Smallmouth bass, particularly for fish seventeen inches and above, are tough to beat as a freshwater fly fishing experience. The fish are mean and tough. They live in some of the most beautiful and unique venues of the Unites States and even beyond. They are greedy, and it’s no surprise to find all sorts of baitfish and crayfish in the mouth of the smallmouth you just brought to hand. They love to go airborne and bulldog you all at the same time, and you can catch huge amounts of these fish as well. However, when you want to go after huge smallmouth in rivers, you need to bring you’re A-game. In this podcast, Mike Schultz lays it all out for us and shares how he targets huge river smallmouth. See the notes below, including some of Mike’s videos.
KEY TAKEAWAYS: TROPHY RIVER SMALLMOUTH BASS FLY FISHING
- Know your river since many rivers in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan have smallmouth that tend not to migrate as much, but smallmouth bass in Minnesota and Wisconsin can migrate miles.
- In cases where smallmouth bass aren’t migrating as far, you really need to pay attention to the fish’s movement patterns within a stretch of river.
- Use “power fishing” as a way to cover water.
- Remember that smallies are inherently aggressive.
- Pausing the fly is very important for smallmouth bass, whether it’s with surface or subsurface flies.
SEASONS AND SMALLMOUTH BASS LOCATION IN RIVERS
- In early spring, think about the 95 and 5 rule: 95% of the fish are going to be in 5% of the water.
- Look for greater depth and a current that is at “smallmouth speed”: steady, even flow, perhaps near eddies or slower water.
- Look for optimal flows for a particular river and good water clarity.
- You need to look for depth, shade, rocks, wood, and other structure.
- Water height and clarity, and focus on structure.
- When the water is murky, cast to the structure with one to four strips, and then cast the fly back to the structure.
- In clear water when fish may follow but not commit, make sure to strip the second the fly hits the water, but also make sure that your flies are very good and have a wounded baitfish action built in.
- The fish move back to similar spring habitat, but they are greatly influenced by baitfish migrations. You need to really choose the right river at this time, and rivers that have shad and other migrations of baitfish should receive the bulk of your attention.
FLIES FOR SMALLMOUTH AND TIPS FOR FISHING THEM
BOTTOM OF THE RIVER
- Red Eyes Leech, S3 Sculpin, and Single Fly Cray.
- Tie with different weights.
- Keep them natural: blacks, tans, olives, browns (flash: gold, copper, and holographic olive).
- Use full sinking intermediate lines.
MIDDLE DEPTHS OF THE RIVER
- Keeled Feather Game Changer and Chicken Changer (can be fished deep too: extend the leader to 8 to 9 feet).
- A couple retrieve options for Game Changers: wounded erratic retrieve or burn ‘em and stop ‘em.
UPPER 1′ TO 3′ OF THE RIVER
- Swingin’ D (Great for working over snags since it will float to the surface). See video below.
- BoogleBug #4 and #6 (for lower water).
- Pearly White, Solar Flare (Chartreuse), Yella Fella (Yellow), Electric Damsel (Blue)
- Skitter Shad.
- Terrestrials for low clear water, normally in August to October.
- Fat Albert #4 (Tan, Yellow, and Pink)
- Umpqua’s Diving Frog (cut off the weed guard, coat belly with Loon UV finish, and coat with Fly-Agra).
- Know your river, and experiment with your retrieves. Sometimes, particularly in low water, they just want a small pop with a very long pause. Other times, you need to pop that fly away from them when they come up and don’t commit. Experiment with the pause.
- 9′ 7wt. is a great smallmouth bass fly rod.
- 9’ 7wt. Scott Radian
- 9’ 7wt Scott Tidal (more on a budget)
- Clutch React 250 (single piece rod)
- 8’ 4” 8wt Scott Meridian
- Not as important for smallmouth.
- Mike likes Hatch Finatics.
- Sage 2280
- Ross Evolution LT
- Scientific Anglers (SA) Sonar Clear Tip (Titan taper)
- RIO Outbound Short (full intermediate): these lines are front loaded, so you might need to buy a #6 for a #7 rod etc. Cast the line on your rod if you can.
- Advantages of the full intermediates:
- Direct line to the fish
- Great tapers and how they cast flies
- Stays clean
- SA Titan Taper (Powerful at relatively close distances)
- RIO Smallmouth Taper (Longer Casts but not quite as powerful)
- SA MPX (Nice casting with more finesse and not quite as much power)
- Handmade leader (30 lb) 2’ (25 lb) 2’ (16 lb) 2’ – 3’: this is for standard water conditions. He will drop this to about 3’ to 4’ in the summer where he’s casting to targets.
- He likes Hatch fluorocarbon (16, 12 and occasionally 10 for terrestrials) or you can pick up Seaguar InvizX.
- SA bass leader (He’ll cut off the first 18” and attach 16 lb or 12 lb fluorocarbon).
- Gamakatsu Worm Hook
- Partridge Attitude Extra and Attitude Streamer
- Tiemco 600SP
- Daiichi 2546 or Gamakatsu SL11-3H (Weighted flies)
LINKS AND RESOURCES FOR THE PODCAST
Schultz Outfitters: 734-544-1761
Mark Sedotti’s Kickin’ Chicken
Flymen Fish Spines
Tight Lines Fly Fishing Company
General Tackle’s Influence on Fly Fishing
Smallmouth bass on the fly gets in your blood if you like fish that eat. Smallmouth bass will hurl themselves into the air trying to smash your popper, or they will sip it down like a breath mint. Thirteen inch smallmouth will destroy your seven inch fly, and they eat at every level of the water column. Smallmouth are found throughout the United States, so chances are, you’ve got some smallies living in a river near you. Once you’ve hooked into a few of the larger versions of these fish, it will be tough to leave these fish alone. Mike has thousands of days on the water chasing these guys, so follow what he says, and you’ll have a really good chance of hooking a huge river smallmouth on the fly…landing it’s a different story.