For late summer fishing fun, it’s tough to beat the excitement of a smallmouth bass on the line. The hard-charging runs and high-flying acrobatics of the bronzeback are second to none and the fish are at the top of their game in the warmest water of the season which makes these cold-blooded creatures even more energetic in their efforts. Just when things couldn’t seem any more electrifying, tying into a smallie on the fly rod raises the voltage even more, providing a direct connection to every tail thump, 360-degree summersault and splashdown.
As summer transitions into fall, smallmouth bass have food on their mind. The smallie enters almost a dormant phase when the cold-weather months settle in over the region, meaning late summer and early autumn are the time for them to pack on weight for the winter doldrums. This gives fly anglers their shot at the fastest action for brown bass since early spring. By keying in on where these fish are located, offering up flies similar to the forage that smallies are gorging on, and being ready for just about anything, anglers can maximize their smallmouth excitement.
Smallies are structure fish. Fallen timber, rock piles, bridges and docks provide the cover they crave throughout the sunny days and also serve as an attractor for their prey such as insects, crayfish and small minnows. In the heat of the day, and especially in clear water, smallmouth bass can go very deep making them tough to target on the fly. Utilize sinking lines and fish slower to get down to rock piles or the crowns of fallen trees that are out in deeper water, or fish in low-light periods like dusk and dawn or times of heavy cloud cover, where fish can be found up shallower. Target rip-rap and rock, utilizing a floating line for offerings down to four feet, and don’t forget to try a foam fly on the surface for some incredible topwater strikes in the dim hours of the day. Flip flies as close to structure as possible to pull out those fish that are hiding around branches, pilings and dock posts.
In summer, smallies are eating nearly everything on the menu. Aquatic insects, minnows, frogs and especially crayfish are favorite food items in late summer, and offering up flies that match the available forage are a sure way to connect with smallmouth bass. A highly adaptable fly like the Clouser Minnow can be crafted to mimic multiple species. In blue-and-white, gray-and-white or similar light colors, it’s a perfect baitfish streamer. Bounced along the bottom in brown-and-orange, gray-and-orange or similar earthy tones, it’s an ideal crayfish mimic. Larger nymphs, wet flies, woolly buggers and pheasant-based streamers in browns, olives, blacks and darker tones also match late summer hatches of slow moving prey like leeches, immature damselflies or dragonflies that are easy targets for smallies.
Smallmouth can provide powerful runs and wild jumps, and matching the weight of the fly rod to the mettle of the fish is important. A five-weight rod will provide a good all-around choice when small- and mid-sized fish are present, but big fish waters with smallies from 16 to 20 inches may require something stouter like a seven- or eight-weight rod, which is also helpful in hefting those bigger streamers. After a positive hook set, keep the rod tip high when the fish is deeper in the water, and drop the tip to them when they take to the air to avoid disconnecting when the fish jumps and tries to shake the hook loose. This tactic of “bowing to the fish” provides some slack to absorb the shock of the thrashing bass and keeps the hook in place.
Another fun facet of late-summer smallie fishing is the follow-up. It’s not unusual to see a shadow following a few feet behind a hooked fish or actually observe another smallie swimming side-by-side with it looking to snap up fragments of whatever it thinks its comrade is consuming in all that excitement. Have a co-angler flip a fly near the fight to connect on the double, creating one of the most amazing on-the-water events available at this time of year. Just make sure not to tangle the two up!
From the various forage that smallmouth bass are feeding on to the insane ability of these fish to test every fly angler and the equipment they use in late summer, there’s no better species to target right now…in our outdoors.