Q: Is it too early to start fishing for Smallmouth Bass?
A: Ah, Smallmouth Bass. I would say that they are my favorite quarry with a fly rod, except for the fact that I am a man of many vices and, when it comes to fish, tend to love the one I’m with.
The question posed to me this month was “Is it too early to start fishing for Smallmouth Bass?” I suppose there are two different ways to answer this question. The first being that metaphysical and sometimes pretentious way that we as fly fishermen can tend to lean, and say something to the effect of “Its never to early or late to fish for anything, including Smallmouth Bass.” While I do tend to subscribe to this school of thought I think a more to the point response is in order here. The old timers where I live (about 5 minutes from a small mouth river) have always said that its time to fish for Smallmouth when the leaves on the dogwood trees are as big as a squirrel’s ear. It should be noted that the Smallmouth river nearest me has trails along it that are lined with dogwood trees and the dogwood trees are very often full of squirrels. I guess someone eventually noticed the correlation. This has always been a fairly reliable method for me on this particular piece of water but you and I may not, and most likely are not fishing the same river.
A quick Google search will reveal that most Smallmouth Bass tend to begin spawning and feeding heavily in the spring when water temperatures reach 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. With the warm temperatures that we have had early this spring I am sure that some of the lower elevation small mouth rivers have now warmed to that point but not in a consistent manner. This past week saw air temperatures in 90’s during the day but night time temps are still about normal. If you don’t have a thermometer for taking a reading of water temperatures, or don’t live close enough to drive down to the river every day, a fairly reliable method can be to take the daytime highs, and night time lows over several days and average them out, this will usually give a fairly accurate water temperature. This coming week we are supposed to see a cooler front moving in and more normal temperatures for this time of year, which is going to cool the water considerably and probably reduce small mouth activity, the bite, and the chances of hooking into a bronze back. Of course I’m not saying you can’t catch a Smallmouth this coming week, but you are going to work for it.
There is also another factor to consider and that’s water level. It’s been a wet spring and the small mouth rivers are flowing fairly heavy right now compared to what they will be later this summer. If I were fishing with the fly for smallies this coming week I would be fishing deeper and slower and intensely working small parcels of water rather than the run and gun, long cast, make a lot of noise style I use for lower and warmer water.
In the end I probably won’t be fishing for small mouth this coming week. The trout are biting great, farm ponds are getting warm in the late afternoon, and the water levels are a little high and cold for me on my local small mouth river. So for me, at the time of this writing, it is still a little too early for my liking. However, the good news is, we are very close to the small mouth season. If nothing funny happens with the weather, the next to last or last week in April should be just about starting time, and a good time to catch them in the pre-spawn. Speaking with one of my fishing buddies, and the man that taught me to fly fish, the other night he mentioned that the last couple of weeks in April during pre-spawn have been when he has caught some of his best fish. This man has forgotten more about fish and fishing than I will ever know and I take his word as the gospel when it comes to either of them. So to recap; in a week or two, fish deep and slow with big streamers and craw-fish patterns and try and hook a hawg. Expect size instead of numbers, be persistent, and fish small parcels of water with intent making sure you have covered every possible piece. Of course just because this coming week is still a little too early for me, doesn’t mean its too early for you, so get out there, wet a line, get a bite and then swing by the Saluda shop and tell me all about it. I’ll see you out there toward the end of April. Take Care and Good Luck, Heath Cartee
p.s. Writing this got me really thinking about the tug of a Smallmouth on a 6wt rod, yep that’s right… Ill probably be out on the smallie water first chance I get next week despite everything I just said. Oh well, it’s that “maybe” that puts us on the water most days anyway.
Heath Cartee ~ CWO Professional Fishing Guide