During these frigid winter months I often find myself thinking about something dear to me – smallmouth fishing.
If you're like me, you miss the warm sun on your back and the bend of a 8wt rod with a bronzeback on the other end.
It doesn't have to be over for us. There is still bass fishing around.
Granted, the cold and brutal conditions of winter do not make it easy to put in the time it takes to locate and fish for these guys. I have found myself questioning my own sanity many times over. It’s a part of being a die-hard fly angler.
With that being said, here are some tactics that I have found helpful for cold-weather smallmouth fishing.
Smaller flies are usually better.
Fish-Skull Sculpin Helmets drop your fly into the feeding zone fast.
The cold winter temperatures slow a smallmouth's metabolism and leave it lethargic.
Because they don't need to consume as much as they do in warmer temperatures, they will not spare the energy on a strike unless they know it's a for-sure deal.
This means that smallies will target relatively smaller prey that require less energy to capture, in contrast to their aggressive strikes more common in warmer months.
Small baitfish and crustacean patterns are a great way to entice lazy smallmouth bass.
While large streamers aren't usually the best option, they can be effective when fished at the correct depth and speed.
Low and slow is the way to go.
If you want to bring them up, you've got to go where they are.
Most fish sit deep to maintain a quality temperature. There, suspended off ledges and walls, these fish will be most likely stacked up. Knowing this, we have to maintain a specific depth. Intermediate to full-sink in some cases are my most go-to types of streamer line in general. Now is the time to add heavily weighted flies.
Keeping a steady retrieve in a depth column can be the most crucial element of winter bass fishing.
Keep the fly down low for as long as you can. Remember, they will take longer to strike in colder temperatures. The more fish that see your fly, the better.
Scout for depth.
Depth finders are awesome. If you have one, great! For most of us, we will have to rely on data from other resources, such as websites showing information about gauges and maps showing in-depth detail about your particular water.
This will not substitute for boots on the ground. Scout out your water and use the tactics that you know are best applied to that specific scenario.
The Dark, The Drab, And The Natural.
Attractor patterns are common in many angler's fly boxes. Though these hold purpose, in these situations I have experienced much more luck with fly patterns that specifically imitate natural prey found in deeper water, more often than not with olive, brown, black, purple, and/or red infused in their color schemes.
With that being said, don't throw out your pearly white flies. sometimes a bright fly can entice a strike.
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About Ben Rogers:
Ben Rogers is the owner and head guide at Chasing Tails Fly Fishing. He's an ambassador for Soul River – an urban-focused fly fishing company dedicated to conservation of wild steelhead fisheries –, a signature fly tier for Holly Flies, and a contributing editor for various fly fishing publications. After serving in the military, Ben put his specialized skills learned in the Army to good use by working in fly shops and guiding other anglers in the great outdoors and has now been been fly fishing for over two decades. Ben has also volunteered as a guide for Project Healing Waters, working with fellow wounded veterans using fly fishing as a therapeutic tool for recovery, and is a Trout Unlimited member.