The alarm rings at 5:30 a.m., but I am already awake. Thoughts of trickling riffles, morning mist & hot coffee have my brain stirring. The coffee is brewed and the gear is loaded for the ritual morning outing. The drive is short while the world sleeps. The sun appears on the horizon as I hike towards my solace. I quietly slip in the water and begin to cast into the morning mist. I look at my watch, it is 6:45 and the tricos begin to appear like clockwork. Suddenly fish begin to rise one after another until the surface is boiling. Sounds like a nice limestone trout stream?? Actually the scene is a major urban flow bordered by houses and yards. The rises are courtesy of eager smallies.
Taking up residence in Ohio does not doom your fly fishing pursuits to the Mad, the Clear Fork or to a plane ride elsewhere. Smallmouth are lurking in your backyard waiting for you without a parking lot of people at every bridge. Smallmouth fight harder than trout and the bigger fish are every bit as clever. The sight of a smallie lunging at a popper in the heat of a summer night can be just as fun as drifting dry flies for trout. The difference is the amount of respect given these fish by the long rod crowd.
The equipment needed is a matter of choice. I like a fast action 8 to 8.5 foot, 4-weight rod and I use patterns that can be thrown with a lighter rod. Reels merely hold line and no great expense is needed for this piece of equipment. The larger patterns will require a 6, 7, or 8-weight rod around 9 feet in length. Leaders should be 7 1/2 to 9 ft. in length and 1, 2 or 3X in strength. A few spools of corresponding tippet and a good assortment of flies resembling baitfish, crayfish and hellgrammites are all you will need for a busy day.
Patterns for smallmouth vary from river to river – here is a good start. The first one is credited to Ohio Smallmouth Alliance member and noted carp angler Jim Andrix. Jim’s Lil’ Bugger pattern has a brown body and tan tail. The size 10 fly replicates immature molting crayfish. The Lil’ Bugger accounted for almost every smallie over 15″ that I caught last year. Perhaps it is a matter of confidence, but folks this pattern works! The fly should be fished as a nymph through pockets, riffles and holes. The casting burden of a strike indicator is unnecessary, just watch your line and when you see it move — set the hook and hang on!
The most popular baitfish pattern is the Clouser Deep Minnow. The legendary Bob Clouser created this fly specifically for smallmouth bass. An effective color to replicate shad is cotton candy blue & white. Clouser also created a floating minnow by gluing two sponge spider bodies together and adding some eyes and a tail. The floating minnow is rather effective when covered with mylar for a more realistic coloration. The idea was discovered through experimentation and proven through many good days on the river. I call this creation The Improved Floating Minnow. The standard popper can be very effective when the weather heats up. Personally, I prefer cut face skipping bugs in yellow or pearl, Sneaky Petes are also proven fish takers.
My fellow anglers, do not let the ‘mystique’ of fly fishing deter your interest. The method may be a little more time consuming, but equally as rewarding in more ways than one. Remember, large sums of money are not required to enjoy this therapeutic pursuit of bronze.