“When rigging for streamers, keep this little saying in mind: The faster the fly line sinks, the shorter the leader.”
Patterns that move water, such as those that have deer-hair heads, can be very effective due to the fact that the smallmouth bass’s lateral line is extremely sensitive. Regardless of the water conditions, vary your rate of retrieve. Streamers stripped at a consistent length and frequency often go unnoticed.
If you are a dedicated smallmouth bass fisherman and prefer streamers, you need floating, intermediate, and 150-grain and 200-grain sinking-tip fly lines. The floating line is best for skinny water, where you want the streamer close to the surface. If you’re fishing shallow water (less than two feet), but want your presentation on or near the bottom, use an intermediate sinking line, which allows you to present flies below the surface but without too much chance of snagging.
HOOK: Daiichi black Aberdeen, sizes 2 through 6.
THREAD: UTC 140, dark brown.
TAIL: Five to 10 strands of round Living Rubber, brown and orange.
BODY: Brown chenille.
WING AND THROAT: Brown arctic fox.
HEAD: Brown Fish Skull.
If the water is two to four feet deep, a 150-grain sinking-tip line will carry your flies down to where the fish are and allow you to vary your retrieve rates (more on that later). A 200-grain sinking tip is extremely valuable for deeper-water or in moderate to heavy current when you need to get the fly down quickly.
When rigging for streamers, keep this little saying in mind: The faster the fly line sinks, the shorter the leader needs to be. For a floating line, use a leader that’s six to eight feet long. For an intermediate line, use a leader of four to six feet. A two- to three-foot leader suffices for 150- and 200- grain lines. Simply attach a piece of 0X to 2X fluorocarbon to the end of the fly line, tie on an appropriate streamer, and begin fishing.
While these are good guidelines, your preferred rate of retrieve may alter your choice of line. If you are fishing shallow water and want to strip line rapidly, you might want to use the 200-grain line, which will keep the fly down in the water column even with a fast rate of retrieve.
Conversely, if a slower retrieve seems most effective, go with a 150-grain line even if the water is deep. A slow retrieve combined with a 200-grain line will often cause your flies to get hung up on the bottom. As a side note, it is imperative to experiment with retrieve rates when smallmouth fishing. Quite often the fish will prefer one speed over another.
COHEN’S DEER HAIR DIVER
HOOK: Mustad C52S, size 2/0.
WEED GUARD: 30-pound hard mono.
TAIL: Splayed Splayed saddle hackle, six on each side of the hook, and hackle, six on each side of the hook, and Flashabou.
BODY: Stacked deer belly hair dyed chartreuse, yellow, orange, and red, and trimmed to shape. Coat the top collar and the bottom of the fly with Clear Cure Goo–Thin.
LEGS: Rubber legs, barred orange and black.
EYES: Clear Cure Goo eyes, 6-millimeter.
The best topwater fly fishing for smallies p generally occurs during the heat of the summer. When the water temperatures are in the 80s, the topwater bite heats up in earnest. It is extremely visual and the takes can be savage at times—I have seen smallmouth explode on a popper and throw it two feet out of the water.
Surface techniques generally work best on sections of river where the water is flat and there is little change of depth. Topwater fishing also works excellent in clear water around submerged structure, such as rocks, trees, and submerged weed beds. Smallmouth bass will often cruise these areas, looking for unsuspecting prey. A popper, slider, or diver cast against the bank or near the structure can yield aggressive takes.
Surface presentations require a floating line and a longer leader than you’d use for subsurface fishing. I build topwater leaders by using a triple clinch knot to add a three-foot piece of .021-inch monofilament to create a butt section. I create a midsection by employing a blood knot to add a two-foot piece of .012-inch monofilament, then terminate the leader by adding a three-foot piece of 1X fluorocarbon tippet with a blood knot. This short, stout leader will turn over the wind-resistant topwater bass bugs. If the fly is made of deer hair, add silicone-based floatant to keep the fly from sinking. This will also aid in helping the fly to move water as you strip it in.
HOOK: TMC 911S, sizes 1/0 through 4.
THREAD: Danville, white 6/0.
TAIL: Bucktail and Flashabou.
BODY: 2-millimeter Fly Foam and adhesive holographic foil.
ADHESIVE: Balsa USA Gold CA, thick.
EYES: Stick-on eyes.
When fishing surface flies it is important to exercise patience, especially when the fly lands. It is extremely important not to move the fly when it first hits the water. Keep in mind that all fish, not just smallmouth bass, use their lateral line and feel the fly hitting the water. Oftentimes the bass will ambush a fly where it lands. If you start your retrieve too soon, you will notice that the bass will explode where the popper was and not where it is. In addition to the initial pause, it is important to make the same pause every time you make a strip. Over 90 percent of the takes will come when the popper is sitting on the surface of the water motionless. This imitates an easy prey for the bass, and they will often pounce on it. The strips that you make should be one foot in length; however, be aggressive when stripping the fly in. You want the fly to cause commotion on the surface. Make no more than seven or eight strips. If a fish does not take the fly, recast it in a different area. It is very unusual for a smallmouth to take a topwater fly that is cast in the same area twice.
Smallmouth bass provide great action on a fly rod, and fishing for them is not nearly so nuanced as fishing for trout. There’s a good chance some smallies are swimming near you. Even if you’re a novice, some notion of how to fish for them from top to bottom will give you game plan for nearly each situation you will encounter on the river.
Aaron Jasper is a first-grade teacher in Paterson, New Jersey. The only thing that he enjoys more than fly fishing is watching his first-graders grow and learn.