Early Season Smallmouth
As one season ends another begins for the "dyed in wool" smallmouth fly fisherman. Early season can start when the month of March edges it way around on the calendar. Anglers need to look for warming temperatures of which affects the temperature of the water. A key temperature point in March is the 50's. Smallmouth bass begin to feed and prepare for their move to the spawning areas. Smallmouth will build a nest in a protected area some time in early April or May. There are documented cases of smallmouth bass on a nest during the months of June and early July, but the main reproduction takes place sometime in April or May.
I do not recommend fishing for any spawning smallmouth so our early season fishing will be through the month of March. Smallmouth bass have been effected by high pollution circumstances in the Susquehanna River and some of its tributaries and I feel the fishing during the spawning cycle could harm the number of survivors. The lower number of survivors could eventually eliminate the species. A catch and release policy during the Month of March is needed to protect as many of the adult spawning bass.
When and Where
Anglers will find that March can provide the largest smallmouth of the year along with non-stop action of large bass. Brian Shumaker and I a few March's ago caught and released over 40 smallmouth from one large section of slow moving water 20 feet of the bank. The largest were from 18 to 20 plus inches and the smallest were from 15 to 18 inches in length. You have got to understand that this is not a daily event when fishing in March. The big smallmouth are on the move upriver to locate their spawning areas. One week later while fishing this same location we caught a few small bass only.
March anglers must move to locations where eddies our located, these slow moving waters hold migrating smallmouth during their up stream travels. I found that the biggest smallmouth are the first to move upriver to find ideal habitat for their spawning activities. Anglers that know this are the first ones to fish in March. Areas that have large rocks with eddies or slow moving waters are also great locations to find a smallmouth. Some anglers locate smallmouth behind large fallen trees or submerged wood. Another good place is the foot of many islands with water depth of at least four feet or more. This time of the season is a hunting adventure, If you do not find smallmouth at a certain spot then move to another. How do you know if you are at a spot with smallmouth in it, usually the first few casts will tell you. If you catch a few and then nothing it is time to move.
Fly rod anglers will do best by using eight weight fly rods and full sinking type 3 or 4 fly lines. As far as leaders are concerned a 4 foot section of 10 pound test looped to the end of the sinking fly line is a good choice. This set up will allow your fly to be presented near the bottom in slow moving waters.
Flies need to be weighted in order to fish the last foot of water along the bottom. I prefer the Clouser Minnow in a size 2 approximately 3 to 5 inches long with 1/30 or the small size lead eye. Some days lots of flash at least an inch protruding out past the material at the rear of the fly work best. Standard deer tail Clouser's, Yellow over Chartreuse with gold flash work best in off colored waters.
For clear water conditions I found that the Hybrid Clouser in a silver shiner pattern works the best. I have caught them on Mad Tom, Sculpin and Lefty's Deceiver fly patterns also. The ticket with any pattern is getting them into the last foot of water along the bottom.
How to Fish the Flies
The best way to present the fly to the bottom hugging smallmouth is first to place your self at the upstream end of the eddie. Then cast the fly across or upstream and across and allow the fly to sink into the eddie's slow waters. Anglers should lower their rod tip to approximately 2 to 6 inches above the surface of the water before stripping the fly back. You can use two types of retrieves, for instance; one that has does not impart any action to the fly just the forward stripping motion. The other by using a speed up and stop stripping motion imparts a darting motion to the fly imitation portraying an escaping bait fish. In many instances the speed up and stop stripping technique works the best.
If by chance you get the chance to fish during this prim time of the early season you could be rewarded with the largest smallmouth of the year.
- Bob Clouser