity has now risen and I take photos, but of ones that are 15 or 16 inches or larger. During this same time frame, from mid-July until the present I have caught (and landed) 7 smallmouth over 16 inches. I hope this doesn’t come off as a ‘pat-on-the-back-event’ because what has happened is that I have better started to assess water, when the big fish are eating, where they are lurking and most importantly…I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of flies or patterns that I’d like to share with you.
Calories, this really comes down to a simple idea; big fish want big meals. A fish has to decide if a meal is worth the calorie intake. Truth is we as humans should probably be more like fish. Often I will ask myself is this meal or individual item worth the calories. I want to spend my calories on things that taste good. Big fish are much the opposite; they ask themselves is this meal worth pursuit? Should they expend calories to swim against the current (river fish) to chase or eat a small morsel? Usually the answer is no! So, first rule…if you are trying to catch a lunker then go with a bigger fly. Now before you scoff and run off, the fly or lure doesn’t have to be huge but for example an 18 inch trout isn’t going to rise for a size 20 caddis, the tradeoff isn’t worth the effort. The same can and should be applied to smallmouth. I now tie mostly with size 4 or larger hooks and build the fly to meet that hook standard. Now I know that what I am presenting is un-founded, at least I don’t have any hard evidence…but the past few years my count of big fish has gone up and I have yet to catch anything over 15 inches on a small pattern.
Water is the next assessment and as I have said I am a ‘water-watcher’. When I drive over or by streams I am quickly assessing their value for smallmouth. For me it is simple; a good smallie fishery has a look. Moving water flowing through or over gravel, rocks, etc…it isn’t stagnate. I would say color is important but depending on where you are in the country the water color or clarity can go from crystal clear (down south in Arkansas) to quite dark or tannic (up north in Wisconsin). Obviously water temp is crucial but mostly when you see a stream that is always moving or flowing…it will have temps conducive to smallmouth limitations.
Last two items and for sure the most important…in truth they go together; where big fish are lurking and what are they going to eat. There is a spot in one of my favorite streams where I have always caught, or had a chance to catch…big fish. The water narrows, picks up pace, moves into a channel and then drops off into a wash. If you sit there long enough you can watch debris float through this area, it swirls and then just rolls, almost stationary. Baitfish or food sources do exactly the same thing and time after time I have hit this spot and caught one, two, sometimes multiple fish lying in wait for a baitfish or crayfish to get carried through this blender. I haven’t caught small fish, nothing below 14 or 15 inches. This is a ‘big-fish-hangout’.
You also noticed that I alluded to baitfish or crayfish patterns. I know that there are hundreds of patterns that do and will take smallies…I just don’t waste my time on anything else but variations of one or the other. For me I have confidence in a silver shiner pattern or a brown, green, or yellow crayfish pattern. It might sound boring but catching good fish is anything but boring.
I actually go between the two patterns more often due to the fact of fishing what I call ‘skinny’ water. Skinny water is shallow and clear; when this happens I can’t ‘plop’ a crayfish into the stream without busting myself and thus usually go to a lighter, maybe even a size smaller…baitfish pattern. A few weeks back I caught a healthy 17 inch smallmouth in skinny water as I was making long casts with a size 4 silver streamer. The fly had no weight; my cast were across into pools and I would allow the fly to dead drift, float, or just trundle along. The fish couldn’t stand it and it was much like fishing top water as the explosions were epic.
If you want to catch lots of fish, then go for it. Certainly nothing wrong with that. If however you want to start chasing the trophies that are out there…then give thought to some of the items we have talked about today. Oh, and remember to take a camera along because as I tell my buddy Frank, “No picture-no fish”. Smallmouth season is and can be year round so what more could a guy ask for…fishing for big fish in beautiful country; sounds like a recipe for Enjoying the Great Outdoors.