We all know the feeling that we get when the bitter cold temperatures wane. The snow and dreary days are replaced with the first sprigs of green and warm, sunny afternoons. This is the time when our quarry moves from their wintering holes, and take up residence in the shallower feeding grounds; the beginning of the most popular time in the Ozarks to pursue our native fish, the mighty smallmouth bass.
You will get no argument from me that early spring to mid-summer is “prime time” to chase smallies on the fly. The aggressive takes on a properly placed popper or that unmistakable swirl on a baitfish pattern followed by a deep rod-bending fight, are only a few of the things that make summertime bass fishing what it is.
However there are some downfalls to this “prime time” fishing. Here in the Ozarks, the almost unbearable heat and humidity of mid-summer combined with the prolific aluminum hatches force us to creatively plan out our fishing days. To get our fix, we have to be on the river at dawn and be off by 10 AM or start late in the afternoon and fish until dark. It’s all part of the game we play to get our shots at these incredible fish.
Don’t fret though, there is another short, but often overlooked time frame that can be very rewarding. As the days begin to get shorter and the evenings start to cool off, smallmouth change their behavior. They move from their typical holding and feeding lies and return to the spawning grounds. I do not know the scientific reasons for this behavior. After many conversations with biologists and other guides and fishermen, there is no consensus on why this happens. At the end of the day, maybe the reason doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we know where the fish are, and how to approach them during this time.
During this post-Labor Day time frame, flows are typically lower and the water tends to be very clear. Fish will hold tight to structure and will not be overly willing to chase a fly very far. For this reason, you will need to alter your presentation and be very accurate with your casts. My perfect setup for this is the new 691-4 Sage IGNITER paired with the RIO InTouch Big Nasty Sink Tip (WF6F/H/I/S3). The 40 ft. head allows for very accurate casts which are needed in these situations and the multi-density sink tip makes it very easy to get unweighted baitfish patterns into the strike zone. The IGNITER has all the power needed, coupled with great sensitivity to detect lighter strikes. A SPECTRUM MAX reel, size 6/7 in Chipotle color really ties the package together.
While approaching these fish, cast above the structure to give yourself time to get the fly to the required depth. It is also helpful to mend the line downstream to get your streamer to swim parallel with the structure. Work the fly a little slower than you normally would, then hang on and wait for that eat.
Over the years, this late summer through fall time window has produced some of the more impressive smallmouth that I have seen. Last year, Nathaniel Maddux (Slate and Glass) and I finally got our schedules together and set out to film for several days during this early fall time period. We discussed the direction of the film and wanted to do something different than your typical “fish porn” video. Nathaniel had the idea to take the direction toward his family history intertwined with the river’s rich history.
River flows were unusually low, coupled with amazing clarity. I knew fishing was going to be tough (it always is when you add video cameras to the mix). Nathaniel was a trooper, listened to my instruction and managed to land some beautiful fish in extraordinarily difficult conditions.
This is our time in the “second season”.