As I pull back on the oars my eyes settle on a small current break with nice holding water and some overhead cover.
It’s a solid spot that has produced many times throughout my years as a fly fishing guide.
I relay the information to my clients, and what happens next is...
A) The client lands the fly an inch off the shore, lets it sit for a couple seconds, strips, pauses, and the smallmouth eats the fly.
B) The fly lands 3 feet off the shore, well short of the current break, and the client fishes the fly back to cast again.
C) The client false casts so many times that the fly is never given a chance to catch a fish, even with me frantically pulling on the oars trying to hold the spot.
D) The fly lands in the spot but is quickly stripped well out of position, the fish chases and turns off.
E) The fly lands an inch off the shore, the client lets it sit for a couple seconds, strips, pauses, but no one is home and hungry today.
The following 3 tips will help make option A more likely of a situation for you on your next smallmouth fishing trip.
1. Efficiency Equals More Opportunity
One of the biggest mistakes I see is the fly being out of the water too long. This is usually an outcome of either too many false casts or inefficient casts.
Whenever I have the rod in hand it’s Retrieve, Load, and Shoot. I make at most two back casts per fishable cast.
My driftboat fishes about 1 mile per hour, so on an average 8-mile float you pass about 88 feet per minute (1.5 ft. per sec.). If each ideal false cast and shoot cycle takes 2-4 seconds, I try to get my fly down every 3-4 feet. If you are false casting 4-5+ times per cycle you missed about 20 ft. of shore. If you add that up for the entire day you missed 12,000 feet of opportunity (over 2 miles).
Not only are you fishing less but you are working harder to do it.
Fishing the way I describe as ideal you will false cast about 200 times per hour. When clients false cast 4-5+ times per fishable cast, they end up taking about 400 false casts per hour.
You’re false casting over twice as much and fishing about 75% less of the water.
2. Have a Distinct Pause
The pause is probably one of the most underrated aspects of smallmouth fishing.
When you as the angler can deliver distinct pauses where the fly (whether on the surface or subsurface) appears to stop, giving the fish time to stare down its prey and make the decision to eat today, it gives you a higher chance of landing the fish.
The pause gives your fly a chance to shake its tail feathers or quiver in the stillness of the surface. Fly fishing gives you this advantage that your fly will just hover there, this is something that conventional tackle struggles to accomplish. Many anglers, including myself, will sometimes just lull themselves into this stripping rhythm that more or less has the fly constantly moving.
I have seen it often that when I get an angler to distinctly pause following the strip after melodically stripping, a fish crushes their fly.
3. Keep Tight to Structure
I have witnessed this tip at play, time and time again.
The front angler consistently puts the fly well off the target or directly above the location of the fish. The back angler puts the fly tight to the structure and the fish intercept its retreat back to the boat. I would say in this scenario the back angler is getting 4-5 eats to 1 eat of the front angler.
There are 2 main reasons why I think tighter to structure is more often productive.
The first reason is that there is more water back behind or below that structure than appears giving more room to live and ambush prey.
The second reason is fish often sit in that first break just off the structure. When the fly lands it triggers the fishes lateral line and the fish begins to hone in on the prey. The prey is continued to be worked towards them allowing more opportunity for this prey to be eaten.
This video clip illustrates the tip nicely.
However, when we land the fly directly above the fish on this break the fish are still triggered by the landing of the fly but they sense that the fly is already evading them. Meaning it is not as likely they will be able to eat the prey with minimal effort or energy usage.
Get Out There and Fish!
Hopefully these tips help you out the next time you fish for smallmouth bass!
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About Nick Altringer:
Nick is a fly fishing guide from the midwest, located near Saint Paul, Minnesota. He targets smallmouth bass, trout, and muskies throughout the season. During the offseason he brings his passion for the sport to his middle school classroom with Trout in the Classroom. The guide and teacher, is met at home with his loving wife Melissa and three children. He has been rowing a drift boat for the last eight seasons and assisting clients on walk-n-wades for fifteen seasons. To find out more information checkout his website Fly Quest: Premier Midwest Smallmouth, Muskie, and Trout Fishing Services or find him on Instagram @mwflyquest.