As fisherman, we are opportunistic. We all have our favorite way to catch fish but the sometimes the water, weather, and of course the fish dictate how we fish for them. Not all times of the year are productive times for a fly-rod.
As a guide on the New River and a fly-fisherman, I am often asked, “When is the best time to catch smallmouth on a fly-rod?” The answer is simple, when the river is low and clear and fish are taking top water baits.
When the rivers become low and the days become long and hot, fly-fishing becomes a very effective way to catch fish. Often times during the mid-summer doldrums, the biggest fish of the day will come from a fly-fisherman. Why? Let’s take a look.
First of all, if the guide can drift the boat at a distance that the fly-fisherman can simply make one overhand cast to reach the target the angler spends more time presenting the fly than if they had to retrieve a conventional lure. With a light, top-water fly, the angler can cast it to the target, give it life in the strike zone and then lift it off the water and place down again in one quick motion. Simply put, the fly-fisherman gets about three to four casts in for every cast made by a spin fisherman. Floating down fast rivers fishing with top water baits, this is a huge advantage.
Second, the fly-fisherman’s presentation of the fly is so soft and lands so quiet on the water that it does not spook fish in gin clear waters. There is no comparison of a light cast of a cork popper versus a metal half-ounce buzzbait from a spin fisherman.
One factor I see when guiding fisherman on a hot, humid day is fatigue. On a long float trip the anglers get tired of casting. Often the fly-fisherman will outlast the spin fisherman because of simply fishing lighter tackle. The spin fisherman not only has to cast the lure, they have to retrieve the bait. On a river with current, the constant force of the lure against the water takes its toll. The fly angler’s line is always on top of the water. Therefore, the only resistance is the weight of the line and the fly. So being able to fish longer and not wearing down early, gives the fly-fisherman an advantage in catching the “Fish of the Day” by being able to get more casts in.
Lastly, it just might be the fly. By the middle to end of the summer, most waters have seen some fishing pressure. So when angler presents a Sneaky Pete or Slippery Clyde to a smart old 5-pound smallie, maybe the curiosity is just too great. The largest smallmouth bass I am aware of being caught on a guided float trip on the New River took a cork popping bug. If you like fly-fishing and smallmouth bass, plan a trip in the heat of the summer when the water is low and clear. Make sure to bring plenty of water, a popper or two, and a camera. Chances are you will need it.