[article and photography by Ted Fauceglia]
As an incurable match-the-hatch addict, I’ve spent the last 30-plus years photographing and tying patterns of every conceivable item on a trout’s menu. From minuscule midge larvae to field mice, I’ve photographed and attempted to imitate it all. This compulsion continues today, but in an effort to moderate it, I decided several years back to divert my strict adherence to coldwater natives and target warmwater fish—particularly river-dwelling smallmouth bass.
TF’s Craft Fur Fathead Minnow
HOOK: Mustad S71SNP-DT, size 4.
THREAD: Danville ultrafine monofilament.
UNDERBODY: Two layers of pearl Flashabou wrapped around the shank.
BODY: Medium olive craft fur over medium gray craft fur on top, and off-white craft fur on the bottom.
CHEEKS: Pink craft fur.
LATERAL LINE: Several strands of black Icelandic sheep hair and two strips of pearl Flashabou.
HEAD: Size 3 Fish-Skull Fish-Mask.
EYES: Ice Living Eyes.
It was an easy decision; I live within access to a moderately sized river that supports a thriving population of smallies. Additionally, I can still wade-fish and basically use the same tactics I’ve used for trout. The big difference is that smallies are simply not so selective as trout. Spin fishermen catch smallies with tube worms, spinnerbaits, wacky worms, and the like—speed, depth, and color seem to be the critical factors. When smallies are on the prowl, they can easily be fooled with most fly patterns: Woolly Buggers, Clouser Minnows, Sex Dungeons, and so on. Up until this year, those patterns and several of my own design that do not represent specific minnows or insects (save my crayfish patterns) have proved to be effective. But all of that changed this past May.
While at a favorite spot on an early Saturday morning, I watched a spin fisherman use minnows to take over two dozen smallies, including several over 16 inches long; all in the same section I’d fished earlier without a single hookup. With a big yellow floating minnow bucket roped to his waist, he continually rebaited his rig, after which he (thankfully) released each smallie. Finally, after grabbing several minnows and discarding them, he emptied his bucket, turned to his buddy, and said, “They won’t look at a shiner or a dace, and I’m out of Fatheads. That’s all they’ll take. I’m leaving.”
Fathead minnows are a common bait-bucket minnow found in rivers and streams throughout North America. Measuring up to three inches, they change color as they mature. Generally, they have olive backs that fade to gray-blue sides and light-colored bellies, and purplish-pink cheeks. That evening, I tied several fathead minnow patterns and returned to the same spot the following morning. As an experiment, I tried the same patterns I’d used the day before—and achieved the same results. Not a single fish would strike. Once I switched to a fathead pattern, the difference was incredible. I brought eight smallies to net within an hour and a half, including a chunky 17-incher. I’m not sure what it all proved, other than at that spot, during that week, matching the “fathead hatch” was definitely key.