• Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass: The 3 Crucial Keys to Success
  • Post author
    Brian Shumaker
  • fly fishingfreshwatersmallmouth bass

Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass: The 3 Crucial Keys to Success

Whether you're just starting out or are an experienced smallmouth fly angler, here are 3 things to think about to increase your odds if your success rate isn’t what you expect it to be.

1. Location.

Don’t waste your time fishing unproductive water.

If you've been fishing a section of river or stream without success, or if you haven’t seen any activity on the water, it’s time to move on. You want to maximize your time on the water.

Fish the sections of the river that provide the two key elements for the smallmouth bass: food and structure.

2. Correct fly line.

Different water conditions and times of the year call for different fly lines.

You could fish with a floating line all the time, but you'd be limiting yourself by not presenting the fly to the fish in the strike zone and keeping it there.

These are the 3 different lines I use and their applications:


Use a floating line if the fish are actively feeding on the surface, you want to throw poppers and sliders, or you want to fish crayfish and nymphs.

Intermediate tip.

When you want to fish just under the surface with a streamer (weighted or unweighted), or if you have low, clear water conditions and need a stealthy approach.

Sink tip.

When you have higher flows or off-colored water conditions and you need to get your fly down into the strike zone.

Another way to use a sink tip is with a unweighted streamer and a long leader. This will allow the fly to suspend above the river bottom during the pause and dive when the line is stripped.

3. Suitable fly selection.

Shumaker's Shimmering Minnow, tied with the Fish-Skull Articulated Fish-Spine and Living Eyes.

You've positioned yourself in the most productive water and you're fishing the correct line for the day’s conditions. Now you want to make sure you have the correct fly for the conditions.

Take some time and observe what is going on in the water and on the water.

Are the fish feeding on the surface? Is there busting bait? Do I need to fish shallow, deep, or mid-depth?

Observation will help you make the decision of what fly to fish. As the day progresses you might have to make some minor adjustments to size or color, but you'll have the confidence that you've made the right choices to be successful.

Quick review.

Success in catching smallmouth bass on the fly comes down to putting yourself in the right location and crafting your presentation to match the day's conditions.

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About Captain Brian Shumaker:

Brian has been guiding for over 20 years. He owns and operates Susquehanna River Guides where he guides clients on the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers. He specializes in smallmouth bass and other warm-water species.

  • Post author
    Brian Shumaker
  • fly fishingfreshwatersmallmouth bass

Comments on this post (4)

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Paul, give me a call at 717-574-5338 and we can get something set up.

    — Brian Shumaker

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Spent most of my time fly fishing salt water in SW Florida—about eight months a year, but return to Williamsport for a few summer months and would like to join you smallmouth fishing! I am usually in PA mid-June until the first of October. Looking forward to hear from you.

    — Paul McQuay

  • Dec 03, 2020

    Thanks Brian, I am retiring at the end of the month and will have more time for fishing so I’m planning on targeting some local smallmouth probably look you up if I have questions. Hope to see you at the Somerset show this year.

    — John Baracchi

  • Dec 03, 2020

    I remember fishing for Bass in Virginia and North Carolina.

    — Henry Hollis

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