Stream Tactics for Smallies

If you haven’t noticed…spring is in full bloom and frankly the window for some incredible small stream fishing is going on right now! Here in southern Indiana we are blessed with lots of water and quite a bit of small stream fishing; a little planning might just find you hooked up with a fine specimen.

In the past few weeks I have walked a lot of water and found that the fish are on the move as well. Smallmouth collect in the winter at deeper holes where they basically put their bellies on the bottom and hole up until the temperatures once again start to rise. This past winter was so mild that I caught fish, big fish and several of them that were eager and ready to take a well presented fly. As February moved into March and April the fish along with the temperatures started to rise, literally into more shallow portions of the streams. small mouth bass caught on a flyI found that the fish were still eager to take but weren’t spread out like they are in a summer pattern. Currently (end of May), the fish are spawning and most of the big fish I caught and or recognized from last year have returned to their normal holes. I spent about 45 minutes this past week casting several flies to a large smallie that on several occasions swam over….nosed my fly and then swam away like he didn’t like the menu? Very frustrating but at some point all fish, including the trophy fish (the smart ones) will put on the feed bag and make a mistake!

I would like to tell you that currently the fish are eating anything that is placed in front of them…and to a degree they are, the smaller fish will certainly pick up and mouth lots of different flies but the big guys are much more selective. Don’t forget that smallmouth bass are very slow growers. They live in cold, spring fed water and usually grow at about an inch a year…so that 16 inch chubby fish you just caught is the same age as your pimple faced teenage boy! Both the fish and teenagers can be very snobby and very selective…the trick is in perseverance.

The best thing you can do is have a selection of flies or lures with you. Now that is easy to say but on some days I never change my fly; I find the right recipe and stick with it…on other days I can change my fly up to ten times before I find a pattern that they are looking for. I have said this before but I can narrow things down locally to three distinct patterns; spiders or things with legs, crawdads or crayfish and baitfish patterns. Usually one of these three things will work for me….not always as occasionally I go out of the ‘flybox’ and try something odd that works, but usually you can start with one of these three patterns and find the magic key.

Many of our local streams are absolutely full of crayfish and it is foolish to even tie on another fly or lure. Let me share one trick that I have watch and learned over and over…look for suckers and carp in the streams and cast past and to one side or the other with a crayfish pattern. Skip or hop the fly away and downstream along the bottom and hold on. I can almost predict to 100% accuracy when I am going to get a take. The larger smallies will cruise just behind the so-called trash fish and key in on crayfish and even minnows as they escape the bumping and grinding of the suckers and carp.

The other thing that you need to do is to pay attention and look up stream for ‘fish activity’. I always keep an eye upstream for baitfish that are being chased by the ‘big bullies’ of the streams. I have recently started tying a fly called the deadhead minnow. It is a pattern tied by Casey Smartt and if interested you can Google his name and find a you-tube of him tying this pattern. The deadhead is a perfect example of a baitfish and can be tied to match the hatch; I have tied almost all of my patterns in silver or grey but have varied the size and shape of the imitation to better match what is going on within the stream. I have fished the deadhead with my 3 weight rod and a type 1 sinking line. By casting across pools and allowing the fly to drift and sink you will get many strikes…if at that point there is no action then I start to strip and ‘swim’ the fly through the pool trying to make it look like a fleeing or dying baitfish. Just last week I spotted a big smallie in a rather small pool and quietly casted down the length of the small pool while the fish was swimming the other way; I pulled the fly into his zone and then allowed the deadhead to rest on the bottom. The current bumped the fly backwards and that was the trigger that this big fish needed…he slammed the fly and the fight was on. A couple minutes later I had landed a nice 17 inch smallie; in fact you can look to my photo above to see how deeply this big guy slurped in the minnow imitation.

What I do know is that there is some great fishing right in our back yard. I hope you can find some time to take a walk and bend a few rods. Please remember to practice catch and release so that we can all enjoy these trophy lunkers for years to come as we all Enjoy the Great Outdoors.

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