Getting Started on Fly-Fishing for Smallmouth Bass

Getting Started on Fly-Fishing for Smallmouth Bass
If you're looking for expert tips on fly-fishing for smallmouth you're probably better off looking somewhere else.  But if you've never done it before, then read on, because today I'm writing about what you can expect for your first time out. 

Now, I can count on one hand the number of times I've gone fly-fishing for smallmouth, but I've enjoyed every minute of it.  There's something special about hooking a feisty smallie on a fly rod.  It really makes you appreciate the power these fish possess.

Carter B. with a fly-caught Okanagan smallmouth.

When you're used to fishing with gear and casting to docks and dragging baits along the bottom, trying to do it with a fly rod is a whole 'nother ball game.  Not only does it take a lot longer for your bait to get down to the bottom, but skipping under a dock is virtually impossible.  You also can't expect to cover a ton of water, and you have to pay extra close attention to your back-cast (especially when you have a partner in the boat).

That said, what you can do more than makes up for these shortcomings.  Smallmouth are absolute suckers for a well-placed leech pattern.  There's something about the sexy wiggle of marabou hair that drives them bonkers.  It's a simple fly to use, and a great place to start. 

Fish on!

As far as your rod goes, a 6 or 7 weight is the best match to the fighting ability and size of a smallmouth bass.  Anything lighter and you'll lose the backbone needed to wrestle a smallie out of the weeds, and anything heavier and it doesn't feel quite as sporting when you end up catching 'pounders' all day (You generally catch a smaller average size than when gear fishing, or at least I seem to).  

Make sure to bring two reels, one with floating line and another with sinking line.  Depending on the time of year and type of lake you're fishing you'll be spending more time fishing one or the other, but it's always a good idea to keep both on hand.  The sinking line is important if the fish are deep and not feeding aggressively, a moderate sink rate is a good idea for a starter line while this can be fine-tuned if you decide to get more serious about fly-fishing for smallies (there are slow, moderate, and fast-sinking lines).  A floating line is more fun to fish with in my experience, as you catch the aggressive fish feeding in the shallows and on drop-offs. 

I've had a lot of success fishing a bead-head leech around docks by letting it sink on a slack line, just like you'd fish a stickbait with a spinning rod.  There are many different types of flies and techniques.  If you have experience fly-fishing for trout, you will certainly find parallels in fly-fishing for smallies as smallmouth eat a lot of the same insects that a trout will and naturally will fall for the same patterns.  

Hopefully this gives you a good start if you're interested in fly-fishing for smallmouth in the near future.  Springtime can be one of the most exciting times to chase smallies with a fly rod as they will be feeding shallow.  You can bet I'll be out there with my fly rod, trying to figure out how to become an expert at it so I can make my next article on it more informative.  In the meantime, good luck and tight lines!   

Me with one of my first fly rod smallmouth.  And without my hair. 
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