Monday, June 25, 2012
Fishing the Lies - Fly fishing for smallmouth bass
Ever have one of those days that seems perfect? It's one of those days that stick with you for a few days. You know, an invigorating outing. It's been a while since I had one of those days. Sometimes, it seems that I'm pounding the water and having to work hard for those smallmouth bass. Well, even with water continually receding, it would seem that those smallies were enjoying warm water on a 100+ degree day.
I've been wading the same stretch of water for the past few months. It's usually every weekend that I hit this stream. So, I've been paying close attention to how this drought is affecting the stream and fish. I would say that we are probably on our third year of this drought. We had some spring flooding last year which helped to raise water levels for a few months. However, this stream level continually declines. Unless we see regular rainfall or record floods as last spring, I'm afraid that it's going to affect fishing. When the stream runs high, it enables fish to move from deeper holes into other areas of the stream which usually contain cover and structure.
Last year, the Clouser was my most productive fly. I fished a deep hole that you could classify as a "run" - a very deep and log "run". At the end of this deep spot, a fallen tree rested in front of some swift riffles. Bass hung out along this tree and throughout this area. They were easily taken on Clousers and popping bugs.
This year, I've had moderate success with that deep run. I've had to look elsewhere within this stream for smallmouth bass. Earlier in the spring, it was the riffles that I had the most success catching smallmouth bass by drifting wooly buggers, crawdads, foam flies and poppers. That "deep run" no longer has a good flow of water going through it. The riffles at the end trickle and the level of this pool has dropped. So, I've been hunting smallmouth. It's enabled me to practice quiet wading, sight fishing, gentle casting and helped me to think smarter. Most of all, I have developed patience by waiting those extra few seconds for a fish to take my fly.
With the continual heat and lack of rain, the stream is shrinking and the riffles are slowing and the pools are not as deep. Fish were moving between holes a few weeks ago. Now, as pools shrink and structure becomes crowded with other species, these smallmouth bass are hanging out in shallow riffles. Instead of hanging out in pools, they are moving back and forth within the riffles and occasionally going back to the pools.
This year, I've been working within the water column and pools and riffles or wherever else for bass. At this point, I've been working the lies. Since the water level has dropped, the wider parts of the stream have shrunken and developed into riffles. Since the smallmouth bass have been hanging out mainly in the riffles, obviously, I've had to work the "lies" - the spots or areas in which the bass are sitting or congregating as they wait for something to drift near them. Usually, folks think of trout lies but I do think that smallmouth and trout share some of the same characteristics.
Yesterday, I caught smallmouth on the edges of the stream as they used weeds for cover. The bass were also sitting behind large rocks and lying in wait at the ends of riffles. I would say that a delicate presentation of the fly was necessary at times but as the frogs began to croak and the crickets began to chirp, the smallmouth bass began to slam my Clouser minnow - even as it made a kerplunk into the water or made a "ploop" - due to my lousy casting from the shoals at that point.
I had to fish the lies because the bass didn't have very much structure and they weren't swimming in a deep pool. I had to wade soflty and cast deftly to these frustrating buggers. I say frustrating but it was the little bass that were furious fighters as they fought off the bream and sunfish to slam my fly over and over. Of course, it was the larger bass I was hunting. I cast along some weeds and into some swift riffles about a foot deep. A smallmouth hammered my Clouser almost immediately and took off upstream. As I fought this fiesty bass, it kept trying to take me into the weeds. I pulled him out several times. Eventually, the line broke. A great fight on a tightly wound 4 wgt. rod. A few fish later, I cast a Boogle Bug about 15 yards and as it hit the water, something slammed it and actually pulled me into the water. It ran upstream and I could not bring it back down and the knot came undone from the fly.
Yesterday, I landed a lot of bass. Most were small but I caught some nice ones too. I finally landed a smallmouth in a length of stream in which I always fished but never caught them. And before I left, I caught another smallie in a pool in which I had always seen bass but could never pull one out.
I got my phone wet and some of the pictures saved and some weren't - mostly from after it become wet, lol. The past few years of fishing have been very successful for me. I would say that since probably 2007 . . . I've done so much wading on these Ozark streams and tried so many techniques and flies. It's taken me since about 1998 when I first moved here to find great success in fishing for smallmouth. I worked hard at it. At times, I almsot quit fly fishing. In my heart, I knew I was good and probably could be successful. But I found that not all streams are the same. Not all lakes and ponds are the same. And quite possibly, not all fisherman are the same either.