Luckily this years spring season in the Northeast has yielded good water flows and plenty of hatching insects. So what do you do when over the next few months the trout fishing gets slow and the water levels begin to drop? Trout become harder to find, hatches begin to slow down and in turn so does the fishing. I have always been a proponent of catching other species on fly rods. As you have probably heard, you can fly fish for many other species of fish such as pike, tiger muskie, carp and of course bass. I have often praised the Central New York area for being blessed with some of the most diverse fishing, not only in the east, but also in the entire country. Nearly 20 miles from everyone's doorstep is at least 3 other species of fish catchable on a fly rod, why not take advantage of this fishing opportunity.
My topic of this article is fly fishing for bass, both smallmouth and largemouth. I have often guided on such waters that have trout and smallmouth. My client will be casting to shore or to structure when suddenly the rod doubles over as a wake of destruction engulfs their fly. Usually the fish gives a fight worthy of praise. I enjoy seeing their face as they express an emotion of distress sprinkled with excitement. "Wow this baby is huge, it's a hog, man this has to be the biggest trout in the water." "It's a smallmouth" I usually will reply. Trout simply do not strike a fly like this. It just is not in a trout's nature to hit a food item similar to the way a lion attacks a gazelle on the Serengeti. Yes trout and bass are both opportunistic feeders, however trout do not have a mouth designed to inhale a mouse, a 6-inch minnow or a frog. Do they still eat these things? Yes of course they do. In fact I have seen trout eat moles, and even mice. The point I am trying to make however is, trout are not built to attack prey the way bass are. Trout are slender, like a missile. Bass are rugged and strong like a Mack truck, with a huge air intake and a stomach like the rear end of that same vehicle. So later in the evening when I am sitting down with my client for dinner, it never fails that the topic of that smallmouth bass comes up more than once. The trout were great, but the element of surprise associated with a bass is worth witnessing.
"But I like to fish streams." Well, bass hold in streams just like trout, in fact you can even find pike holding in the same places trout do. You the angler have expanded you horizons to fly fish for trout with streamers and nymphs when dry flies don't work so well. Why not take those skills and expand them even further to tackle a new species of fish. You already know haw to read water and change flies. You remember the last time that trout attacked your streamer, well you did something right to make all that happen. Bass techniques are much easier, get the fly there, twitch it, strip it or rip it through the surface film, then watch what happens.
Fly selection: Smallmouth are opportunistic enough that they will take dry flies, in fact fly fishing guide Steve Bechard caught one the largest bass in Sagamore Lake on a #16 dry fly we have ever seen. This was while he was fly fishing for Brook trout. The flies of choice for any bass species however, are usually larger and influence a bigger bite. These flies would include dalberg divers, big muddler minnows, clouser minnows, wooly buggers, poppers, leech patterns and crayfish patterns. Size 8 or 10 would be on the small side, size 2 or 1/0 would be large.
Fly Rods: You can fly fish for bass on 4 or 5 weights, but you may have trouble casting those big flies. I would prefer a 6 to 7 weight fly rod with a floating and sinking line both in a weight forward taper. Set these up with a 7 1/2 to 9 foot leader tapered down to 10lb test.
Where to find Bass: Locally n the Adirondacks of New York, I can recommend a few different places for you to try. On the top of my list would be the barge canal. I would also recommend the Mohawk River, nine-mile creek and the Unidilla River. The Black River has an abundant smallmouth population, but they tend to be smaller.
If you are interested in targeting Smallmouth Bass with a fly rod, here are two book titles with great information.
Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass and Smallmouth Strategies for the Fly Rod.
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